Monday, March 26, 2012

The Glamorous Life of the Airline Pilot

My buddy Jim Lancaster is a fellow pilot. He, like a lot of other pilots, leads a charmed and glamorous life. When he's not commanding a big jet airliner, he might be spending time at one of his homes, the closest one to work being three miles east of Dockweiler Beach in Los Angeles. It’s a short trip to sand between your toes and a little boogie boarding. As you might expect, the price of real estate here is pretty high. There’s an even steeper price to pay for this prime piece of terra firma though. What price does Jim pay for his slice of California dreamin’?

$60 per month – it’s a rented piece of crumbling asphalt in the Los Angeles World Airport’s Parking Lot B, directly under the approach end of Runway 25L. This prime spot is great if you’re a pilot. You can hear the alluring whisper of a high bypass turbofan jet engine (or four) passing directly over your head every couple of minutes. Or the subtle concussion of a 747 taking off from the adjacent runway. Never mind if one of these airborne aluminum marvels should happen to land short and send trailers skittering like silver balls across the tilted horizontal plain of a pulsating pinball machine. As an added bonus, Jim gets to live away from his family for much of the time in his luxurious 2001 Tradewinds trailer, parked among a bunch of other airline types who also live the glamorous life in Lot B. Jim dreams of going home to Seattle on the “weekends” – although maybe that dream is a kerosene-induced chimera, brought on by the constant smell of combusted jet fuel gently rolling between his and the other trailers like a romantic San Francisco fog.

Click on the graphic for a larger view of the LAX environs

Jim is one of the many pilots who “commute” to work – living in one place but being based somewhere else. These pilots, when their work week ends, seek the nearest congested gate with the fastest jet to get them back home, wherever that might be. Sometimes they do this because they don’t want to uproot their family, or they can’t afford to live where they’re based, or their base is a crime-ridden metropolis where no one wants to live. At any rate there’s a whole lot of commuting going on. These pilots, if the back end of the airplane is full, sit in an uncomfortable extra seat in the flight deck called the jump seat. (The only good thing about this is that it's free.)  There’s no week that goes by where I don’t have one of these forlorn pilots, trying to get where they need to go, sitting in my jump seat.

So the next time you see your pilot showing up for work and looking a little harried, well maybe it wasn’t really his or her first flight of the day. My, what we won’t do to fly for a living! And if you're feeling particularly sorry for your displaced pilot, chocolate is always a nice gesture. Fortunately, I’ve never commuted, having always been blessed with a decent place to be based (although chocolate is still a nice gesture).

The Lot B denizens have been the subject of more than one newspaper article, including this one written by Daniel Weikel in the Los Angeles Times in 2009, from which I drew a little of the information used to write this post. Happy flying!

map courtesy of Google Maps


Raymond @ Man On The Lam said...

Was all this a ploy just get some chocolate -- hee hee!

Nice article!

Scott Diekmann said...

Thanks Raymond. Chocolate is always the goal! Every now and then somebody actually brings us some too.

Vicki Fox said...

gsuci niteveHave you ever been to the Proud Bird by the South runways at LAX to watch the planes land? You can sit there by the fireplaces and see the aircraft roar before you. They also have a collection of old airplanes that are really cool. Just as fun In-N-Out on Sepulveda by the North runways. Love the smell of that jet fuel!! I have been commuting LAX-EWR for over 10 years now. The kindness and accommodation of the crews taking me to work is amazing. Captains asking for half weight counts at the last minute just to get us on are much appreciated, not to mention the FAs finding room for our bags. A little chocolate and maybe some red velvet cupcakes is the least I can do. I can hardly believe it has been almost 27 years with Continental…United now but I still love it. :)

Scott Diekmann said...

I have been to the Proud Bird, and of course the In-N-Out. I guess you've got some seniority Vicki! We stay at the Westin, so sometimes on my run I'll run past the Proud Bird too. Looking at the warbirds is awesome.