Reader Grindintosecond explains in this piece how the FAA's upcoming pilot rule change is going to alter how airlines handle bad weather response and what you, a consumer, can do to avoid getting stuck in an airport all night.
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Because I care about you...I will discuss the new rules affecting me. They will also affect you during bad weather airline days and make things worse. Because of a close look at how tired the pilots can get with the current 70's era rules in place, and it's effect on a certain crash in Buffalo a short while back, the FAA geniuses figured out that, after observing us work for 40 years, perhaps the pilots aren't getting enough sleep. I can tell you this is true. A lot. In fact I know of many pilots whose first rule upon returning from an overseas international flight, is "No powertools". So what's happening? The biggest change is to how much we can work and sleep in a day.
NOW: I can get assigned up to 8 hours of flying for a single day. I can be AT work for up to 16 hours, within that is where I fly the 8 maximum. The current rules say if it takes me more than 8 hours to fly that assignment, then cool go do it just don't bust that 16 hours. So we did. Frequently. My record so far is just over 10 hours flying to complete a 7 hour assignment. Weather, snow, holding, fuel diversions, etc. all play a part in that horrible day it was. If we are truly worn out and exhausted at any point in that big stretch of hours to finish the trip, then yes we can tell them we are Fatigued, fill out a report, and then go collapse at a hotel somewhere but most often we are able to finish the schedule. they could also give us 9 hours of rest in between trips that includes travel to and from the hotel, going through security, and trying to eat something in there. Oh, we do have to find some kind of sleep as well. Out of 9 hours, I'll get 6 of sleep.
JANUARY-5: New rules say I become a pumpkin at X hours. I stop. I go to the hotel and sleep. If the maximum scheduled hours is 8, I cannot fly more than 8 to finish that schedule. period. Unlike before. This means if we have to divert to get more fuel somewhere else, you could very well be stuck there because I cannot take off again to get you to your destination if I will exceed that maximum limit of hours. Another fresh crew would have to do that....where would they find them is a mystery. I now get a minimum of 10 hours of rest between trips no matter what and in that I must have the ability to sleep for 8. This is all good for the flight crew working your flight to grandma's house, but given how weather can screw anyone with delays or cancellations, now they will have to worry about where the flight crews are going to get stuck at because they FAA will no longer let the airlines attempt to work them silly tired. (Some regional airlines in the past have been very bad at that.)
So what does this mean to you? Well, don't go and travel on bad weather days especially in the afternoon. Fly in the mornings. In the afternoon or night on bad weather days at large airports, there will be flight crews all timed out being sent to hotels at airports they weren't supposed to be at in the first place and planes and passengers stuck there until morning or until they get another crew in place. Oh, the biggest thing, the airline will NOT GIVE YOU A FREE HOTEL ROOM. Not unless it was their fault....and bad weather is not their fault. You didn't plan ahead. That's how they look at it.
Good luck traveling this season, keep in mind that in January, things change and everyone at the airlines have to see how it really affects operations. they've been working at it, some more than others, but it will take a bit to see it all pan out. I hope you get where you're going safely.