By Scott Knowlton, EAA 413379, EAA Canadian Council – Advocacy
It was not an abnormal text from my wife on Friday morning: “Can you please pick Mary and me up from our Tampa flight on Sunday?” I sighed, knowing the original deal was that I would drive my wife and her friend to the airport for their girls’ week in Florida and Mary’s husband would pick them up a week later on their return. Ah well, I thought, I guess I’m double ending this one. I decided I may as well make the airport pick-up a little more fun. My day job at Air Canada Rouge is to look after the initial and recurrent training of our pilots. Along with the associated office work of my role, I also periodically fly the Airbus as a check pilot which enables me to conduct quality control checks on our training and satisfy myself that the end result meets the standard. A quick call on that Friday morning to my scheduling team enabled me to find a suitable pilot candidate to check and relieve the crew who was originally scheduled to fly our Rouge 1654/1655 Toronto-Tampa-Toronto trip — the very flight my wife and her friend Mary would be on. “I love my job,” I thought to myself as I sent a response to my wife’s text of “Sheesh, okay…. I guess Mary’s husband must have something better to do…”
Sunday morning came and a brilliant sunrise greeted me on my early morning drive to the airport. I had planned on some VFR fun in my Pietenpol that Sunday but I actually had a bit of excitement brewing about the mission that was replacing my day of open-cockpit flying. I met my crew at the gate and thanked the newly hired first officer who had been hastily called on Friday for her last-minute qualifying line check. She was grateful for the chance to move on and get her training over with so by all appearances my mission was becoming a win-win for everyone.
Our trip to Tampa was smooth and the early morning skies south of Pennsylvania showed the first hint of typical July daytime heating. As we crossed into the state of Florida we could see the first of the TCU build-ups of the day but managed a brief hold north of Tampa to let a small tower pass to the east of the airport. Having set the parking brake at the gate and completed the parking checklist a text awaited me from my wife: “Hey, any idea who the captain is?” Rouge being a smaller airline within Air Canada is like a family and she knows many of our pilots either personally our through the stories I bring home. “I sure do!” I responded, “It’s Captain Kanada!!” This little handle she used on me happened during my time in the RCAF when I was a logistician and would happily accept any and every mission assigned to me. In exasperation as I packed my bags yet another time, my wife would roll her eyes and say, “Well there goes Captain Kanada again…”
My little joke certainly didn’t go over her head. “Haha, I had a feeling you’d come and get us!” I was able to reunite with my wife briefly in the terminal before heading back to the flight deck for our regime of checking, programming, and briefing. We took a break for a fun little photo in the flight deck and closed up for the trip home.
The convective activity showed no signs of relenting and briefly after takeoff, we found ourselves asking for discretion left and right of track to avoid the building TCU and give our passengers a smooth ride. This gave me the opportunity to hand fly the Airbus — just as I had planned to fly my Pietenpol that day — and roll gently left and right to avoid the white fluffy build-ups that tend to give one a good shaking if flown through. “I love my job,” I thought to myself as we carved to the north to intercept the on-course magenta line.
We made it to the gate in Toronto several minutes ahead of schedule and in the chaos of our post-pandemic recovery, I was thrilled to see a ramp crew awaiting us to park. As the passengers deplaned, my wife finally made it to the front of the line and smiled at me. “Thanks for the ride home,” she said. “What was with those shenanigans departing out of Tampa?” she asked. I flushed and for a moment thought maybe my hand flying was more of a ride than my passengers would have liked. “Was it bad?” I asked. “No it was nice. But I sure knew who was flying.”
Working for an airline isn’t for everyone. There are early mornings, missed birthdays, Christmases on the road, lousy weather, contracts, and schedules and low initial pay. Days like the flight I did to Tampa don’t happen frequently but along with the love of flying and the ability to earn a living doing what I love doing, this does not feel at all like work. Making the best of things is probably good advice for anyone in a challenging career. My Sunday trip to Tampa was just that. Did I mention I love my job?