It is not often that folks have reason to be happy about delayed flights. But anyone complaining about the initially posted 15 minute delay on my flight from San Francisco to Sydney last night would be someone who hadn’t ever chatted with route planning folks in operations. Indeed, we actually needed to take the delay on our departure in order to ensure that we could arrive on time.
There are crazy rules all over the world about where you can fly and when. Among those is a restriction preventing arrivals at Sydney earlier than 6am. With favorable winds our flight time was under 14 hours, meaning that if we departed on time we actually would have arrived too early into the Sydney area and then we’d be forced to circle, waiting for the airport to open up for morning operations.
I’ve had the opportunity to chat with the flight plan guys on a couple previous occasions and understanding the immense amount of planning that can go into a single flight, such as Newark to Hong Kong, is quite overwhelming. In addition to operating at the edge of the performance envelope for the aircraft the route has to be timed to hit certain waypoints over foreign airspace rather precisely. If you’re not where you are supposed to be over Russia or China at the exact moment you’re supposed to be there things can get ugly.
It turned out to not be as important that we take the initial delay holding based on the predicted flight time. As we got to our new departure time the pilots determined that there was a problem with the #2 engine that would require some maintenance guys to cannibalize another 747 across the field to get us some spare parts so that we could make the trip safely. I got to chat with the captain, listen to the flight attendants discussing whether they were going to be going illegal or not and watch out the window of the jetway – under the careful eye of the armed Customs & Border Patrol officers waiting for us to close the door and go. Ultimately I’m quite glad that they got the repair done right, even if we’re now two hours late and I risk losing my room reservation for tonight because it was only being held for three hours after my planned arrival. I’m sure I’ll figure that out and it beats not quite making it all the way to Australia.
Oh, and I managed to get lie-flat coach seating again on this flight. Four across in the center of the 747, all to myself. Hard to complain about that. I slept great!
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