In a dramatic turn of events, the seniority percentage has reversed course. Having successfully completed my Captain upgrade training and required operational experience and evaluations, the eastern seaboard will once again be graced by the presence of yours truly. While the battle continues to be fought, the scheduling gods decided to take an unblemished record of avoiding New York’s LaGuardia airport and throw a newly-minted Captain into the ring. With the added benefit of a seasoned Captain in the jumpseat heading to work, the first leg into the unknown was met with minimal resistance. Calm winds, clear skies, and an expected plan of action that came to fruition instilled an abundance of confidence into this low-time Captain that a few hours later would be washed away with the force of a passing line of thunderstorms that were only forecasted to happen with a 20 percent probability. And while the phrase “New York Minute” reminds me of the on-time statistics of operations in this area, these storms arrived right on time.
Sunny skies and warm temperatures were a big hit in the West Palm Beach area this weekend, enough to necessitate an Air Traffic Control delay program that was the impetus of the heroic tales to follow. Making the most of every knot of tailwind, every five degree shortcut possible, time lost on the ground was made up, albeit not completely. Trekking back northward to these somewhat familiar grounds, a close eye on the weather radar around the New York area proved to make the time turn slowly, while the radar returns moved eastward rapidly. While I looked back in time wondering how easier this would have been without the unnecessary thirty minute delay, I knew that LaGuardia was trying to make sure I had a true LaGuardia experience. While I welcomed the thought of the initiation, I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.
Approaching Staten Island, New York Approach began advising inbound arrivals to Newark that the airport was not taking any more arrivals. A few go-arounds due to windshear sullied the evening’s scheduled arrivals in a non-New York Minute. Glancing to the west I could see the reason for all these failed attempts to land. Moderate to extreme precipitation illuminated from the city lights below and the frequent lightning above smirked at the growing line of travelers heading home before the weekend was done. Northward over Manhattan, New York Approach informed a few Teterboro arrivals of their impending fate. First, Newark shuts down, and then Teterboro follows suit. Having a limited experience in the area, I can only imagine that LaGuardia was next, followed by Kennedy, and then whatever else is out there.
A quick-thinking New York Approach controller noticed the oncoming radar returns and advised a turn towards the east for a downwind leg east of the airport for Runway 22. Having been the plan of attack for the last few hours, we were ready for battle. The weather’s quick attacks on the area sent one inbound aircraft off to their alternate destination, citing windshear on the approach. “A loss of at least twenty knots” the pilot uttered as his craft shook violently in the skies above New York climbing as fast as it could above the ground. In front of him, a fellow company aircraft lines up for the runway and experiences a couple rapid changes in the wind direction and velocity that their onboard equipment deciphers as not meeting the windshear definition, and makes an uneventful landing on Runway 22. Heading east, we’re anxiously awaiting our turn back to the north to circle back for the runway and end the night fulfilling a promise to our passengers that we would beat the weather.
“Winds now showing out of the north, wonder if you’d like to switch to Runway 31?” Frantically looking over my First Officer’s shoulder to find in a sea of lights a few white ones that resemble a rectangle, the red and white lights just to the right of the runway call me into an old familiar visual approach into an unfamiliar place. Locking eyes for a second, noting the timeliness of the decision, the rapidly-advancing storms, and what appeared to be a brief lull in the turbulence, the Patron Saint of LaGuardia rolled up his sleeves and dealt to us all the blows that he could muster. Tonight, however, this crew took years of experience battling equatorial storms across remote islands in the Indian Ocean, northwesterly jet streams low across the Rocky Mountains, and a few battles with regional airline crew scheduling, and slayed the dragon that gave everything he had in those final moments with not even a hard landing to laugh at in defeat.
Restoring one’s confidence while gaining experience in an unfamiliar landscape, I will never forget that night when I was introduced to LaGuardia, and left with a score of Roy – 2, LGA – 0. My bouts with the dragon may be over for the month, and while I may have won this battle, I stand tall ready for the war to come.