The Flight

The past couple of days have been taken up by a flight from Japan to Shanghai, China, a short overnight stay at the airport hotel and then a return flight to Japan. The weather in Japan has been really nice lately, partly cloudy and in the 70s (F). China has not been doing so well. Shanghai had for both the arrival and departure 90m (~300 ft.) broken to overcast clouds with 3000m (~2 mi.) visibility and light rain, mist and/or fog. The arrival in Shanghai wasn’t as bad as trying to get through customs, though.

Apparently two flight attendants had traded trips with two other flight attendants and came with us to China to work the flight with some friends. This isn’t normally a problem, however in this case the crew manifest still listed the originally scheduled crew members. Our flight purser (lead flight attendant) brought this to the attention of the customer service agents at departure time from Japan, but apparently it was not relayed to the right people. The departure station electronically transmits the crew manifest to the arrival station in China. The customs/immigration people there have the list by the time the flight arrives. All of the crew passports are collected and the photos are compared to the people as we pass by the immigration desk. Then we all stand around while the immigration agents correlate the passports to the faxed crew list. Twice during our 45-minute wait an immigration agent came out and had a lively, heated discussion with our Chinese interpreter who passed along that they were very ‘unhappy’ with the difference between the names on the crew list and the names in the passports. All our passengers and an Indian flight crew and all their passengers cleared customs and were long gone by the time we were released. Gee, I wonder what we learned from that…

The Crew

The captain I flew with for these two flights has an interesting story. He grew up in southern California and went to college there. He made his way through college by flight instructing and graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. After graduation he was able to get a corporate job, flying a Cessna 421 and then a Citation out of the Torrence, CA airport for a company that makes safety gear for race car drivers. After a couple of years of that, he manged to get an interview and then a job with Flying Tigers. In his first three years with them he was furloughed four times, the last time in 1981. During his furloughs he had various jobs, always checking the flying and engineering ads. He noticed an ad one day for part time work for NASA in Langley, VA and made the call. He apparently had exactly the qualifications that they were looking for, because he got a job offer from the phone call. He moved to the southeast U.S. and worked for NASA as he continued to look for an airline flying job. It was rough going, because about the time of that last furlough Braniff Airlines went out of business and congress dictated that the Braniff pilots should be placed at the top of the stack when determining who is interviewed by the other airlines. It wasn’t until 1983 that he finally got another interview that was successful and has been with this airline ever since.

In keeping with Rule Number 2 for airline pilots he has used the contacts that he made while in his ‘furlough jobs’ to start an aviation consulting business. He currently has a long-term contract with a major business aircraft manufacturer to develop safety and training programs for their new models. He carries a computer with him and does a lot of his work while out on trips.

He will have over 30 years with the company by the time he reaches age 60 and has absolutely no plans to stay longer. If his consulting business continues growing as it has been, he’ll ‘retire’ at 55.