During a recent visit to Hong Kong, I met an Asian pilot who has flown for some of the world's largest airlines. We got to talking about plane food and seat sizes, and then he shared with me a few things airlines never tell you.
1. Free doesn't always mean free
When you meet someone who works for an airline there is always that initial feeling of jealousy. They get to fly anywhere in the world for free, when us regular folk can't get a deal half as good as that no matter how long we scour the internet. But apparently the green tint to our skin is unwarranted. "We are limited to flying only when there are open seats. Sometimes I've flown somewhere for free, but coming back nothing is available. When that happens I have to pay for a last minute flight. In the end I could've gotten a cheaper rate if I booked the whole thing online months in advance like everyone else."
2. Planes aren't like cars
I'm not sure why airlines don't toss this little tidbit around, as it would make those of us flying feel a lot safer. "As a pilot you can only fly one type of plane. Unlike cars where if you can drive a Mercedes Benz G-Class you could also drive the E-Class, when you get a pilot's license it only entitles you to fly one airplane model."
3. No part-time jobs allowed
Airline pilots often have lengthy breaks between assignments, enough idle time to develop a hobby or even a second job. But "it is forbidden for long-haul pilots to have an extra job." Because they work such long hours, they are given a lot of time off in order to be rested and ready for their next flight. If instead they were using that time to look for another job, or worse yet, work one, they wouldn't be fresh for when it came time to get back behind the wheel of a vehicle carrying hundreds of passengers.
4. Being shy won't get you anywhere
"The flight attendants were telling me that the passengers who get the most attention and service are the people who aren't shy about complaining. If your meal choice isn't available, instead of forcing the food on you that nobody else wants, they'll tell you all the options. Even grabbing a meal from business class if it will keep you quiet and happy."
5. The good times are over
Just like most other professions right now, there is cost cutting in the airline industry, too. Now the prestige of saying you work in the friendly skies is better than the actual benefits. But not everyone agrees about the prestige. "One flight attendant told me about a coworker who was serving drinks in economy class to a woman and her young daughter. The mother told her daughter, "This is why you have to go to school so you don't end up working a job like this." The mother continued to be rude, and when the two exited the plane, the stewardess told the young girl, "Remember if you go to school you can get a good job. Then you won't have to sit in economy class like your mommy."
We tracked down three U.S. pilots and squeezed out some more of their dirty little secrets. See our Top Ten Things Airlines Don't Tell You.
Lisa Costantini is a writer/editor currently traveling the world with her husband working on a project about sport and culture. More information can be found on their website at www.whysportmatters.com. Lisa will be blogging from the road for us as she and her husband travel through Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe over the next several months.
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