Figuring out Crew Scheduling

My schedule changes often. That’s what you sign up for when you join this industry. In fact as I’m writing this post I’m on day 2 of 4 of reserve duty. I could be called to go anywhere at any moment.

I recently had a pairing in the prairies that went a little sideways. It was day 4 of a 5 day pairing when we experienced a delay out of Saskatoon. I have an upcoming post where I talk in greater detail about what happened.

But the short version is that we had loaded all our passengers, then had an issue in the flight deck that caused a nearly 5 hour delay. We needed to wait for a part to get flown in on the next flight from Calgary. We had offloaded the passengers in the terminal and were waiting to hear back from crew scheduling what to do.

My crew and I had recalculated our duty. Our maximum planned duty can only be 14 hours working, or 17 hours if there is a deadhead involved. However, the crew can choose to extend their working duty to 16 hours as long as they are fit to fly.

We were scheduled to fly YXE-PVR-YXE, and with the delay our duty would have exceeded 14 hours. We already knew the company wouldn’t be keeping our pairing the way it had been planned. And because we had been planned to come back to Saskatoon that night, we knew our hotel rooms were still waiting for us.

I called crew scheduling, I had been prepared to tell them the crew could extend their duty, but we would need to go back to the hotel to rest until the plane was ready. When I called though, they told me their were still figuring things out and would call me back.

An hour later I called again, and again they told me they would call me back when they figured things out.
That’s what they tell you when they’re busy. Crew scheduling is always figuring things out.

2 hours go by from the time I made the first call to crew scheduling, and no word there’s no word from them.  It was no longer really worth going back to the hotel to rest. By the time we’d get there, take our uniforms off, and start resting, it’d be time to get ready to go again.

We’d decided that we wouldn’t extend our duty. Though at this point I figured crew sched wasn’t going to ask us to. So we were trying to figure out what they were planning.

Our first thought was that they would ask us to operate the flight to PVR, and then deadhead home with a new crew on the plane to work the flight. But where would they get the new crew from? If there is one laying over in YXE that is legal to take the flight, it would be cheaper and make more sense to pull us off the flight all together and have the new crew do the entire turn. We would have been sent back to the hotel by now if that were happening. Maybe they could deadhead a crew down from Toronto and have them takeover the flight. That could work, they would just send us to YYZ as deadheading. We checked the flight loads for the return flight to YYZ from PVR. It was full, they’d have to pull passengers off to make this happen. That was unlikely.

We also thought they might be planning to have us layover in PVR. We’re Vancouver based, and we already knew there wasn’t another PVR-YVR flight for a few days. So if they did this, we’d probably work the next day’s flight up to Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, or wherever there was a plane going that day. The problem for us is it would probably extend our pairing by a day or so. A bunch of us, including myself had second jobs, so working an extra day is problematic. However, once we start a pairing we have no control of our schedules. Scheduled days off or not, if the airline wants us to work another day, we have to do it. That wouldn’t have been a problem for the airline. The problem for the airline is that this would involve either deadheading home the crew who brings in that flight, or delaying a second flight intentionally so their crew can layover to allow us to tail swap. All of these options are expensive and inconvenient for everyone involved. So again, unlikely.

We spent quite a bit of time speculating on what the plan would be, it was almost time for our revised departure when we saw another crew from our airline show up at the airport. “What are they doing? There’s no other flights going out.” One of us said. Someone else mentioned they were probably deadheading home. Then I had a thought. “If they’re legal to deadhead home, they’re legal to do a turn.” Maybe crew scheduling was drafting them?

I called crew scheduling and asked if they were planning on using this other crew to replace us since they could do the full turn.

“Oh.” They said.
“I’m going to put you on hold” They said.

They hadn’t thought of that. But I’d put the idea in their heads. I sort of felt bad about getting them drafted for this. Though in all honesty, by this point I just wanted to go home.

I was on hold for probably about 5 minutes or so until crew sched came back.
“You’re going to work to PVR. As soon as all your passengers are off, you are going to need to run to flight ### going to Montreal (YUL). You’re going to deadhead on that flight and tomorrow you’ll deadhead to Vancouver.”

“Doesn’t that put us within minutes of exceeding 17 hours? Wouldn’t it make more sense just to put this other crew on the turn and keep us here?”

“No, this is the plan.”


Minutes after that call, the flight with our replacement part came in. I saw our mechanic run over to the plane, grab a box from their baggage handlers, and run back over to our plane.
10 minutes after that I got a call from crew scheduling telling me it was time to head back to the aircraft.

The flight itself wasn’t too bad. The passengers were pretty well taken care of in the airport. They were all given vouchers to cover their meal costs, and credit for future flights. On board I comp’d all the drinks and headsets. We were as nice as possible, and while a few people were still understandably upset, for the most part everyone was in a pretty good mood. That’s what I like about the prairies. The people there are always so nice.

When we got to PVR and everyone unloaded, we made a mad dash for our flight to Montreal. Crew Scheduling had set up quite the operation. We passed 4 other crew who were all tail swapping. We all ran past each other at the same time, in the middle of the terminal. It was almost comical. Us all yelling “Hi, bye, have a nice flight!” at the same time. One of those crew must have deadheaded in from somewhere to make this all work.

We ran straight to the YUL flight, which was just beginning to start boarding. We took our seats at the back of the plane and I checked the time. We had a 15 minute margin of error. This means if the plane is going to be 15 minutes late, we would duty out, and therefore would be getting off the plane. In the end though, the YUL flight left right on time and we made it to Canada 15 minutes before we would have been in excess of our duty.

It would have been nice to actually visit Montreal. I don’t speak French, so I only ever go there when things go wrong. The layover was min-rest though. The next day I was on my flight to Vancouver.

I still think it would have made more sense to assign that other crew in Saskatoon to our turn and just send us home from there, but I guess crew scheduling had already put their plan in motion by the time I had called them.

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