As a longhaul pilot, I come to work, on average, 4 times a month, but each time is for between 3 and 9 days. This means I can live pretty much anywhere I choose and, in my case, that means a two and a half hour drive from Wales. Traffic along the M4 means I always allow plenty of contingency time so I start with a leisurely coffee and look over the flight plan and briefing documents on my company iPad. When the time is right (one and a half hours before departure) the entire crew meets. First, the pilots get together, say their hellos and decide who will ‘handle’ the flight, then we pop into the cabin crew’s briefing room to meet them and deliver a short technical brief (how long and where the bumps will be, mainly) and any other relevant information. That done, the pilots retire to their briefing space to share their mental models of the briefing and decide how much fuel we need (based on the flight plan plus any extra we think prudent for destination weather or known delays). Through security then a walk through the terminal to the aircraft where we prep for flight as a team. Hopefully, the flight passes uneventfully and a short bus ride sees us in the crew hotel for our ‘slip’ of 24 to 72 hours, waiting for the next flight to arrive so we can fly it home.
My desire to be a pilot was sparked by my father. He was a Canadian who had a career as a pilot spanning World War II bombers, post war jet fighters, airline flying from Dragon Rapides (biplanes) to BAC1-11s. I was infected with the flying bug at about 6 months when he sat me in the cockpit of his Vampire jet fighter and started the engine. Apparently, I came out in a rash with fright at the noise but I was hooked and I never seriously considered any career but pilot.
I’ve seen some changes over a career that, so far, has lasted 43 years. Once, I’d probably have said the best part of the day was the steady stream of flight deck visitors we received but that all stopped after the 9-11 attacks in the USA. Now, I’d have to say my colleagues, who are, universally, some of the best and most accepting people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. So here I am in 2015. I still fly, full time but I also visit schools to encourage girls to take the STEM subjects and just consider a career as an airline pilot. If you want to be a pilot, join the Air Cadets, visit that Future Pilot website, get 5 GCSEs at C grade or better, including Maths, English and any science, get any 3 A levels with grades BBC and apply.
For me, the best experiences in flight have always been people experiences. Back before 9-11, they usually happened in the flight deck when people visited. I took Kenny Everett to Malaga once, on the flight deck jumpseat from top of climb and after the landing. He kept us entertained but was also interested and, most importantly, quiet when we needed to concentrate. He invited us onto his radio show at Capitol FM. Joan Collins also spent most of a flight from Detroit to Montreal with us, on a brand new Boeing 747-400 when they were first being delivered. She proved to be totally different from her public persona; an absolutely charming and very intelligent woman. That’s just to name two celebrities. While they were the outstanding ones, there have been hundreds more. Since 9-11 they’ve taken place off the flight deck, of course. One of the best was a lovely lady from Montreal. She’s a professor in the university there and the cabin crew said she was terrified of flying. I went back and joined her for the best part of an hour, just chatting and being confident. I explained the strange noises which sometimes frighten passengers. We had some very light turbulence while I was with her and she tensed visibly but I explained how strong aircraft are. How they flex rather than break. By the end, she was much more relaxed. I arranged for the captain on her flight onwards from London to carry on. I’m very privileged that she has stayed in touch, both by email and on Facebook. She’s becoming a more confident flyer with every flight.
In conclusion, being a pilot has been an amazing career and one that has delighted me over and again for all those years. I cannot recommend it highly enough. In life, you only have one chance. Be authentic. Never stop anyone else from achieving authenticity.