Away from home on a holiday. It’s the norm rather than the exception for the average airline pilot. Seniority rules the monthly bidding process, and no matter how long you have been with the same employer, if you bid to a senior seat on a senior airplane that flies out of a senior base, you will probably find yourself out on the road for the major holidays.
That is why I found myself preflighting my side of the cockpit on Thanksgiving Day morning in preparation for a nearly 12-hr flight from the U.S. West Coast to Japan. We were leaving beautiful weather and turkey-laden dinner tables to fly into what was predicted to be howling winds, moderate turbulence and landing crosswinds very close to the limits for our airplane.
I drew the straw that provided me with the opportunity to make the takeoff. Today our weight was right at 825,000 lbs. and we seemed to roll forever before the V1 call was made, followed shortly thereafter by the command to rotate. The book says that we could stop if we stomped on the brakes as we reached V1, but it never looks like there is enough runway to me. Luckily I’ve never had to make a near-V1 abort outside of a simulator.
We ‘coasted out’ just north of San Francisco, meaning we made our turn to the northwest and out over the Pacific at that point, flying to latitude/longitude coordinates rather than named navigation points. As we progressed west all of the turbulence warning areas that our meteorology department had sent to us with the preflight paperwork were canceled, indicating that previous flights had not reported the forecast turbulence. We turned off the seatbelt sign and continued westward, climbing as our weight decreased, thankful for the unexpected smooth ride.