For every true aviation enthusiast, entering the airplane cockpit is a great experience. But being inside during the flight is a dream come true.
Assuming our readers might like to know more about this experience, we decided to send a request to our flag carrier Croatia Airlines (CTN), hoping they will grant us permission to make such a report on one of their flights.
Our commitment to informing the public on aviation related topics is well known to CTN, so, after meeting all the security requirements, we got the positive response from the airline.
So, let’s start from the beginning…
Early morning (5:30AM) arrival to Dubrovnik Airport was quite surprising. At that time of the day, there is only one flight departing Dubrovnik (on route to Zagreb), therefore I wasn’t expecting to see a crowded terminal. I realized I was wrong as soon as I saw several buses parked just in front of the departure terminal. The Greek Aegean Airlines has been flying in from many European destinations throughout this winter, bringing travelers to Dubrovnik.
The check in area was very crowded and I immediately felt fully awake and happy that I decided to check myself in the day before. So, I was able to proceed directly to security check on the first floor.
Security check was going fast and the airport security personal was trying really hard to make this process go as smoothly as possible.
Due to all the construction work on the expansion of Dubrovnik Airport, the airbridges were not in operation. All passengers were transferred to airplanes by buses, from the terminal building.
I was the last one to embark on Airbus A320 (reg. 9A-CTK) and was greeted with a warm smile from the head flight attendant on board (also called the Purser).
I introduced myself to her and said that the Captain was expecting me.
After checking with the Captain, the Purser kindly helped me with my luggage and escorted me to the flight deck.
The Captain and the First Officer were already making preparations for the flight. After having introduced myself, I was seated on a ‘jump seat’ which is used for pilot examiners and instructors, or for any additional member of the flight crew.
The crew continued with their preparations and the First Officer soon informed the ATC that they were ready for the clearance. The air traffic controller dictated the clearance containing the following information: flight destination, SID (Standard instrument departure), runway, initial altitude and ‘squawk’ (4-digit transponder code that is used for identifying the aircraft on radar). The First Officer wrote down all the information and gave ‘readback’ to tower.
After having completed some additional preparations and check lists, the First Officer requested permission for pushback and engine start, and the ATC approved. The push back tractor started pushing us away from the gate, while the Captain initiated engine 1 start, and soon after the engine 2 start.
After the pushback was completed, pilots requested permission to taxi from the ATC. The Captain added some power to the engines, and we started taxiing to the active runway.
After arriving to our take-off position, my hosts finished their ‘before take-off checklists’ and requested permission for take-off. The ATC gave them clearance and, the Captain added full thrust to the engines. We started our take-off roll.
The First Officer monitors and reads out the ground speed and the Captain confirms.
F/O: “One hundred”
F/O: “V1” (The speed beyond which takeoff should no longer be aborted)
The experience of take-off is unique. But, the experience of take-off inside a cockpit is indescribable. I won’t even try to put it into words.
After our initial climb, gear up, ‘After take-off checklist’ and some navigation instruments adjusting, we made a big turn above the Adriatic Sea and continued via ‘Waypoints’ that were previously set in the flight plan.
Soon we were transferred to Sarajevo Radar frequency, who continued to follow our flight.
Pilots switch off the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign, which signals the cabin crew they can start with their on-board service. The Purser enters the cockpit and offers the pilots and me some refreshments.
Being a real aviation geek, I spent years educating myself on everything related to flying. I read from the flight plan that we will be cruising at FL320 (Flight Level - 32.000 feet - 9.754 meters). Paying close attention to the instruments in front of me, I can tell we are climbing over 24.000 feet while overflying Mostar (LQMO). I can hear the conversation between the Captain and the ATC:
Capt: “Sarajevo, Croatia six bravo”
Sarajevo Radar: “CTN6B (our call sign), go ahead”
Capt: “CTN6B request stop climb FL260”
Sarajevo Radar: “CTN6B approved, climb FL260”
The Captain confirms and sets the autopilot to FL260.
I am monitoring the instruments; they all look fine to me. But then again, I am not an expert. I am looking at the pilots, they are calm, concentrated on their work, checking the weather conditions at Zagreb Airport, entering new data in the flight computer.
I was amazed with it all, when the Captain spoke to me:
“We have a very small sick child on board, who is going to Zagreb for a treatment. Little children are sensitive, and this child even more so, being sick. We will stop our climb and maintain this altitude because of the cabin pressure. It might not help the child, but it certainly won’t do any harm. Although there are often people with medical conditions on board, this procedure is not always possible. Since we were approved by the ATC, we will soon start our descent, but with a lower descent-rate in order to minimize the effect of change in cabin pressure”, Captain Lušić explained, and decided together with his First Officer Ciglar to request for descent.
I was left speechless. I knew that people can’t fly with certain medical conditions, and I knew that special attention is provided to persons with disabilities and illnesses. But I never imagined that pilots made this kind of special effort. I was really touched with what I just witnessed.
Upon my return to Dubrovnik, I asked my dear friend and co-founder of Avioradar, Marina Hinić, to give me an insight to this story. Marina has been working in aviation for a very long time. She was the one who informed the Captain about this small child with medical problems. She explained:
“This is what is officially called ‘Special categories of passengers. It sounds very serious, as it should, since the whole aviation industry pays special attention to transporting passengers in that category. Among those are: passengers with reduced mobility, pregnant women, newborns and both children and adults with a medical condition.
For some of those passengers, especially the ones whose condition can deteriorate and become even life threatening while flying, a special medical clearance needs to be obtained from a health professional.
The whole crew, especially the Captain and the Purser need to be informed about any special category of passengers on board. They must brief the crew about what type of medical condition a certain passenger has, the kind of care and assistance they might need during the flight, is there someone traveling with them, especially medical escort, do they have all the medical documentation etc.
All these procedures were made not to make the airlines look annoying, but to ensure that the passengers get all the help and attention they need, at the airport and on board the plane. And most importantly, to make sure their health and their lives are not endangered. The change in altitude, cabin pressure, turbulence can all be dangerous and even unacceptable for some medical conditions.
There are certain passenger categories that cannot be admitted on board. There was once a young lady, suffering from cancer, that was unfortunately refused from boarding. Although all the procedures were met, the weather forecast for that flight was bad, with strong turbulence expected on the route. Both the Captain and the medical escort decided that the patient’s health would be in danger, so the ground transport was organized.
I don’t need to emphasize how sensitized we all are when it comes to these passengers, both ground personal and the crews. We all do our maximum in order to help the passengers, often beyond the standard procedures. If possible, we always leave the seat next to them empty, just to provide for some extra comfort. The cabin crew try especially hard to make their flight go as smooth, comfortable and safe as possible.”
After explaining all the procedures to me, the Captain returned to his duties and started with preparations for approach and landing with his colleague.
According to ATIS (Automatic terminal information system) we were supposed to land on Runway 05. The Captain therefore decided to practice and prepare for an ‘autoland’ (system that fully automates the landing procedure of an aircraft's flight, with the flight crew supervising the process. It’s used in weather conditions that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible to operate in). During our descent we were directed to Runway 23, so the pilots started preparations for ILS (Instrument landing system) approach and for a ‘manual’ landing.
Upon getting close enough to ‘catch’ the ILS signal for Runway 23, we got ‘cleared for ILS approach RWY23’, and finally, ‘Cleared to land’ on Runway 23 from Zagreb Tower.
The landing itself, with the inevitable Airbus sounds: “One thousand... Five hundred... Four hundred... Three hundred... Two hundred... One hundred... Fifty, Forty, Thirty, Twenty, Ten... RETARD!!! RETARD!!!”, was perfect thanks to our Captain’s skill and good weather conditions (although it was a chilly late March morning, especially for someone who has spent their entire life living on the seaside).
The Captain taxis to our parking position. The airbridge connects to the front aircraft door and the passengers start to disembark.
I greet my hosts in the cockpit, take my belongings from the Purser, thank the whole crew one last time, and enter the ‘Dr. Franjo Tuđman’ airport terminal. Full of impressions.
I thought I knew what to expect during the flight, but I got to experience so much more. The crew has the best ‘office view’ in the world, but they also have a human side, that we as passengers don’t get to see.
I want to express my gratitude to Croatia Airlines, Captain Lušić, First Officer Ciglar, Purser Ana Marija Radušić and the whole cabin crew on the flight OU661/CTN6B on March 14th, 2019. What an amazing experience that was!
Photo © Avioradar