It's now been a year since my transfer to Bristol and I think we can all agree on what a bad year it's been! With any luck the second half of 2020 will see our lives begin to return to something resembling what we once knew as 'normal'. Some steps have been taken to restore normality across Europe already, but the new 'normal' has had a colossal impact on our global aviation and tourism industries. Quite literally overnight the bank balances of many airlines, tour operators and hotels were strained. Continued weeks of endless refunds have left gaping holes in company finances to the point of break or bust. I've covered the bleakness of the aviation sector in previous posts so I won't labour the point much more, but since I last wrote there have sadly been yet more casualties of the down turn as corporations claim their fight for survival.
Towards the end of July I and all other UK-based colleagues received the news we were to un-furloughed so to operate the adjusted and significantly slimmed down summer 2020 schedule. Compared with the original plan we're only operating an average of 60% of our original schedule. That's the Europe-wide figure too across all bases and so not just out of the UK! To give you an idea of how much quieter it is, I'm only operating 20 flights this August compared with last years 46 - that's roughly 8 days in work versus the 18 of last August. Crazy times. The various global governments continually adjusted quarantine measures only serve to hinder a recovery and before anyone bites my head off, that's me stating the obvious. I'm not suggesting the quarantine bears no importance in some areas of the world, it's just a simple fact that a closed border or advice against travel will have a natural impact on demand for those destinations. That said however, it has become clear that people's desires to travel are still there!
Apparently bookings for Summer 2021 look promising and even this year the demand is strong on routes with open borders and no restrictive travel advice. After weeks on end stuck indoors or in the British overcast environment it seems people are itching for some sunshine. Ironic, given it's boiling outside as I write this! My first few days of flying this month we've had practically full aircraft on the outbound legs which is great and it seems masks are not off putting people from travelling on aircraft either, which is reassuring to see.
From the perspective of flight crew, exactly the same. The airspace is a tad quieter as there's still several planes grounded around the world, but the job role itself hasn't changed too drastically. We have to wear masks when not in the flight deck and our cabin crew have to wear them for their entire day, but other than that it's not a huge change bar additional cleaning measures and what appears to be sanitiser dispensers everywhere.
What about the passengers then? Well... it's a bit different for a passenger but nothing too drastic. From the moment they arrive at the departure airport to the moment they leave at the other end they will need to wear a mask and may be subject to temperature checks too. Social distancing is strongly advised within the terminal areas too. As you might expect, when it comes to being onboard the aircraft social distancing is not possible given the close proximity of the seats and the fact a flight in itself is not viable with a low passenger figure. That said, the aircraft are cleaner now than I've ever seen them before! They get a deep clean every night and are sprayed down with some sort of disinfectant which lasts a prolonged period of up to 24 hours. Airliners these days also have incredibly efficient air filters which filter any recirculated air, known as HEPA filters. They're similar to those used in hospitals and go a long way to removing harmful stuff from the air. What's more, the urban myth which has you believe you're inhaling the same air throughout the entire flight is so far from the truth it's madness. In fact, the air in the aircraft is replaced every few minutes and all factors combined mean you're generally very safe onboard an aircraft.
Here's a few clips from various airlines explaining what's it's like travelling in the COVID world. The regulations they follow were all issued by the global aviation bodies, hence the similarities between operators.
Getting that email telling me I was to return to work was incredible but given the vast majority of us hadn't been flying for over 4 months it's been quite the tall order for the training teams to have us all back in currency for carrying passengers. Each pilot has to complete one of a variety of return to work packages depending on how long they'd been out of work and how far away from their past sim-check they were. In my case I hadn't flown for over 120 days, but given my previous sim-check was still in date til the end of September all I had to do was a landing and takeoff sim followed by four flights with one of the training captain's. In case your wondering, the sim itself covered taking off and landing in the daytime and at night with varying levels of wind with an engine failure thrown in too. Heading into the sim I was somewhat worried I'd be really rusty and would have forgotten everything, but I'm pleased to say it comes back to you rather quickly! When we're out flying passengers we also take any extra time needed so to ensure we've done everything correctly.
My first day of flying consisted of four flights travelling to Amsterdam and Glasgow. By pure coincidence I happened to fly a few current L3-cadets back from Amsterdam and one of them ended up filming a few bits of the flight. I've put them and a few other clips together into a short clip below. He even managed to capture the PA, which was interesting as you don't really hear what you sound like from up the front! Thanks Joe for filming it, much appreciated! :-)
While it honestly feels so great to be back doing what I love, unfortunately this doesn't mean I'm safe from redundancy yet. The airline still wishes to make large cuts to its workforce inline with an expected decrease in demand and shrinkage of the fleet over the coming year or two. Union negotiations are ongoing on that front and it's still too early to be able to predict or know for certain one way or the other. I truly do hope I get to keep this job as I worked so damn hard for it, as have many of my fellow cadet-entrant colleagues, and to have all of that thrown away due to something so far out of our control would be heart breaking. I'm keeping my fingers as tightly crossed as I can and what will be will be. I'm holding out hope that as a collective workforce we can come up with some mitigation measures to save as many jobs as possible during the industries recovery; but we'll see.
Until next time - hopefully there will be a next time,