I think it fair to say most little boys at one time or another gazed up and contemplated flight. The wonders and adventures awaiting among the clouds. The untold wonders of far away lands filled with exotic people governed by alien cultures and foreign ideals. The beautiful all female cabin crews hanging on your ever word. I was among the young dreamers who spent countless hours escaping the bounds of gravity through the mind’s eye. Every free moment was spent aloft among the clouds, stars, and jetliners. Flights of fancy fueled by an active imagination.
The Cold Reality
Among aviators there is a long-held tradition of congratulating someone on their first airline job by exclaiming “living the dream!”. Today the response is “living the nightmare” you mean? I could fill the libraries’ of antiquity with the bemoaning’s of Airline Pilots, but to spare you undue discomfort I will be brief. The romanticized image of a pilot as a well paid happy level-headed professional possessing all the prerequisite expertise of a Navy Top Gun is misguided; more and more the reality is far from the idealized image of Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. In reality, pilots have become little more than cannon fodder in the war of attrition being waged in the airline industry. Armies vying to see who loses money at the slowest pace. This leads to companies offering tickets at a price hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars lower than the cost. The price of fuel goes up, the price of new aircraft goes up, landing fees at airports go up, however the price of a ticket keeps going down. Is that logical? If you are counted among the sane and rational you must be thinking that something has to give and yes something does. The airlines sacrifice quality service, pilot standards, training and pay. Aircraft maintenance at some airlines is just short of a joke. The airlines point to statistical data showing improved safety, but that is a testament to Boeing and Airbus making great aircraft with redundant systems. Passengers think they are getting great deals on tickets, but at what price? One has only to realize that completion of the route without a crash is considered a success. That is the definition of safety today.
Chronic fatigue is a constant and unrelenting reality in the life of an airline pilot. The majority of the time your pilot will be tired and sometimes dead tired at the beginning of your flight. There are stories of pilots falling asleep on approach, on take off and during taxi. I once had the flying pilot fall asleep at 1500 feet just after takeoff. I took the controls of the aircraft and flew as a single pilot 4 hours to the final destination. I woke the ‘flying pilot’ at 5000 feet for the landing. The fatigue is unrelenting and often times physically painful to endure. A friend told me that he had a Captain on an US carrier fall asleep on the takeoff roll, he woke the guy up on the ground at the destination airport, because the Captain has to taxi the aircraft. Airlines treat pilots as tools, we are just like airplanes. The philosophy is to keep us flying for as many hours of the day, week, year as they legally can. Little to no regard is shown for the pilots health, family or mental well-being. Profits come first and airlines will do anything to cut cost in the blood sport that is aviation. Pilots are among the most disgruntled professionals. The majority are unhappy with our jobs and are planning to leave the industry. I had a classmate leave the Industry to work at Home Depot and he is making more money there. The worse part of the whole system is that regulators around the world are complicit in the slow destruction of this once proud industry.
Will fly for food stamps and a pipe dream. More coming next time.