The global health crisis continues to rock the aviation industry from top to bottom. As a result of the challenging conditions, pilots have had to adapt. Simple Flying spoke with Senior Airbus A350 Training Captain Chris about how he and his colleagues have been adjusting.
During the initial European lockdowns last year, Chris was stuck at his home in Toulouse, France. So, he was unable to be part of the Virgin Atlantic CPW (Critical Pilot Workforce) on the Airbus A350 fleet.
As one of Virgin Atlantic’s most senior training captains, he didn’t feel comfortable sitting at home. Therefore, he worked on his Instagram account to raise awareness about the industry and treated it like a job. This social media fame was noticed by Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic’s management who promptly got him back flying.
Chris eventually realized that the industry challenges wouldn’t be solved swiftly. Therefore, he had to get used to the new restrictions in place.
“At first, l thought that the impact of the virus would be temporary and life would return to normal over the summer of 2020. I simply worked from roster to roster, month to month, and gradually realised that my industry was in a desperate situation. However, luckily I work for a unique company, that was able to react quickly and adapt and innovate to cargo-only flying.
“I have also adapted to a very solitary life of commuting and living in Heathrow hotels. Commuting back to my home in Southwest France has been very difficult, having to go via Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, or Frankfurt. So, more recently I have been gaining loyalty points at airport hotels.”
Pilots are also having to follow additional steps and adhere to new measures when operating. Regardless, crew members all understand the importance of these factors and are complying.
“All of my colleagues are aware of the importance of remaining COVID-free. If any of us were to contract the virus, this could infect other crew members and would quickly affect our operation. We all have a PCR test before each flight and are not allowed to board until each crew member posts a negative result. Food is provided on the cargo-flights, although many of us bring along meals from home or supermarket meals of our choice,” Chris told Simple Flying.
“The most difficult working environment for me is at the simulator training center. We complete all training with masks and we’re very strict on disinfecting cockpit controls and surfaces in the simulator after other crews. There’s always the temptation to greet other colleagues with a handshake, but we all understand the importance of social distancing. If one of us goes down, we could potentially ground our busy training schedule.”
Struggles across the industry
Chris understands that not all pilots have been as fortunate as him when it comes to hitting the skies during the pandemic. There have been several reports of furloughs across the globe over the last year due to the ongoing suspensions and travel restrictions.
The aviator admits there he has a feeling of survivor’s guilt. However, he has been trying to channel this emotion in a positive way to support his company and the wider industry. He and his crewmates have an important role in keeping services going in these tough conditions. Even though there are restrictions keeping much of the population on the ground, there are passengers and materials that need to still move for essential reasons.
There needs to be a balance
While some people have managed to hit the skies in the present time, lockdowns and travel bans have meant that thousands have been unable to see family or travel for work in months. Pilots recognize this struggle and are willing to keep the world moving.
Chris highlights that there are three main reasons to travel:
- After a year of not traveling, people need to connect with their loved ones all over the world.
- Chris explains that no matter what people say, “business cannot be done via Zoom. Human interaction and forming of relationships are essential for a successful business.”
- People are desperate for a holiday. Additionally, after spending a year indoors, even people who didn’t normally travel will have made “bucket-list” plans to do so.
Chris shares in order for the opening of travel to be achieved, we all need to be safe. He feels that measures such as vaccination passports or PCR testing will go a long way in this mission. Also, travelers need to continue to wear masks and social distance. The senior training captain concludes that people want to travel and need to travel.
The support continues
Chris encourages people to buy tickets for future travel to help pilots during this difficult time. His slogan, “buy airline tickets like you bought toilet paper,” went viral. It even picked up the attention of several figures in the aviation industry.
The pilot wants to support all of his airline colleagues worldwide, not just Virgin Atlantic employees. He wants to help anyone who relies on aviation for their living. He continues to share images and videos online of his work life, aircraft, and operations to remind everyone why we love aviation.
The footage also helps nervous fliers understand the process. They can see how calm, relaxed, and professional it is behind the cockpit door. Altogether, Chris affirms that we will all back together enjoying these scenes again soon.