I think of flying as rather like being in a long-term relationship.
There's the initial 'wow' factor of falling in love, followed by a
honeymoon period where we regard our new passion with starry-eyed
wonderment. This wears off as the costs and aggravations begin to mount,
but the love - the reason we got into it in the first place - remains.
For some people the downsides are simply too many and too great, and
they end up walking away. For those who stick at it, the relationship
tends to be permanent.
I got into flying because I had a very
comfortable day job which paid the bills but bored me silly, coupled
with three hours' commuting to and from London, which I found
excruciating. The yen to do something new led me to a trial lesson and I
promptly fell in love. Very early on I decided I wanted to fly as a
career - the lure of being paid to do my hobby was irresistible.
trials and tribulations were there from the outset, and are familiar to
anyone with a PPL - weather cancellations, financial struggles,
frustration at the sheer cost of it all, exams that seem like pointless
hoop-jumping exercises. Later on came the stress of commercial training,
and the pressure of knowing that simple mistakes could (and did) cost
thousands of pounds. After the elation of passing the IR comes the
realisation that you are just one of many, many 200hr CPLs, and the
struggle to find your first job. It takes some people years - a few will
never manage it.
Even when your dream comes true and you have
made it to an airline, you'll find plenty of downsides to the job. Life
is ruled by your roster, and weekends off are a rare treat. Social
events and family gatherings are almost impossible unless arranged
months in advance. Five days on and two off sounds alright until you
realise that the last day finishes at 22:00 and the first day back
starts at 06:00. Arriving at work you are subjected to petty and
nonsensical 'security' - you'll be locked in a flightdeck with a crash
axe and given control of a 500mph aeroplane, but you'll have to take
your shoes off before you get there, and you won't be allowed a can of
deodorant for your nightstop.
Every six months you'll be locked
in the simulator and have every conceivable failure thrown at you. The
man in the back is keeping score, and it's pot luck whether he's a great
instructor or someone on an ego trip. The consequences of failure are
serious. If you're really unlucky it will all happen at three in the
morning, and you'll be expected to be just as sharp as you would be
during the day. Get used to it, because it's every six months for the
rest of your career.
Line flying is much more relaxed, but even
then there's the unspoken and insidious pressure of knowing that a bad
day in the office - a single mistake even - could lead to a career
interruption or kill people. Potentially hundreds of people. You'll be
flying in all kinds of horrible weather, trained and conditioned to do
everything on the automatics, then expected to fly competently with a
u/s autopilot. You might be flying four or even six sector days, with 25
minute turnrounds, struggling to find time to eat a sandwich or go to
the loo. Talking of which, your 'office' is the size of a downstairs
toilet, and you'll be locked in it with a colleague who may have nothing
in common with you except for the uniform.
The job is unhealthy -
sitting inactively for hours on end, eating poor quality food and with
high stress levels. You'll get regular colds, and attempting to fly with
one can lead to a perforated eardrum. You might be unfortunate enough
to breathe in noxious fumes on a regular basis, but don't worry because
the engineers wrote 'no fault found' and the airline industry says it's
not a problem.
That's enough downsides - I'm starting to depress
myself now. The obvious question - if the job is that bad, why do we all
still do it? I fly with a couple of captain who are in their sixties
and can't possibly need the money - why do they still put themselves
through all the grief? For me (and them) it's a simple answer that goes
back to the relationship theme. We're in love with flying. Hopelessly,
head over heels in love. I love the challenge of a complex and
technically demanding job that few others can do. I'm a perfectionist,
but I'll never fly the perfect flight - how's that for a lifelong
challenge? I've known the drudgery of commuting to a dull-as-dishwater
nine to five job, and I hated it with a passion. Not anymore - I look
forward to going to work. Hell, I even miss my job when I'm on holiday.
No two days are the same, and the view from my office window is
different each day, but unfailingly spectacular. Despite all the
downsides (and there are many) I can't imagine doing anything else. Most
of my colleagues feel the same way, and that includes those captains
who got their PPLs while I was in nappies.
Recently I came home
from a long and tiring day, switched on the TV and watched a documentary
about flying, then fell asleep and dreamed of flying. Once it gets
under your skin, you'll never get it out.