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A Day In The Life


I get asked all the time, “what’s it like to be an airline pilot?”. The answer is not so easy. There are goods and there are bads. There are moments when you can’t believe they pay you for this, and there are moments when you firmly believe they don’t come close to paying you enough. I can say this though - with 100% assurance - that all airline pilots started out with an absolute love of flying. That simply has to be there, because the road to getting into the cockpit of a major airline is a long and challenging one. I was lucky enough to serve as a Boeing 737 Captain for Southwest Airlines - an extremely well-run airline with a great company culture – and because of that, my impressions might seem a little rosier than compared to other pilots at other airlines where the employees weren’t valued quite as highly.

Hopefully, what will follow will educate and enlighten, because just like about every other career, what is seen on the surface bears very little resemblance to the actual career. I was blessed to spend most of my airline career with Southwest, so this will serve as the backdrop for most of the impressions presented here. All airlines are unique in culture and procedures, but there is also a lot of similarities, set forth mostly by the requirements of the airplane manufacturer (Boeing), the FAA, and something called the FARs – which stands for Federal Aviation Regulations. I need to apologize up front to my fellow brothers and sisters in the industry at other carriers. This presentation represents only my impressions, and is hardly the last word in what the job and the industry is like.

That being said, let’s start with . . .

The alarm goes off. You crack open one eye and see that the alarm clock in your hotel room reads 3:30 AM. It is Day 1 of a 3-day block of flying, called a “trip”. Your report time at the Pilot Lounge in your Crew Base of Las Vegas is 5:00 AM, which is one hour prior to the scheduled “push” time of 6:00 AM. Push time is the time in which the Boeing 737 (which you are Captain of) is scheduled to actually “push” back from the gate. This hour prior allows for you to log in on the company computer, which tells them that you have, indeed, reported for work. You will also check company emails keep yourself abreast of any changes to company procedures, policies, or other hot-ticket items. You will also update your iPad which houses all of your navigation charts, airplane manuals, and weather data. The days of carrying around the 30-lb book bag are thankfully long gone. You also check your physical mail slot in the lounge for any physical pieces of information or gear that you might need: pilot union mailers, the new name tag that you ordered for your cool leather flight jacket, the pair of sunglasses that you left in the cockpit after your last leg into Las Vegas at the termination of last week's trip.

You’d also be looking for your First Officer (aka the copilot), and introducing yourself. Small talk and the standard questions are exchanged: where do you live, what commuting hotel did you stay in last night, will you be flying the full 3-day trip together (often times you don’t). About 40 minutes prior to push you start heading to the airplane, often with a quick stop at Starbucks first – the airline industry, like the military, runs on caffeine, especially when it is the first leg of the day. As Captain, you greet the Operations Agent at the top of the jetway, where they have printed out your flight plan, weather briefing package, security checklist, and any other pertinent information that is required for the safe conduct of the flight. The Ops Agent will also check your airline ID badge against the expected crew list for the flight. You’d be surprised how many early-morning, bleary-eyed pilots or Flight Attendants have misread the TV monitors and gone to the wrong gate – it happens all the time.

You walk down the jetway, board the aircraft as a crew, which normally means 2 pilots and 3-4 Flight Attendants. Once onboard, the crew heads off to different parts of the jet: the First Officer heads outside to do the external walk-around inspection, the Flight Attendants head to their respective stations to do their cabin preflight, and you as Captain, are checking the Dispatch Release and start bringing the airplane to life. Electrical power is brought on-line (the engines aren’t started until the airplane begins its pushback from the gate), all the aircraft systems are tested between you and the First Officer. You also look at the aircraft maintenance logbook, and you review all the briefing paperwork. Is the loaded fuel sufficient to get you to the destination with a comfortable reserve? Perhaps you might want to add another 2000 pounds of fuel because there is a line of thunderstorms between here and there that you might have to deviate around. Maybe the destination weather is going to be crappy, and Dispatch (think NASA Mission Control) has given you an alternate field to land at where the weather might not be all that much better. You might need to give Dispatch a call and see if you can come up with an alternate . . . well, alternate. This is where all your years of experience come into play. Good Captains are always anticipating problems or other potential operational hiccups.

Finally, usually just before boarding, the Captain will gather the Flight Attendants and conduct a quick crew brief. Here’s where the tone is set for interaction between the flight deck crew and the cabin crew, and that tone is set by the Captain. Items that might be discussed: how many legs will they be flying together that day, what the weather – and most importantly – ride conditions (bumpy or smooth) might be like, who might be making a food run between legs for lunch or dinner. But really, the most important thing that a Captain can convey to his Flight Attendants is that he has their backs.

A little sidebar here. I will be there first to tell you that I could not ever be a Flight Attendant . . . ever. If I were CEO for a day at Southwest Airlines, the first thing I would do would be double the salary of Flight Attendants and Customer Service Agents. They are the real face of SWA, where the Company interfaces with the Customers that are paying our paychecks. Flying is an emotional experience for most passengers. They are putting their existence in the hands of people they don’t know, in an environment that they don’t understand. That creates anxiety, and people deal with anxiety in different ways. Most people handle things just fine, but only in airline flying will you have such a high potential for bad adult behavior, and the people that are the first responders - and often times the only responders - to such social unpleasantries are the Flight Attendants. Most passengers view Flight Attendants just as servants who sling drinks and snacks, but most importantly they are the ones who ensure that 143 imperfect human beings, enclosed in a metal tube, travelling at 600 mph, all act and play nicely with their fellow travelers sitting around them for the next three hours. It takes a special skillset to be a Flight Attendant, and at times it can be a frustrating, thankless task. Personally, I have zero tolerance for boorish behavior, so I look at the amount of patience that is required to be a good Flight Attendant, and their ability to defuse and remedy uncomfortable social situations, on top of their primary safety responsibilities, and I view them as . . . well . . . superhuman. And no, I am not being over-dramatic.

As Captain, if I tell my Flight Attendants that I am here to support them, and then actually make the effort to support them by making a good and understandable PA announcements; or keeping the passengers well-informed when we are delayed; or not hesitating to deplane a passenger when they board intoxicated – then they will feel happy and secure, and that will undoubtedly get transmitted to our passengers, helping them feel happy and secure. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what keeps people buying tickets on my airline, and pays my mortgage.

At Southwest Airlines, passenger boarding usually starts around 20 minutes prior to pushback. I say usually. Sometimes it’s prior, sometimes later. If the flight is going to be full (143 passenger seats on our 737-700), or there are a lot of wheelchair passengers to be boarded first, the Ops Agents will probably want to start boarding as soon as the Flight Attendants are ready. On other flights, where there might be only a total of, say 40 passengers (very rare nowadays), the Ops Agents might allow the Flight Attendants are few more luxurious minutes to finish their Starbucks, or their way-overpriced breakfast burrito, before they let the first passengers down the jetway. None of this concerns the cockpit crew, as you are usually too busy getting the airplane ready to fly: checklists need to be run, the navigation procedures for getting airborne and away from the departure airport needs to be briefed, the flight data computer needs to be programed and double-checked, and any personal items between Captain and First Officer need to be discussed to ensure that crew coordination is as seamless as possible.

This includes who will be flying, and who will be monitoring. The monitoring pilot, or "Pilot Not Flying", is responsible for backing up the flying pilot, handling all the radio communication, and making the passenger PA's. Generally, the Captain and the First Officer alternate who is flying and who is not. They are both pilots who love to fly, and the First Officer is just as qualified as the Captain to fly the airplane in all but the worst weather conditions. Plus, it keeps the workload equally balanced throughout the day. The safety benefits are obvious - two sets of eyes and two heads working whatever operational problem there might be is absolute gold. For this particular example, let's say it's the Captains leg.

Finally, after the passengers are boarded and seated, the Operations Agent has verified the fuel load, the passenger numbers, and baggage and freight weight, the flight release is signed by you, the Captain, and all other pertinent paperwork is onboard, it is time to push back from the gate. The Auxiliary Power Unit, or APU, is started and it provides all electrical power and air-conditioning for the airplane until the engines are started. All the passenger and baggage doors are closed, the Flight Attendants give you their passenger count (so you can check it against what the Ops Agent count is), and the cockpit door is closed. The jetway is pulled back, external electrical power plug is removed from the aircraft, and pushback crew checks in with the Captain on the intercom system. The Captain tells them that the airplane is configured for pushback, and the pushback crew – the tug driver and at least one “wing-walker” or safety observer - informs the Captain that the area is clear behind the airplane. The First Officer makes a radio call to Ground Control requesting clearance to push back, and if granted, the Captain informs the push crew that “brakes are released, cleared to push”.

As our 737 is being pushed back, the engines are started, usually the right one first, followed by the left. Once the pushback crew pushes the airplane to a spot where the it could then taxi away on its own power, the Captain will clear the pushback crew to detach, and once both engines are running normally, full electrical and hydraulic power is brought on line. Some quick checks are done in the cockpit, the flaps are positioned for takeoff, the flight controls are cycled to ensure they move freely, the Pre-Taxi checklist is run, and then the First Officer calls Ground Control again to ask for taxi clearance.

Most large airports have multiple runways with multiple taxiways with multiple airplanes trying to get either to their takeoff runway or to their gate after landing. Ground Control has the very complicated job of keeping the pieces of this Ouija Board flowing in the right direction and not causing any traffic jams. When our First Officer (or FO, for short), calls for taxi, he/she will be given a very specific set of directions of how to get to the takeoff runway. If the Captain does not follow those directions perfectly and makes a wrong turn, it can get pretty ugly, very quickly. Airplanes cannot back up. It is also extremely embarrassing for the flight crew to be verbally harangued on the radio by Ground Control (with all the other airplanes listening in with great amusement) for not following their explit directions. Does it happen? Yes, occasionally it does.

We are now next in line for takeoff. The Before Takeoff checklist has been completed. For me, I would pantomime my procedures for aborting a takeoff, and then remind myself of the emergency procedures if we lost an engine just as the airplane was lifting off. Tower will call “Southwest 123, winds are 250 at 8, you are cleared takeoff 24 Left”. As we taxi onto the runway and the throttles are advanced for takeoff, both pilots are scanning to ensure no airplanes are trying to land on our runway, that the runway ahead is clear (no jetliners crossing the runway downfield), and that the engine and flight instruments are all normal.

The aircraft starts accelerating. During the takeoff roll, you are constantly scanning inside the cockpit, then outside the cockpit. Back and forth constantly. The nose then starts to feel a little lighter. The FO calls “V1”, which is an airspeed at which if the plane were to lose an engine, you could either abort the takeoff and have enough runway to stop, or continue to accelerate on one engine with the remaining runway and get safely airborne. After the V1 callout, you are committed to flight. Shortly after this callout, the FO will call “Rotate”, at which the Captain will pull back slightly on the yoke, the nose will lift, and a few moments later the airplane is airborne.

After the jet is safely airborne, the Captain will call for the landing gear to be retracted. At 1000 feet, the Captain calls for the flaps to be partially retracted and climb thrust to be set with the throttles, which the FO does. As the aircraft continues to climb and accelerate, the flaps are fully retracted, and the plane settles into its climb speed, which is usually 250 knots. As the Captain climbs his aircraft through the departure procedure, which is basically a set of navigation instructions that keeps departing aircraft clear of arriving aircraft, the radio frequencies will change from Tower, to Departure Control, and then finally to “Center” frequency, which is basically the enroute/high altitude Air Traffic Control. Climb checklists are performed at 10,000 feet and 18,000 feet to ensure that the cabin is pressurizing normally. At some point during the climb out, the autopilot will be turned on.

I get asked this all the time: “You guys don’t really do a lot up there, right? The autopilot does all the work.” Yes, it’s true, the autopilot does make life a lot easier for the pilots. I am here to tell you that the auto pilot is used – a lot. I am also here to tell you that if I had to spend an entire day flying the aircraft without an autopilot, after about two hours I would be exhausted. Flying is an intensely mental exercise. Your brain is using an enormous amount of energy, especially as Captain. Lots of decisions to be evaluated and made, on top of the simple hand/eye coordination of flying the airplane. What the autopilot really does is allow the Flight Crew the attention it needs to make good decisions to ensure the airplane safely gets from point A to point B. A couple of generations ago, the Flight Crew consisted of the Captain, First Officer, Flight Engineer, Navigator, and Radio Operator. Nowadays, a crew will fly from LA to Tokyo with a Captain, First Officer, and a relief First Officer – that’s it. Yes, the advent of GPS and computer automation allows that the Flight Engineer, Navigator, and Radio Operator are no longer needed, but all of those same decisions still need to be made. At the end of a 12-hour day, having the autopilot there to help with the flying is something that you want to make good use of. It is an asset that you want to use, as you measure out your available personal energy in the course of the flying day (or night).

At cruise, the crew settles into making the route of flight as absolutely comfortable as possible for the passengers. Flying in the air is exactly like a boat on the water. Sometimes the air/water is smooth, and sometimes it is not. If the ride up at cruise altitude (usually anywhere between 29,000 and 41,000 feet) becomes bumpy, you can bet the Flight Crew is talking with ATC (Air Traffic Control) to find out if there might be a different altitude where the ride is better. Within a few minutes of the seat belt sign coming back on, you will hear a change in the engine noise as the pilots climb or descend the airplane to a different altitude for a smoother ride. Sometimes, however, the ride is just plain crappy at all altitudes and you have to simply accept that fact and hope that things will smooth out soon. Usually in the springtime, when warm air masses are battling it out with cold air masses, or when there are thunderstorms all around, you will have the bumpiest of rides. I have flown three-hour legs where the seat belt sign was on and the Flight Attendants remain buckled in their seats the entire flight. It is never fun, but turbulence is the number one reason why hundreds of Flight Attendants get injured every year in the airline industry, and you don’t chance it just so a passenger can get a second cup of coffee that they’ll just end up spilling on the person sitting next to them.

Other than finding the best ride, the two pilots up front are busy changing radio frequencies, avoiding bad weather along the route of flight, monitoring the systems and fuel burn of the airplane, perhaps asking for a more direct route to the intended destination, and then preparing for the arrival procedure into that destination. You are constantly checking what the flight computer says will be your landing time, and what your landing fuel will be. As a Captain, you pride yourself with showing up a little early, and a little under fuel burn if possible. This makes both the passengers and the company happy. If you are a little behind, you will generally fly a little faster – which means burning more fuel – to get the airplane back on schedule. Being late makes the airline look bad, and puts passenger’s connections at risk. I will happily sacrifice a little bit of fuel burn to get the airplane back on schedule. However, if you are really late – like an hour or more – there’s nothing you can do about it. The flight crew can’t bend the space-time continuum that much. You just go back to flying the most efficient profile you can. Dispatch will re-juggle the flight schedule to accommodate passengers who may be missing connections. It is really out of your hands at that point, and all you can do is apologize to the passengers. Sometimes the delay might be due to weather, sometimes it might be due to ATC delays where they are limiting or “metering” the number of airplanes arriving at a particular destination, sometimes it might be due to a mechanical problem with your aircraft that needs to be fixed before you can safely (and legally) go flying. And then sometimes, it will be simply because your first leg started at 2PM in Nashville, but three legs earlier in the day, it was snowing like crazy in Denver and the crew flying your aircraft had to get de-iced twice before takeoff. Passengers don’t quite understand that sometimes, especially when the weather is clear and sunny where you happen to be taking them. The great thing about air travel is that you get there safely and very quickly. The bad thing about air travel is that there are about 100 additional safety factors that must be taken into account that you don’t have to deal with when driving your car from San Diego to Denver.

Now back to our flight. About 150 miles out, the crew will start collecting the arrival information: the latest reported weather at the airport, what runways are being used for landing, what gate to taxi to after the landing, and the expected taxi route to get there. If the weather is good, the flying pilot will brief the non-flying pilot for a “visual” approach where things like airport elevation, the expected flap settings and approach speeds, and if a navigation aid might be used as a backup. If the weather is not-so-good, then a full instrument approach will be briefed. This is a much more complicated approach to the runway that allows the aircraft to be so precisely flown that it can be completely in the “goo” (clouds) the whole way down in the descent, breaking out of the clouds as low as 50 feet above the runway, and be in a perfect position to make a normal landing. Some aircraft have an “auto-land” capability, which allows the autopilot to fly the aircraft all the way through to touchdown and rollout. The briefing, and the programming of the navigation computer is very important, regardless of how good or bad the weather might be, for it ensures that both pilots have agreed upon the routing and the descent procedures, how to configure the aircraft for landing (putting the flaps and landing gear down), making the landing, and then getting to the correct gate. Both pilots (and the computer) need to be on the same page.

Just like the departure, the arrival procedure into the destination airport is a specific route to get the airplane onto the final approach course of the landing runway. Surface winds, weather, and traffic pattern flows all factor into the runway of choice. Each destination airport will probably have anywhere from 5-10 different arrival procedures for funneling arriving aircraft into the traffic pattern, and these are coming in from all points on the compass. Approach control will assign which arrival routing will be used for each individual aircraft. These procedures involve flying to specific points, and crossing each point at a particular airspeed and altitude. Maintaining a specific track, altitude, and airspeed allows for proper spacing between each arriving aircraft. This is important to allow each aircraft the time needed to land and clear the runway, but more importantly, to allow something called “wake turbulence” to dissipate from the aircraft in front of you.

Wake turbulence is the extremely disturbed air that each airliner leaves behind it as it passes through the air. This is caused somewhat by the exhaust from the jet engines, but to a greater degree, from the aerodynamic turbulence created by the wings – and more severely – the wingtip vortices that trail behind an aircraft in flight. The wingtip vortices coming off a very large aircraft, for instance a 777, are strong enough to flip a smaller aircraft like our 737 clean on its back. Wingtip vortices are especially strong when an aircraft is in the landing configuration – landing gear and flaps down – and slow for the soon-to-be-happening landing. This is why the spacing between each airliner landing on the same runway is usually 5-7 miles. The larger the aircraft, the more distance ATC will put between it and the following aircraft. This allows the time needed for the wake turbulence to dissipate, allowing for a safe approach and landing.

Passing through 18,000 feet in the descent, if you have window seat and you are flying at night, you will notice the airplane's exterior lights, just like the headlights and high-beams on your car, will come on. The seat-belt sign will come back on, and the non-flying pilot will make the arrival PA to the passengers, letting them know things like what the weather is, our anticipated time of pulling up to the gate, and how the ride will be for the reminder of the descent. After the PA, the flight crew will run a descent checklist, and double check everything in the navigation computer. The radio chatter tends to get a lot busier, for now Approach Control is busy trying to keep dozens of aircraft properly sequenced and spaced. The flight crew is extremely busy complying with Approach Control’s instructions, flying the airplane properly, and looking out for other aircraft that are all being funneled to the same airport and runway.

At some point, usually around 10 miles from touch down, Approach Control will turn you over to the Tower, where you will receive landing clearance for a specific runway, and the flying pilot will start configuring the airplane for landing. The airspeed will slow to something close to 200 KIAS (knots indicated airspeed), and the flaps will start being positioned to Flaps 1 (leading edge flaps partially extended), then after slowing a bit more, Flaps 5 (full leading-edge flaps, and partial trailing edge flaps). As a passenger, what you will be hearing in the cabin is a whirring sound in which electric and hydraulic motors drive jackscrews (not unlike what you find on your spare tire jack) that drive the flaps to the desired position. At 150 KIAS, you will hear and feel the thwunk! as the landing gear falls out of its wheel wells and locks into position. The flaps will go from Flaps 15 to the landing flap setting – usually Flaps 30 or 40 – and the “Before Landing Checklist” will be completed in the cockpit.

The rest of the approach the flying pilot is concentrating on flying a perfect approach, and the non-flying pilot is backing him/her up by making altitude and airspeed call-outs. At 50 feet, the flying pilot has completely transitioned to an outside visual scan. At 30 feet, a little back pressure on the yoke brings the nose up as the flare is initiated. At 10 feet, the throttles are retarded to idle, and a few moments later our 737 settles nicely onto her main landing gear. After touchdown, the nose is smoothly lowered to the runway, the speedbrakes are deployed – those panels on the top of the wing that deflect up into the airstream to destroy lift on the wings, the engines are brought into “reverse thrust”, and braking is applied to slow the aircraft down to a safe speed where it can turn off the runway.

After clearing the runway, the flaps and speedbrakes are retracted, the landing lights are turned off (so you don’t destroy the night vision of pilots in other taxiing airplanes), and you check in with Ground Control and tell them which gate you need to taxi to. Ground will give you your taxi instructions, which can be very simple and you’re at your gate 3 minutes later, or it can be a strange 30-minute tour of the complete airport property. Anybody who has flown into Atlanta or LA knows what I am talking about. It’s not Ground Control’s fault. They have an immensely difficult job keeping maybe 30 taxiing jets - that can’t back up or turn around - all flowing in the right direction. And all it takes is one crew making a wrong turn somewhere, and it can foul up what would normally be a beautifully choreographed ballet.

On the way to the gate, you give your company operations a call on the backup radio, letting them know you are on the ground (they already know), and what gate you are taxiing to (they may change it), and if you have any special needs when you get to the gate (how many wheelchairs, provisioning requests from the Flight Attendants, or a mechanic to look at a maintenance issue). As you approach your gate, you line up on the yellow “J-line”, and you check that the gate area is clear of any gear, equipment, or humans that you might run over or suck into your engines. A ground crewman will guide you the last 10 feet or so and tell you when to stop. Then the jetway will pull up to the forward boarding door, external power will be plugged into your airplane, and you will shut down your engines.

As the engines whine down to a stop, the ground crew will tell you via hand-signals that chocks have been applied to your wheels, which is your signal to release the parking brake. The telemetry system on the airplane sends your “On” and “In” times (the time that you landed and the time that you shut down at the gate) to Dispatch. You hear the forward entry door open and passengers begin to deplane as you run the “Engine Shutdown Checklist”. Your First Officer reaches back to unlock the cockpit door, which is immediately opened by the Ops Agent who has the paperwork for the next leg, which is scheduled to leave 30 minutes from now. You take a few minutes to look over the weather and the routing for the next leg, fuel being loaded, and expected numbers of passengers and freight, and sign the required paperwork for the next leg, giving it to the Ops agent.

This leg is now complete. You get up out of your seat, stretch, fix your tie and double-check your appearance in the tiny cockpit door mirror. Then you get to go out and say goodbye to the passengers as they deplane. If the landing was really nice, they might comment and say, “nice landing” and I am here to tell you is ALWAYS appreciated. Other times, the conditions won’t permit any attempt at a “greaser” landing because of strong or gusty crosswinds, a wet or snow-covered runway, or a very short runway – and you just plant the thing on the runway and get her slowed as quickly as you can. And then . . . then there are those times when the weather is perfect, the winds right down the runway and steady, the runway long and 300 feet wide . . . and for some reason your biorhythms are off and you just absolutely PRANG!!! the airplane onto the runway. I mean, you hope that none of the overhead bins popped open, or that nobody lost a filling. Luckily for me, when the inevitable question gets asked “OK, who’s the Navy pilot?”, I can raise my hand and say “Right here, ma’am. Think we caught a 3-wire on that one.”

A normal day can consist of anywhere from 2-4 legs, or flights. If that was your last leg of the day, you’ll also be gathering up your drag-bag (luggage) and other gear, and piling it out onto the jetway where the oncoming crew is waiting. While the passengers are deplaning, you will be “turning over” the plane to the new Captain. You’ll talk about how the airplane is (all airplanes have unique idiosyncrasies), weather/ride issues, company or pilot union rumors, where the hotel van pickup might be located, etc. Believe it or not, you might even recognize each other. Aviation is a very small community, and even though Southwest Airlines might have 9000 pilots, there’s always a chance that you flew in the Navy together, or went through training together, or had an FAA check-ride together, shared a beer at the overnight hotel bar together, or maybe even . . . gasp . . . flew together as a crew!

After the turnover brief is complete (your other crewmembers are doing the same thing with their counterparts), it’s time to trudge through the airport and out to the curb where hopefully the hotel van is waiting to take you and your crew to the overnight hotel. It might just your crew, or there could be 2-3 additional crews on the bus as well. On the way, you will hear or participate in the same conversations: how good is the hotel gym; is the restaurant good or there something better within walking distance; how about that jerk in 12C who had to be asked 3 times to finish his phone call so we could push back. If you are in contract negotiations, there will undoubtedly be eloquent pontifications of the pros and cons of the latest contract proposal. These conversations are quite universal across all airlines.

When you get to your room, you have a choice – will I be industrious, or will I be a sluggard? If I am industrious, I will change into my workout clothes pronto and hit the gym, or maybe go for a run if the hotel area is picturesque. Afterwards, I will meet the crew at the restaurant where I will order salmon salad without any dressing at all. If I am a sluggard, I will turn on the TV and watch a few hours, and then go down to the restaurant where I will order the chicken sandwich with fries (when I know I should be having the fruit) while splitting a mud pie with one of the other crew to blunt my guilt. Then again, I have been woken many times by my wife calling me at 10 PM and saying, “you fell asleep on the bed again, didn't you, and you’re still in your uniform shirt and hi-top black socks, aren’t you?” Yes sometimes, you have that kind of day where you’re lucky to get your shoes, pants, and epaulettes off. You feel rode hard and put away wet. You are exhausted.

You get up, turn off the TV, iron a fresh shirt for tomorrow, get into your jammies, turn out the light, and then . . .

The alarm goes off. You crack open one eye and see that the alarm clock in your hotel room reads 3:30 AM (east coast time now). It takes you a couple of minutes after hitting the snooze alarm to remember just what city you are actually waking up in. It is day 2 of a 3-day block of flying . . .

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