Impression of Commercial Pilots
An occupation that pays well, allows one to soar and touch the skies, to see the world (both from bird's eye view and literally), and best of all, working with gorgeous colleagues. Pray tell, isn't this the dream of many people?
For the older generation, yes, their views is of such. They feel that pilots are important, prestigious careers, and a rather tough one at that - ensuring the lives of hundreds of passengers onboard.
For the younger generation, the pilots are often thought to be flirtatious, infidel, and spendthrifts.
Today we interview a couple of commercial pilots working with a huge airline in Singapore, and some of their friends / spouses, to understand this group of young men better.
"You apply, get in, undergo training for about two years in Singaporea and Australia, drawing a meagre pay as a cadet trainee pilot," 31-year old pilot Kensington* recalls with a chuckle. "Trust me, I'm not kidding that the starting pay was laughable, but your meals and lodgings were taken care of."
Me, "How low's low? Or is it confidential?"
He hesitates at this point in time, sipping his Calamansi. "Erh, let's just say we nearly felt like NSFs?" We laughed at that.
Awkward moment. Wow, that was news. He has been with the airline for four years and counting.
"But worry not, at every stage we pass, the pay goes up," he later adds.
All right, good to know that.
"So we do shift work," he reveals when asked about the job itself. "Sitting beside the Pilot acting important, chatting, and staring at the clouds and dead birds the plane hits enroute."
Me, "Dead birds?"
He nods. "Yes, the plane zooms by so fast that we couldnt prevent (nor were we prepared to steer course just because of a bird or two, really, its impossible) hitting into a bird or two that got in the way. The entire process is so fast that we just don't even realize it at times...."
Kensington* goes on to describe the rest of the job, which is nothng exciting or glamorous when put in his perspective. They don the uniforms that everyone recognizes, draw a so-so salary for the first few years of their career, are at the beck and call of the airlines, and just sit down in front of a navigation panel (made all the more easier now with auto-pilot).
"The real fun begins after the flight lands. We get to explore the new countries we flown our passengers to," Kensington* continues, describing some of the lovely places he has been to, or some of the great buys he managed to pick up in Europe.
He looks at me blankly. "Well, I don't know about now, but they used to be stricter. Good eyesight and health are must, of course. I think they are looking for a specific type too, like, alpha-male type?" He grins, half-serious, half-playful. "Because we need to be very calm, unnerved, make decisions in a split second. They cannot afford to have someone who panicks easily or gets jittery in times of changes or emergency."
Kensington* continues, "They were very strict during interviews; they noted even your postures in details. Like, if you crossed your arms, you had something to hide; so you place your palms on the tabletop or on your thighs if no tabletops."
Eh, wasn't that common for all interviews?
"We need to undergo re-training, flight assessments and health checkups every year to ensure we are still in good condition, and also for the renewal of flight license." He spreads his arms, palms facing up. "It is really a rather common job. I mean, I love what I am doing, but we are just another employee working for our salaries, nothing special."
Me, "Heard you guys party a lot, how do you get enough rest for the next flight out?"
"We do, but not on the night before the flight; that would be suicide on the job literally. Unlike cabin crew who may be activated anytime, we are given 4 days' in between flights to ensure ample rest. I try to make good use of the time to hit the gym, catch up with friends and spend time with family."
The Impression of Playboy Pilots
Here we chat with Kensington's colleague, Quinn*, who is four years older than Kensington but they joined the airline at around the same time.
"Initially, yeah. Well, that's the beauty of singlehood and youth," he laughs heartily. "A little flings, here and there, but we're really not as bad as what they think. We grow up, meet the right girl eventually, and settle down, too."
Quinn* is now happily married with a beautiful local wife working in a pharmaceuticals centre doing research, and they have an adorable baby boy aged two.
"I trust him completely," Quinn*'s wife shares with us, smiling at her husband sweetly. "He calls home to talk everyday; or we skype, so he can see baby Aaron* on video. We tell each other everything. It is very important to have the basic trust, especially when he travels very often."
"Yeah, believe it or not, we're rather professional, really. We don't hit on the cabin crew as much as people claim we do. We have separate living quarters from them at the hotels, and prefer not to touch fellow colleagues even though we do hang out together to tour the countries or have drinks," Quinn* explains.
A personal friend, Rachel*, who stayed in Western Australia for more than ten years before returning to Singapore, also defends her pilot friends. "Not all pilots are infidel or flirts. I made many friends who were cadets here in Aussie - we hung out at the same pubs. Many of them are happily married now and in love with their wives; as far as I'm concerned they don't fool around. If anything, some of them fear their wives being lonely while they're away and may seek alternate companions instead."
Cons of Being a Pilot
"You stay away from home too much; sometimes loneliness kick in, and you get a little homesick," Kensington* says. "You miss everyone at home, the food, the local hangouts. Seriously, I'm not kidding, even after having visited exotic cities and such, it's home we miss most."
Quinn* has other fears in mind. "Well, by now we get a comfortable salary, right? So we have a certain lifestyle - cars, homes, memberships etc. When the airline starts to cut our hours, it can be a form of stress."
Okay, fair enough, but this is the problem most high-flyers face. No, this is the problem everyone who suffers pay cut faces.
"And of course, when you're on duty, the burden lies on you to ensure a safe flight, even if the plane is on auto-pilot. Do not believe those funny TV shows where you see the pilots sleeping at the cockpit," Quinn* says seriously.
Don't worry, I never did believe that.
Misconceptions are everywhere, about all kinds of occupations. Just because the black sheep does the naughtier deeds, does not mean that everyone does it too.
Anyone of you out there who has a flying dream to fulfill, go ahead. With the onslaught of new airlines and flights being created these days, there should be a high demand for pilots. As long as you think you have what it takes, no harm giving it a shot!
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