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Friday, January 11, 2008

2 Day London - "A trip I could retire on..."

I think I've just found the holy grail of trips. I love flying to Europe, but there's always a price to pay in terms of jet lag, especially during the layover. Seeing the sights is always fun, but you do feel like you're in a bit of a fog since you've just flown all that way overnight and then took a 4 hour nap before heading into town. So Paris, Manchester and the our previous Shannon were all scheduled this way.

When I first started flying the 767 in late 2001, we had a London trip for a short time. I managed to get a few of those trips and I really tried to make the most of them. We were all sad to see the London trips go when the 777 picked them up out of Boston. I had a chance to fly one more of these trips in January of 2005 when I had a brief stint as a 777 FO out of NY.

So we were really thrilled to learn that for a period of 4 months this winter we would be getting the 'two day' London trip. This is the trip that goes extremely senior on the 777 when pilots bid for their monthly choices.

I was even more excited to get a few of these trip for the month of January. But this trip wouldn't be like the other trans-atlantic flights. Instead of departing around 7 in the evening, we left Boston at 9 a.m. for London. After you get to the hotel in London sometime around 10 p.m., you're only goal is to stay awake until about 10 p.m. east coast time, another 5 hours. We got together for dinner at an Italian restaurant before heading to the hotel bar to watch the last part of the San Diego playoff game.

The next morning I had a choice, either sleep until the normal wake-up time or go out for some breakfast and sight seeing. You guessed it, sleep won. I chose to wake up just a few hours from our pickup time at the hotel which was about 7 a.m. Boston time.

It wasn't until taxiing out from London that I realized why I would bid these trips exclusively if I could. I felt energized compared to a Manchester or Paris trip. Sleep really is critical in this job, needless to say. And even the best intentions can't overcome the time zone differences and flying on the 'back side of the clock.'

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so London's a great trip to get, you say. But there are some differences in flying into Heathrow that are worth noting. They do the constant rate of descent approaches that we see in Manchester but they also have a very unique taxi system that I really wish we'd see adopted at other airports. You see, after landing, there are some centerline lights that light up when you call Heathrow ground. They will tell you to "Follow the greens and hold short of Echo 1" or something similar to that. And sure enough, the centerline lights turn green until Echo 1 where a red stop bar shows up. I managed to get a little video clip of us holding on the taxiway for a passing airplane before the lights turned green again for us. Take a look:

The other interesting part is that, even though we're flying a 767 to LHR, we really felt like we're in a 'quaint' little light twin compared to the 747's and 777's. Soon we'll see the A380 there, so we'll really feel tiny. You really get the idea that this is truly THE international airport.

Not much in the way of layover pictures, but I figured I'd share these shots of the view out the hotel window. Not very exciting, but it gives you an idea of how relaxing my layover was.

London hotel window view

View from the London hotel window

But wait! There was at least a little excitement. While surfing in the room, we had a hotel fire alarm that turned out to be a test of the system. Usually we're fast asleep at this point in the day when flying the three day trips, but I was spared the shock of the fire alarm going off while in a dead sleep since this was the two day sequence, and pick up was in an hour or so.

And finally, one other benefit to flying Europe again is that I can fly over Ruthann's house in Ireland so it's a little easier for her to stalk me. She managed to hear us depart from Boston, talk to Shannon overhead and pick up our ACARS messages (text messages to the company essentially). On the way back I was sure to request the weather for ROC (Rochester, NY) via the ACARS since those were her initials and I knew she'd be 'intercepting' the message. I even had a one way conversation with her. So who's stalking who? Yeah, I know. But hopefully she'll be working at the Shannon ATC facility someday. At least that would make it a two way conversation. Here are the pictures from her computer of our ACARS requests and our ATC track.

Off for a couple of days before doing a few Aruba turns. Then it's off to the annual pilgrimage to Macworld in San Francisco! Of course, I'll bring you along.


chris said...

That sounds like an awesome trip! Those LHR taxiway lights are really cool. And I had no idea your stalker was such an intense aviation geek. I wonder if she's taken. :-)

Neil said...

Great trip report Kent! I always thought that Europe bound flights left N America in the evening, and the N America bound flights left in the morning. I had just assumed this was to keep traffic over the North Atlantic flowing in roughly the same direction, but I guess this is not the case, as your flight proved. So is there any reason why the majority of transatlantic flights leave Europe in the morning, and leave the US in the evening? Or is it that this was that they way they did it in the early days of transatlantic travel and so it has just stuck?


Anonymous said...

Those taxiway lights are really neat, I bet they really help all the pilots from around the world not get lost in Heathrow's maze of taxiways.
I wonder, too, about the non-traditional flight times, since as far as I know, the north atlantic air traffic really does go only one direction at a time. Are there some special procedures or routes for flights like yours that goes against the flow?

Jamie D said...

Those taxiway lights are pretty cool. Some neat stuff from Ruthann there too!

Can't wait to see what Steve Jobs has got waiting for us at Macworld this year!

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Exeter, New Hampshire, United States
Grew up in Alaska, went to high school and college in Washington State. Commercial pilot since 1990.

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