Flying with the Boston Celtics

Airline Transport Professionals (ATP) is fortunate enough to have a number of the talented Pilots who have graduated from ATP, gone on to fly for the Airlines and then partnered with ATP to provide an excellent mentoring program for aspiring airline pilots at BeAnAirlinePilot.com. Chris Carey is one of those pilots, and he flies for Continental Airlines as well as giving back to the aviation community as a Career Coach on BeAnAirlinePilot.com. Chris recently paid us a visit to share a great story about flying the Boston Celtics back home after a game.

“A few years ago I had the opportunity to fly a charter flight for the Boston Celtics. This story is not so much about the Celtics as it is the unusual amount of work that went into flying a trip under adverse conditions.

Our trip started in Newark at 3:15 pm. We were to take an empty airplane with five flight attendants to Philadelphia, wait several hours for the team to arrive, fly them to Bedford Massachusetts and then fly the empty airplane back to EWR, getting in around 1 am. That was the plan.

It was snowing heavily in both EWR and PHL. Weather conditions meant that we had to be de-iced and PHL was experiencing arrival delays due to snow removal. The combination of snow de-icing and snow removal translated into a four hour delay for us. The company needed our gate for an arriving aircraft so they asked us to taxi down to the Continental Express terminal and park on gate A31. The problem with this became apparent when the controller cleared "Jetlink" 1953 and not "Continental" to the gate. Our 737-800 was simply not going to fit on the gate with all of the RJ equipment surrounding it. After blocking five Express gates for several minutes, the surrounding equipment was moved out of our way and we were able to park at the gate.

We spent the next three hours waiting for our wheels up time to PHL and our turn to de-ice. As the time neared, we began our push back procedures and coordinated deicing with our ramp personnel. As it was still snowing heavily we had the airplane de-iced to remove all existing snow and anti-iced to prevent further snow accumulation. Airplanes are not authorized to take off with any snow adhering to the wings or control surfaces as any amount of snow accumulation on a wing can adversely affect the aircraft’s ability to fly. Due to the continuing snow conditions, we had a hold over time of 20 minutes; this meant that we had to be airborne within twenty minutes of the start of our anti icing procedure. If our hold over time were to expire, we would have to go through the whole process again. Luckily we took off within our time and headed for PHL.

It was still snowing heavily in PHL at our time of arrival which meant that it was necessary to prepare for a Category 3 ILS approach. This is an approach flown and landed by the auto pilot with intense scrutiny on the part of the pilots. Although the plane was on auto pilot, this type of approach involves a great deal of work for the crew. The approach has to be thoroughly briefed and planned for and is then flown by the first officer while the captain concentrates his efforts outside the airplane looking for any signs of the runway or approach lights. We landed safely in PHL and taxied slowly to Atlantic Aviation, a place where normally only smaller corporate jets go. Here the airplane was catered with food for the players and team staff while our fuel was topped off. We waited approximately 90 minutes for the team to arrive. During this time period, we prepped the airplane for departure and familiarized ourselves with the deicing procedures for PHL as it was still snowing.

The team arrived and in short order, we were ready to go. The weather continued to deteriorate with the restricted visibility and increasing snowfall. In fact, the airport had been temporarily shut down to allow ground crews to plow the runways and taxiways. We knew that we were deep in the line for deicing but did not realize how deep until I heard my father, a US Airways pilot, on the radio saying that he was number 28 in line. I counted airplanes and estimated that we were five behind him, making us number 33. Needless to say, it took three hours to de-ice and due to departure delays, we nearly exceeded our hold over time. When the Captain set the park brake just before departure, I called the manager of Bedford Airport on my cell phone and informed him of our estimated time of arrival so that he could have the runway plowed for us upon our arrival.

The flight to Bedford was uneventful. Landing at BED was challenging due to the short runway, large aircraft, and snow conditions. We employed the seldom used auto brakes “max” setting which did a phenomenal job of stopping a large airplane very quickly on snow. Because the tower was closed, we closed our flight plan manually when we landed, something I had not done for years. We parked at BED on the Signature Aviation ramp, where we were surrounded by small airplanes such as Cessnas and Pipers. Our large airplane was quite a contrast as it sat next to the much smaller airplanes that I used to fly and instruct in.

After taking a few quick minutes to eat, the captain and I climbed back in the cockpit, de-iced again and headed for EWR. We arrived at 5:00am, four hours late, tired, and still hungry, but satisfied that we had managed to deal with unusual situations, lengthy de-icing times, inclement weather, and small airports. At the end of the night, the team arrived home a few hours late but was safe and sound. Most of the players took the time to thank us on their way out. Many of them realized how much work we had put into delivering them home as safely as possible. As the last players got off the airplane the team travel manager came up to the cockpit with a gift for our captain. During the delay in PHL I had mentioned to the travel manager that my captain’s young son had just been hospitalized due to a severe infection and that the captain would be flying home as soon as we got back to EWR, I had also mentioned that his son was a huge Celtics fan. The travel manager had taken the time have several players autograph a brand new Celtics hat with a get well message to the captain’s son. Their gesture of kindness was a great way of saying thank you and really moved my captain.

Flying a charter flight is something that we do rather infrequently. The vast majority of our flights are flown as airline flights flying the public. Operating a charter flight provides a unique window into the world of corporate aviation that we as airline pilots do not often see. In my usual line of flying I would never think to call an airport to verify snow removal, or coordinate the fueling with the ramp personal, but when flying into offline airports these are things that become necessary. While the company provides us with the tools to complete the mission, it is up to the pilots to make everything come together in as seamless a manner as possible.”