Sunday, October 4, 2009

HNL to LAX and my first visit to the Delta gates

On the ramp in Honolulu at gate 11, preparing to leave for LAX. Something new tonight though. When we arrive tomorrow morning at 0630, we'll taxi over to the south complex and park at the Delta gates. This scene occurred about a month ago, as the march towards consolidation continues. With nearly half our airplanes repainted, NWA is fading into history. In today's Minneapolis Business Journal (10/07/09) there's an article concerning the sale of NWA's World Headquarters in Eagan, MN. To employees it was known as "Building A," among other names that you might imagine.

We departed off runway 8R, flew the MKK4 departure, climbed past 10,000 foot Haleakala on Maui hidden in darkness and fog, entered the Pacific track system at CLUTS and settled in for a five hour, 22 minute, 2,200 nautical mile flight to North America. I've mentioned this several times in the past, but the Hawaiian islands are the worlds most remote archipelago in the world largest ocean. Finding this little needle in a haystack today is easy with Flight Management Computers, but navigating here from the mainland in the late 1930's and '40's in flying boats required a herculean effort and nerves of steel. What we'll fly in four and a half hours tonight, took as many as 18 hours in a state of the art, lumbering, Boeing 314. Nearly 70 years later, we're still spanning this ocean in yet another (not quite so lumbering) Boeing.

We've exited our track just west of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, as we observe this mornings sun rise over the San Gabriel mountains east of Los Angeles. Beautiful isn't it?

Our original flight plan included the VTU6 (Ventura6) Arrival, but we're leading the Pacific inbounds and have been cleared directly to EXERT, "keep your speed up" for an ILS to runway 6R. If I were in my Cub (which is no longer mine by the way) I'd look at that sucker hole just ahead as my portal to Nirvana... or at least to LA! The San Gabriel's, just ahead, loom larger now, as does my bed at the Wilshire Grand Hotel downtown. Which reminds me... I'd like to thank the management of the Wilshire Grand. They offer us 50% off in all of their restaurants and free Internet! I've enjoyed wonderful meals at Cardini Ristorante and City Grill at more than reasonable prices. Thanks!

View from our cockpit towards the LAX tower and Encounter Restaurant as our ground crew prepares to tow us into the gate.

We'd landed on 6R, turned off and taxied west on Echo, south on Sierra and east on Bravo towards C8, in search of gate 54A. This is all new territory for us as we contacted the Delta Ramp tower. "Cleared into the alley and look for your tow in crew" we heard as we saw a tug and several men approach our airplane.

Tow in gate! What's this all about? Just kidding... I'd read the bulletin and was prepared for the event. The alleyways in this complex are considerably more narrow than I'm accustomed to and to prevent damage and injury to equipment and personnel with jet blast, Delta will tow us into the gate. I've experienced this several times now, they're always in position waiting for us and there is no delay.

A closer inspection of Encounter reveals that it is still under going renovation, but is open to the public. A couple of years ago I wandered into the restaurant before heading to the hotel one evening to explore this highly unusual building. While taking a few low light interior pictures, I met the Chef, introduced myself and explained that I planned to write a story for Airways Magazine. He personally guided me through his restaurant suggesting angles for pictures and asking patrons to remain still while I shot. "Ladies and gentlemen, the captain needs to take a few pictures... let's help him out," he announced. And they did. That was easy!

In fact, here's the chef and one of the interior shots that I took that night. I wrote that story and it appeared in the August 2006 issue of Airways Magazine. Thanks very much to the folks at Encounter and at Airways for publishing it.

Very Jetsonesque, it's well worth your time to visit Encounters if you're transitioning through LAX.

A view of a Frontier Airbus as we continue towards the gate. Frontier has just emerged from bankruptcy and has been purchased by Republic Airways. You may remember the bidding war that raged between Southwest and Republic for control of this Denver based airline. Republic is a holding company that owns several smaller airlines, such as Chautauqua and Shuttle America.

In a related story, management at Milwaukee based Midwest Airlines announced recently, that it plans to return its fleet of B-717's and outsource all of its flying to Republic Airways. Actually, as of July 31, Midwest is a wholly owned subsidiary of Republic. The result of this decision? All of Midwest's flight crews, pilots and flight attendants, who contributed to the success of this small airline will be laid off and Republic will fly these routes with 76 passenger Embraer 170's. I wonder if they'll spare the chocolate chip cookies from the unemployment line? Midway has laid off some 1,800 employees this year. I understand economics, but its a sad state of affairs when those who built the airline are jettisoned, while an outsourced group takes over. I find it very difficult to believe that the high level of quality that Midwest once achieved will now prevail. The Frontier pilots are between a rock and a hard place. The seniority deal offered by Southwest was poor, but how will life aloft unfold with Republic Airways?

When will we as a pilot group learn to avoid eating our young? I may be wrong, but my understanding is that Southwest planned to simply staple the Frontier pilots to the bottom of their list. If I'm incorrect about this I apologize, but this is what I've learned from some involved in these negotiations. If this was a tactic to avoid a merger I get it. But if not, I don't. I've managed to survive two mergers; one very ugly and the other, at least to this point, very amiable. I prefer the second scenario! In both cases my airline was acquired, not because I'm such a nice guy, but because the Board of Directors at the surviving carrier thought it made good business sense. Or because they thought they would personally benefit. None the less, the employee groups are simply pawns, maneuvering for position in the grand scheme of things.

Well, we're almost to the gate and we'll head downtown to the Grand Wilshire where I can finally turn in and get some sleep. But after a few hours I'll get up, turn on my computer and start writing. Why? Because I enjoy it, but also because I'm trying to earn independence from my airline, have a back up plan to which I can fall back should I become outsourced. If you've read my Ask the Captain column on my website, you know that I'm a strong believer in "the backup plan."

Airline flying is a wonderful job, it's worked out well for me. But it's at the whim of the deal makers in the smoke filled back rooms and when it goes away, I don't want to be caught flatfooted. According to 121 FAR's we can't take off without a backup plan, ie. an alternate, either an arrival or departure alternate based on present or forecasted weather. Perhaps we should guide our lives by this tenet too, the forecast is ominous.

Here's a funny parody with regard to outsourcing and crew scheduling that I hope you enjoy. Unfortunately it's taking on an all to realistic look though.

NWA's rapidly diminishing fleet of reliable Douglas DC-9's

But before you leave, hold on for just a minute. I want to tell you about a DC-9 that I once flew. N962N, a DC-9-31, built originally for North Central Airlines in 1969. Oh my gosh, that was forty years ago! For greater, more interesting details click here to learn what Perry Van Veen can tell you about this marvelous airplane.


  1. Trust that you found a suitable new home for the Cub...?

    Thanks for sharing your visit to LAX!

    Tim G in MN

  2. Morning Rand, bring me a cup of Kona when you come back to the gate....

    In your paragraph RE: Midwest, you say that "Midway has laid off some 1,800 employees this year"...I think you mean "Midwest has...". The Midway Mark 1 employees are not exactly fans of NWA (sigh).

    You are right-on-the-beam as far as this column is concerned about the state of the industry and each airline employee 'checking his six' and having an egress plan.

    One of these days, when we cross paths I'll buy you a beer-till then, I'm a dot.....

    Tim (8DME W KORD)

  3. Thanks Rand for a great insiders look into the airline industry. And thank you for a wonderfully detailed account of your flight to LAX.

  4. I can't resist the question. That would be 8R at PHNL. I think Diamond Head would give it away even without the post text about Hawaii.

    Richly interesting post as always.

    About old airliners.. not DC9s, but Boeings.
    Have you seen the 727's at the Seattle Museum? At one time they intended to restore prototype Nr. 1 to flying status, not sure what the project status is now.

  5. So psyched to see a new post--thank you. Great reading as always.

  6. Hello Rand:

    Nice visit to LA... but I was particularly captured by your latest initial picture with the KE 744 taxiing to your side... simply wooow :O.

    I have been in LA two times but without enough margin to visit Encounter. I would certainly love to just like I would love to spend a whole day spotting airliners in the many locations around the airport.

    It was kindly surpising to learn that planes are towed to gates in LA. I just never imagined that.

    Anyway... best regards from MEX... take care.

    If you are a DC9 fan... you should take a visit to MEX now that Mexicanaclick is adding Boeing 717 to its fleet. I know, I know... DC9s are DC9s but is as close as possible to the honorable airplane. What's your opinion on the 717? I particularly think that the legacy of DC certainly lives on with great improvements.

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