GA Didn't Fail Me, the Starter Did

2:10 PM

For days, I have been planning this California business trip, southbound via Katyliner for a pair of client photo shoots. Unlike flight via the scheduled carriers, I was elated to be able to pack far more photo gear than I usually take. The IFR flight plan was filed even though the weather was clear and million all the way into FAT...just for practice.

We arrived at the hanger early, and Katy's pre-flight went smooth. With "Andy" – our PT Cruiser, yes all the family vehicles have names – safely stowed in the barn and everything loaded in 27W, we were ready for liftoff precisely on schedule.

Master switch on, primer five strokes, electric fuel pump on, and turn the key. I watched a couple of blades pass by the windscreen, and then heard an expensive sound coming from the front of the plane, as if some kid had whacked the spinner with a sledgehammer. At that moment, the prop stopped its smooth clockwise rotation and a loud grinding noise forced it to an immediate halt. I didn't need a rocket scientist on board to know this wasn't good.
When I exited the plane and looked inside the front of the cowl, the "nose" of the starter was poking out from where it was jammed between the flywheel starter gear and the bottom cowl. There were a number of flywheel teeth that were damaged, and small bits of broken pinion gear were lying on the taxiway. Frustrated because (a) I knew this was going to be an expensive repair and (b) the flight was at this point canceled, I began to initiate whatever Plan B we could develop instantly.

My A/P showed up almost immediately, and confirmed the plane was down for a while. But with plenty of preparations already completed for the two California photo shoots, Plan B surely would mean one of us – uh, that would be me, camera guy – had to quickly buy a ticket on any carrier that could haul me to FAT in time for my 6P photo gig with the Fresno Grand Opera. We quickly consolidated my four bags of photo gear into two carry-ons and a roller, and headed off to receive the bad news at the United ticket counter. What we found when we got there was really disappointing:
The airlines must have large committees of people these days who have one task in life - create a business model that makes no sense at times. Yes, they had a seat, and yes, they'ed be more than happy to sell it to me...for $666 round trip. Oh wait, that price did not include the $30 ticket counter fee for not buying the seat online...or the $15 for checking the roller. So make that $711...my penalty for buying the empty seat on the day of the flight. But if I hadn't bought that seat, United would have made $0 because no ass was occupying that skinny seat. So here's an idea, instead of CHARGING ME MORE as a way of slapping me around and punishing me for not buying three weeks in advance, they should have been THANKING ME for taking that previously empty seat off their hands!
It boggles the mind how commercial carriers are really good at making a flight on their line so unpleasant at times. No, not all scheduled airline flights are awful, once in a while they actually surprise the cattle in back with a no squawker. But wait...there's more:
Frustrated, and with the clock ticking, I ask the could-not care-less Gate Agent that if I walk 30 feet to the waiting area, log into the EUG airport's free wi-fi and buy the ticket at UAL.com, I could avoid the $30 penalty for making him suffer through a couple of keystrokes. He says yes, so I do that, and their system reports "no seats available"...which now makes me freak a little because in my haste to trying to avoid the "Ticket Purchase Extortion Fee", I might have lost the seat. I run back to the counter – tail between legs – and pay their stupid thirty bucks and get the seat. But in the bizarro world of the friendly skies, I still have to go over to the kiosk and check-in. As I select "no, continue" to FOUR offers to upgrade everything from my legroom to the lavatory experience – double-ply ass wipe, $12.95...click here – I get my boarding passes. Maybe it's just me, but for the extra $30 clams they just robbed me of, don't you think the dude could have gone that extra mile and CHECKED ME IN TOO????
So, new starter is on order, and Katy is happy to be the recipient of a new Kelly Aerospace lightweight e-Drive starter. I guess this is the price of aircraft ownership. And while these kinds of repairs are never easy to swallow, bottom line is that I still own a wonderful private plane, and in this economy, that's saying something.

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