An ACARS printout of Boston weather was the best story. Boston would not be affected by the ugly blob of red for at least another couple of hours. I conferred with my copilots. They agreed. Let’s be first in line for gate space. We confirmed the decision via an FMC (flight management computer) text message to our dispatcher.
My request to proceed to our alternate was answered with a simple “cleared direct Boston.” That was easy. Of course our subsequent handoff to the next sector involved a clearance for an actual published arrival, but that was effortlessly complied with via an FMC database selection after I had activated our deviation on the Alternate page.
The silence over the frequency that followed our request was an indication that other cockpits were considering similar scenarios. As a matter of fact, a company 767 returning from Rio followed us all the way to Boston’s international terminal.
Although the cockpit becomes a flurry of activity during an off-schedule operation, delegation of duties provided a seamless performance. My copilot focused on flying the airplane. I kept to the tasks of ATC communication and computer entries. Our relief copilot coordinated directly with our Boston operational personnel for gate assignment possibilities and communicated via the interphone to the flight attendants.
With my best captain’s voice, I advised our passengers of the situation over the public address system. We completed checklists and briefed the approach. ATC was kind enough to inquire as to our fuel status, aware that deviating aircraft from an international destination may be unable to sustain a delay. Since we had left the holding pattern early, we were not critical. Of course that prompted approach control to fit us into the normal morning rush arrival flow for Runway 22L. At least we were rewarded with a scenic view of the Cape.
We parked at the international terminal as though it were an everyday occurrence. Thanks to our communication efforts prior, company ground personnel were available to guide us in to the gate. We had only one small problem. U.S. Customs didn’t open for business for another hour. Our passengers would have to remain on the airplane until we were redispatched and refueled back to JFK. That fact proved problematic for a handful of passengers. Their final destination was actually Boston.
On the jet bridge, I confronted a rather indifferent port authority cop as to the possibility of segregating the Boston passengers in a waiting area until such time that Customs opened. Nope. Logic or extra effort wasn’t part of the cop’s repertoire. The passengers would have to fly back to JFK, miss their connections because of the weather we had just avoided that would soon appear in Massachusetts, and then spend the rest of the day at the airport attempting to return to a place they had already been. Wonderful.
Meanwhile, back in the cockpit, preflight preparations continued in anticipation of completing the mission that had begun more than 12 hours ago. The thunderstorms were already moving out of New York. All was progressing well until Boston clearance delivery slapped us with a departure hold. No problem … except for one issue. Our crew duty day would expire at 0858. Pushback had to commence before that time.
Magically, at 0800, ATC released us to JFK. Relieved, we began our checklists. With surprisingly minimal delay, we were airborne into a thickening gray sky.
And just when it appeared that a landing at JFK would actually be part of our future, we were thwarted again. A holding clearance was issued over the Calverton VOR on Long Island. Fortunately, as quick as the holding clearance was given, it was rescinded.
Weather radar had become an integral part of our primary scan for the short flight. The arrival route was peppered with various splotches of green, yellow and red. Despite the menacing picture, we experienced nothing worse than light chop.
The ILS approach greeted us with a 500-foot ceiling and the necessity to operate the wipers on the “high” setting. The sound of the clacking blades remained in our ears all the way to the gate. A translucent sheet of streaming water engulfed the airplane as we emerged from the billowing, charcoal overcast. My copilot’s touchdown was worthy of applause.
With the parking checklist complete, I shook the hands of both copilots. They had performed at their professional best. I wished them a safe journey home.
What about the fearful flier? I inquired on her condition to one of the coach cabin flight attendants. She had never uttered a peep. She had not only slept through most of the first leg to Boston but had returned to slumber on the second leg to JFK.
Either we had been successful in calming our fearful flier’s nerves or just maybe her trepidation was a ploy — a subtle hint that our flight would encounter difficulty. No matter. Mission accomplished safely. But with my next fearful flier, I’ll be more cautious.