In the latest in a series, Captain Jeremy Feldman, who operates the Airbus A320 for a large UK carrier, worries about how the industry will capture attention of the next generation of pilots.
As pilots, we can all think back to those key memories that inspired us. Whether it was gazing at aircraft passing overhead as a child, the giddy excitement of seeing the Red Arrows display, or for those lucky (and old) enough, being utterly enthralled by all the buttons, dials and stunning views when visiting the cockpit during a flight.
The glamour of the job has also been a big selling point too. Whether it was the fancy uniform – complete with mirrored aviator shades and peaked hat - or the luxury beach hotels included as part of a scheduled night stop, aviation has always projected a certain élan. Unfortunately, the reality is very different these days.
No longer do pilots stroll through the airport, bag in tow with a laid-back swagger. We have to be frisked the same way as passengers when passing through security: belts and shoes off, empty your pockets and don’t forget to remove that iPad from your bag or to the back of the queue you go. And that irksome 100ml limit on liquids applies just as much to flightcrew as it does to everyone else.
Sure, you might, say, all these are inconveniences, but once on board you must be sick of all the first-class food that’s forced on you. You’d be wrong about that as well. Many airlines have now stopped providing crew food at all, including tea and coffee, leaving it to the pilot to provide their own.
Okay, so the refreshments might be whatever’s in your lunchbox and flask these days, but airline pilots still get to wear the fancy uniform, right? That’s true… to an extent: any glamorous sheen is swiftly removed when you learn that new pilots are being forced to pay for their own uniform. You read that correctly – pilots at certain airlines are expected to pay for the uniform they are compelled to wear.
Still, think of the free flights! While this undoubtedly constitutes a perk of the job, the reality is not black and white. Firstly, the pilot has to get the holiday approved. That can prove particularly tricky if you are limited by the constraints of school-age children and are seeking a break during your employer’s busy time.
But even if they are lucky enough to be able to go away with their families, most flights may be on a standby-only basis. That means booking flights, turning up at the airport, proceeding through security and hoping that some other unlucky group fails to turn up, thus making seats available. If the flight is full, it’s back to the car and try again the next day.
There’s no doubt about it, the perks of the job have been steadily eroded as airline management has sought interminable cost savings.
Perks of the job aside then, once on board the aircraft, the job still exudes prestige. The events of 9/11 may have put an end to in-flight cockpit visits, but on the ground, many airlines still allow passengers to come up and visit the flightdeck. With a long delay, sometimes inviting the children (adult size included) to visit the business end of the jet and take some seemingly obligatory selfies is often quite rewarding. To be able to encourage the next generations of would-be pilots is something many airline pilots are only too happy to do.
Alas, I fear this may also be something that is relegated to the good old days. This time it won’t be down to the whims of airline cost-cutting, or perceived security threat, but instead to Covid-19.
Social distancing is already a very difficult problem to manage in the cockpit, post-coronavirus. Many airlines will be limiting the cockpit visitors to pilots only, even on the ground. If it is unlikely that even cabin crew will be able to visit unless it is absolutely essential, the chances of the general public being permitted is almost certainly zero.
That is a shame. Many pilots will come to feel this restriction harder than the loss of some privileges. We were all inspired at some point to become pilots, therefore it is only natural that we want to be able to motivate, enliven and help future generations.
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