Why airline pilot schedules and cruises don’t mix

It was 2006, and my husband and I were two brand new First Officers at our Major Airline. We now lived in a city with a cruise ship port. One week, my husband spotted a very cheap cruise that matched up with our days off. We had been working very hard rehabbing a house out of town and had finally sold it. The pressure was off. We had been hired at this awesome company, lived in this fantastic new place, and now we no longer had to renovate a turn of the century house on all of our days off. Time to relax and celebrate. So, we spontaneously booked this cruise that magically lined up with our days off. We both had four days off at the same time. Voila!

We had only been on one other cruise – a four-day Mediterranean cruise, leaving from Barcelona. That one other four-day cruise experience came into play in this story.

Cruise ship
Is that our airline pilot career sailing away too?

While boarding our ship, we learned that the internet would be down for the entire cruise. “What do we care?” we thought. We are here to relax, have nothing on the agenda, enjoy the drinks and food, and enjoy meeting cool people (including a young couple at our dining table, husband just back from the Middle East who had given a leg and had one of those curved metal legs. I will never forget that couple and how amazingly strong and positive they were). No internet? To be honest, I hadn’t even thought that there might be internet on a cruise, so no problem – definitely not what we are here for!

After setting sail, that evening we unpacked and discovered an itinerary on the bed. In reviewing the itinerary, confusion set in. There appeared to be five days on the itinerary for our four-day cruise. Counting the days… recounting them… uh oh. Too many days. We are now in the middle of the ocean, with no communication capability whatsoever, and had no way of telling our new company that we simply could not make it back for work the next week. It was like a bad decision movie playing out in slow motion: you can see it will end badly, but there is nothing you can do to stop it.

The next day, we dropped anchor at a private island. While everyone went to the beach, we went to try to find a phone, alternating between amazed humor at finding ourselves in this situation and worry about being disciplined or fired, then back to laughing again. There was a line waiting for the one pay phone. We spent the entire time in port, and over $100 in credit card charges, trying to get through to someone at the company. With no cell phone, we had to try to remember a number to scheduling. We were not able to get through before setting sail again. Next day was a day at sea. No stops. We told our entire dinner table about our mistake for their entertainment.

The next port was the Bahamas. We disembarked there to find a communication device. Finally, in the depths of the Atlantis Hotel, we found pay phones and were able to get through to scheduling. We explained what we had done, and requested to be put on a late reserve slot for our first day. Scheduling did not seem amused and said that under the current rules, they could not help us. Somehow, they did not feel sorry for our dumb mistake, and probably spent the rest of the day making fun of us while deciding if we should be sacrificed on the Altar of the Chief Pilot, as we were both clearly too stupid to be trusted.

However, it turned out that they were nice enough to put us on at 11 a.m. on our first day back on reserve. We made sure we were first off the boat at 8 am, and made it home in time for reserve. Thank you someone in scheduling!

Bet you’ve never gotten trapped on a four-day cruise that was really a five-day cruise. In our defense, the only other cruise we’d done – the Mediterranean one – was advertised as a four-day, and only lasted four days. This one was advertised as a four-day, but it was DAY 5 that you came back into port at 8am. Very tricky…

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