From Uber Eats rider to COVID-19 volunteer: How 6 pilots are keeping busy while grounded

Jun 13, 2020

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With the majority of the world’s pilots grounded right now, it’s natural to wonder what those aviators could be doing with their time. We reached out to six pilot friends of TPG in the U.K. for some insight into what their new nonflying lives are like and what they miss the most about being up in the sky.

We spoke to pilots from long-haul, short-haul, low-cost and full-service carriers to get the lowdown — here’s what they had to say.

Pilot Nigel — now preparing for a potential new career

Boeing 787 pilot Nigel has been flying for 13 years and can currently be found up at the front on “Beaky Noseface” — or as we know it, the 787 Dreamliner. Based in London, he’s either in the air or stuck in traffic on the M25 when commuting to and from Heathrow.

A British Airway Dreamliner (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)
A beautiful British Airways Dreamliner (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

With more than a decade in skies, this newfound temporary norm is a strange adjustment to make.

What do you miss the most about flying?

“Travel. Going for a cycle down the beach in LA, eating ramen in Tokyo or appreciating the raw power of nature in Cape Town.”

How have you been keeping busy while on the ground?

“The harsh reality is that there is a high probability that I could be redundant, and if so, there will be no other pilot jobs to go to. In this situation, the mortgage needs to be paid and food needs putting on the table. There’s only so long savings will last.

I’ve spoken to friends in ‘normal’ jobs to get a bit of an idea of what they do and how my skills as a pilot could transfer over — so I’ve been doing an online advanced Excel course. I’ve also been reading different publications in areas that interest me, mainly finance and marketing.

Getting a broader understanding of different areas of the working world will hopefully help me formulate a new plan. None of this will guarantee me a new job in the ‘real’ world but should the time come, I want to be ahead of the pack.”

Have you been doing anything aviation-related to fill the void?

“Apart from keeping on top of the regular operational notices we always get, nothing at all. It’s actually been quite nice to have a regular sleep pattern for once.”

How long do you think it will be before we’re flying like we were before coronavirus?

“Let me just get my crystal ball! Who knows — I feel it’s a confidence thing. If people have the confidence to fly, they will.”

Pilot Dudley — now a Covid-19 volunteer

Pilot Dudley has been flying for nearly 10 years and has spent a chunk of his flying career based in Barcelona. He recently returned to the U.K. to try his hand at long-haul flying and is usually found upfront on Virgin‘s Airbus A330s.

(Photo by Tom Dalton/@tom.dalt)
(Photo by Tom Dalton/@tom.dalt)

What do you miss the most about flying?

“I really miss actually flying the plane and a different adventure every week. That, plus happy hours in the Caribbean.”

Related reading: 7 Caribbean destinations you should visit — before others do

How have you been keeping busy while on the ground?

“Knowing that many of the Virgin Atlantic crew wanted to do something helpful for the NHS whilst on furlough, the company gave some suggestions as to roles we could apply for.

One option was to take a job for the London Ambulance Service as a COVID-19 call handler. This involves working at the ambulance call center, taking calls for the 111 service and making sure patients get the correct care.

I found that my previous experience in aviation medical training, working under pressure and people skills have transferred well to my new role, and it’s rewarding to be helping people in need.”

Have you been doing anything aviation-related to fill the void?

“I downloaded Ace Combat on the Xbox and am making a Boeing 747-8 model (175 pieces)”.

Related reading: These are the last Boeing 747s you can fly in the world

How long do you think it will be before we’re flying like we were before coronavirus?

“I don’t think we will see the level of passenger and crew flying that we had in 2019 for a few years to come, but I think some airlines will start during the summer.”

Pilot Emma — now an NHS charity worker

Emma officially learnt to fly at the age of just 19 in the RAF reserves while she was at college. Her dad was also in the RAF, so she grew up around planes and flew with him since she was a child.

“An unusual fact about me is that I flew a plane solo before I learnt to drive!”, Emma said.

Nowadays, Emma can be found at the controls of Airbus A319 and A320s — some of which have the brand-new NEO engines.

What do you miss the most about flying?

“I miss the fun of actually flying a plane and the sense of achievement after landing from a difficult approach. I’m also really missing the views across Europe over breakfast and seeing the weather from a different perspective to that on the ground.”

How have you been keeping busy while on the ground?

Emma has been volunteering full time for Project Wingman, as Head of Sponsorship and Donations.

“Project Wingman is a charity of 5,000 furloughed aircrew in the U.K. staffing wellness rooms, or ‘first-class lounges’ in hospitals to support front line NHS staff,” Emma said.

Related reading: #CoffeeForTheNHS — Help us to support Project Wingman and NHS front line staff

(Photo courtesy Project Wingman)
(Photo courtesy Project Wingman)

Have you been doing anything aviation-related to fill the void?

“Helping out with Project Wingman is a bit like being back at work. I get to see some of my colleagues in the lounge but I get to spend more time with our ‘customers’ than I usually do at work. I’ve learned so much about the different areas within medicine from getting to know the NHS staff at my local hospital.”

How long do you think it will be before we’re flying like we were before coronavirus?

“I’m hoping domestic flying within the U.K. will return quickly. As for further afield, I can’t see it being this year sadly. I’d like to say we’ll be back up and running by this time next year, but I think passenger numbers may take longer to recover.”

Pilot Miles — now an Uber Eats delivery cyclist

Pilot Miles as been flying for over 10 years. He started out flying on short-haul routes around Europe but has since moved on to being at the controls of a Boeing 787 and flying to long-haul destinations all over the world.

What do you miss the most about flying?

“I would say I miss quite a few things in equal measure. I miss having that sense of purpose of going to work. I miss that great feeling of getting people to where they need to be — meetings, conferences, holidays and seeing family and friends etc. I miss the trust they show in me to get them there safely — and I really miss the traveling.”

How have you been keeping busy while on the ground?

“When COVID-19 hit, I completely hit a brick wall. I spent the first few weeks struggling to come to terms with how quickly the world had changed until one day I thought of a way through it. I figured I could not only keep fit, but I could also get paid for keeping fit and for making people happy — by becoming an Uber Eats delivery cyclist.

It’s completely flexible. I log in and out whenever it suits me and I find that it gives me a great reason to jump out of bed in the mornings and crack on with my day. I’d even go as far as to say I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Have you been doing anything aviation-related to fill the void?

“Not much. Just the occasional sit down with my books to keep my head straight so I’m ready to go whenever called into action.”

How long do you think it will be before we’re flying like we were before coronavirus?

“My gut feeling is that short-haul flying may recover quicker — I live in Europe and so many people come and go so regularly for work, holidays and city breaks that I think demand will return fairly quickly — maybe by next summer.

I think the bigger issue is potentially long-haul travel. People are a little more anxious about being on a long flight, so I think that may take a number of years. I think major routes will continue, just not with the same volume of flights. Some of the more niche routes may disappear for a longer time.”

Pilot Lindy — now an Instagram pilot mentor

Pilot Lindy, originally from the Netherlands, is now based in Italy. She started flight school around nine years ago and has since been flying for her current airline for six years. She spends her time flying mainly around the Mediterranean on aircraft that we rarely see in European skies — like the Boeing 717.

Related reading: Italy will reopen to tourists starting 3 June

What do you miss the most about flying?

“Being an airline pilot is such a dynamic job. Every day is different, flying to different destinations and flying with a different crew. I miss flying, having the flight controls in my hands, I miss my colleagues and the different challenges that we face in our daily operations.”

Related reading: The technical challenges of flying near-empty planes

How have you been keeping busy while on the ground?

“At the beginning of the lockdown, I spent most of my days just watching Netflix. But I soon realized that I really missed having something to do and feeling satisfied afterward.”

Have you been doing anything aviation-related to fill the void?

“With all the free time I had, I thought it would be nice to engage more with my followers on Instagram. The one question I receive multiple times a day is how I became a pilot. So, I made a little Instagram series called ‘How to become a pilot’.

Every day I do stories and a post about a certain topic, starting from how to choose a suitable flight school to how to find a job as an airline pilot. All modules of flight training are discussed, but also the requirements needed to become a pilot and my advice on how to pass the selections.”

It was really nice to help so many people and everybody was very happy to learn more.”

How long do you think it will be before we’re flying like we were before coronavirus?

“The pandemic has hit the aviation and tourism industry very hard. I do believe that people are eager to travel again as soon as they can, taking the necessary precautions. But even when we start flying again, I think this summer we will see a huge reduction in flights and passengers in comparison to previous years.”

Pilot Patrick — now an aviation blogger

Pilot Patrick is a German internet blogger with more than 700,000 followers on Instagram and 145,000 subscribers on YouTube. From tips on how to become a pilot to fasting during coronavirus and just about everything in between, his content is pretty comprehensive.

View this post on Instagram

???????????????????????????? Saving the toughest for last ???? It’s #Flashbackfriday and my story of “How I became a pilot“ continues. What’s your favorite throwback photo of this series? ???? . After Florida, the flight training continued in beautiful Zadar, Croatia in 2009. The final missions were the toughest and most crucial ones. This was the most complex phase of my flight school ✈️ . For the very first time, we flew a multi-engine airplane based solely on instruments. The flight instructor didn't really count as crew, he was rather made things more challenging. You had to handle different system malfunctions. Most of the time you flew with one engine off to practice engine failures. Flying the real airplane was fun compared to the simulator on the ground, which we called „sweat chamber“ ???? . In August 2009 my final check with the german aviation authority (LBA) was scheduled. I not only had to prove the examiner that I have top flying skills but also the required airmanship to operate an airplane safely ????????‍✈️ . This one single flight decided if I would become a pilot. You can imagine how high the pressure level was ???? The expensive investment, the time, the challenges – was it all worth it? As a big relieve I jumped into the Adria with my flight suit ???? #pilotpatrick More on WWW.PILOTPATRICK.COM . . . . . #luffahrt #aviationcareer #aviation #pilot #avgeek #maleblogger #followme #piper #flightstudent #lufthansatraining #plane #zadar #flightsafety #instagramaviation #aviationlovers #instaaviation #capecanaveral #croatia #aviationphotography #aviationgeek #aviator #pilotjob #pilotcareer #studentpilot #flightraining #flightschool #flighttraining

A post shared by Patrick Biedenkapp | Captain (@pilotpatrick) on

He started his career more than 10 years ago as a first officer on a private jet. Since then, he has switched it up completely to do a different type of flying and now works for a big airline flying “the old lady” and Airbus’ first-ever aircraft — the Airbus A300.

“Some models are almost older than me,” Patrick said.

What do you miss the most about flying?

“I guess what I miss the most is the sense of freedom when soaring through the skies. To fly airplanes gives me an extra purpose in life, without which makes me feel incomplete at the moment.”

How have you been keeping busy while on the ground?

“Besides doing social media, I have been spending more time doing sports and cooking. Most people complained that they lost their fitness, I managed to improve it. I have also tried new things I have never done before like fasting and mediation.”

Have you been doing anything aviation-related to fill the void?

“The past three years I was on full throttle and barely had any free time. That is why I am enjoying this time off, I can calm down and give my body and brain some quality time.”

How long do you think it will be before we’re flying like we were before coronavirus?

“I think it will take years until the aviation and travel industry reaches the same level as before. Let’s hope for the best.”

Featured image by Rathke/Getty Images

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