Saturday, 31 May 2008

Aviation agony aunt

I came across this question on a message board yesterday.

Does anyone know anyone who is dating or married to an airline pilot?
I have been dating my boyfriend over a year. He is the greatest guy I have ever dated, but he is a pilot and is gone 4 days a week. Even though he calls me a lot and tries to make me feel comfortable with his job, I still find myself sad a lot
when he is gone. I am 25, he is 30, and I don't know if I should stay in the
relationship because I think if we were to get married i would end up working
harder than him, and resenting him. It is also hard because I never know who he
is with or the hotels he is at. I'm worried our relationship is more likely to
fail because of his job. I don't want to stay with him another 2 or 3 years only
to end up in a break-up. I wanted to know if anyone has any advice or personal
experience with this?

I feel like I'm wearing my metaphorical comfy agony aunt jumper today, so I thought I'd try to offer some advice, not just to this lady, but also to other women (and men!) out there who are going through the same thing.

Firstly, being in a relationship with someone who's away a lot is never going to be easy. There are always going to be times when you feel horrible by yourself, when you just wish you could be like "everyone else", and have a husband who works 9-5. Pilots often miss birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, and other important days - and you just have to learn to live with it, and make the best with it. The best way to deal with absence I find is to be busy. I use the time I'm by myself to work, see my friends, play with the dog, go shopping, decorate the house, whatever comes, really. I've come to really appreciate this time and make the most of it. The thing is, you see, unlike other people who can get stuck in a rut and bored with each other, you're never going to be in that situation (which is great! Trust me!) Instead, you get to experience that lovely rush of joy when they come back from a trip, every week! How great is that.

As for never knowing who he's with, and which hotel he's staying in... Well, that's easily fixed with good communication. I always know where my husband is, and we make it a rule that we speak every day, wherever in the world he is. That's not because I want to keep tabs on him (that way lies madness!) but because we just want to be in touch and talk about our days, albeit thousands of miles apart! As for knowing who he's with - well, if he's not telling you the basics (we always talk about who the Captain is, what the crew are like, etc) then I'd wonder why. If you know this, but are just worried about the individual crew he's with - is that because you're worried he'll cheat? If so, why? Often we worry about this sort of thing because in our heart of hearts we know our partners aren't that trustworthy. Just a thought.

When you say you're worried you'll work harder than him, do you mean in the home? It's true of course that you'll sometimes have to carry a lot of responsibility for the home by yourself, because he simply can't be around. I get around this by having a cleaner (as I work a lot too!) and we also have our shopping delivered so neither of us has to trawl around the supermarket. Women who have children often have good childcare arrangements and/or help from family and friends, so that they can have a break.

Luckily, when my husband is home, he's great around the house. If you think this is going to be a flash point, then you need to talk seriously about it and explain why it bothers you. I'm sure your boyfriend will understand your concerns.

So, in conclusion - there are challenges when you have a relationship with a pilot, but to be honest, nothing that you can't overcome. There will definitely be days when you're going to feel pretty crap, but there will also be brilliant days when he comes home and you feel like you're teenagers again. Being alone can be hard (and I imagine even harder when you have a family, although I haven't experienced that yet!) but again, you learn to deal with it.

The other thing to note is - whether your relationship survives or fails is down to who your boyfriend is, and who you are, and NOT whether he's a pilot, in my opinion. I note that a lot of women on message boards and blogs refer to their partners as "my pilot", as if they're all one amorphous mass, and not individuals with their own brains and personalities! This gets on my nerves. Because, let's face it - a strong relationship will survive your other half being a pilot (just as it would if he was in any other stressful job that involved travelling) , just as a weak one will often fail. A sad (but true) fact of life, I'm afraid.

I really hope yours proves to be a strong one. All the best!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Are contaminated aircraft cabins making people ill?

Yesterday, BBC news had a story about how the government is going to fund research into whether bleed air from aircraft engines is making flight crew and passengers ill.

I'd read a bit about this before on pprune, so I was interested (and relieved) to hear that something's actually going to be done. The research is going to focus on the BAE 146 and the Boeing 757, which are apparently the worst culprits (although from what I've read, it's not simply a problem limited to just these two types).

My travels on the net led me to this:, which is linked to a pressure group called the Aerotoxic association. Basically, they are claiming that pilots all around the world have developed "aerotoxic syndrome", which they say involves:

"Chronic fatigue, respiratory, neurological, cognitive problems and a sensitivity to chemicals. Many sufferers have had their health and their lives ruined. While many have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses related to the aircraft exposures, a significant number have been ignored or misdiagnosed with depression, other psychological problems or illnesses such as alzheimers or MS."

As far as I'm aware, my husband hasn't been exposed to the neurotoxins the group claims are blighting all these lives. I pray he never is. But I am certainly glad that scientists are looking into it.

I'd be interested to hear whether any pilots or their other halves have any experience of this. Has it happened to you?

Monday, 26 May 2008

Fuel price nightmare

I think the increase in fuel prices is probably keeping most pilots' wives awake at night at the moment (and naturally, their husbands, too).

Of course, it's been a problem for a while; every airline has been emphasising the importance of flying economically for months if not years, and fuel surcharges have become a constant presence (and annoyance) for passengers - but this is something else entirely. In the last few weeks several airlines have announced they've ceased trading - last week it was Silverjet (the business class only airline) whose shares were suspended, and earlier in the week, Euromanx, an airline serving the Isle of Man, went into receivership. And a few weeks ago Oasis, a low-cost airline flying from London-Hong Kong, folded too - and I'm not even going to attempt to list the US based airlines that are struggling at the moment - there are very many indeed.

So, every pilot (and his family) is worried sick that more job losses and airline failures lie ahead. At best, it's expected that pilots with low seniority in many airlines will find they're out of a job, and at worst, it's feared that airline after airline will find it can't survive. Even Ryanair's rumbumptious boss reckons that hard times are ahead.

Having said that, of course, many of our biggest and most established airlines are still making healthy profits. The immediate fear is that some of the smaller, newer airlines will go first.

But I have to say this doesn't reassure me that much; how long will it be before our biggest airlines start to show signs of pressure? Will people still want to travel abroad so much, given the increased cost combined with the credit crunch, and existing (and increasing) pressures about reducing their carbon footprint?

We just hope that, in the end, despite financial pressures, people will still want to go on holiday. And aviation is vital to worldwide trade, so we have to hope that business travel will continue.

And on a personal note, because I love our world - but I also love my husband, and we rely on aviation for our livelihood - I really hope airlines and the industry in general find a way for flying to become greener. (Although having said that, of course, aviation represents an extremely low percentage of carbon emissions - but that's probably for another post entirely!!)

But, for now, my dear readers, a plea - please book that sunny break this summer. In fact, while we're at it - could you make that two?

Friday, 23 May 2008

That precious ten minutes

My husband got back very late last night (in fact, very early in the morning!) from a three- day trip away. I'd missed him a great deal. I had to get up fairly early for work, but I asked if he would wake me up specially when he got back so I could actually see him.

All we got was 10 minutes of bleary eyed chat, but it was just so fantastic to talk to him face to face and see him there in the flesh. I was reminded again of the great truism of this life; you never get the chance to get bored of each other! Which is in so many ways, a great gift.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Should you settle for second best in order to get married?

This made me rather sad the other other day. It's an article from the Sunday Times style by Laurie Gottlieb, who's 40 and single. She's had a child by artificial insemination, but still feels lonely and unfulfilled in life, and wishes now that she'd "settled" for one of the boyfriends she'd dumped when she was younger.

In a nutshell, she argues that even her friends who are married are often unhappy (but still won't swap their married state for singledom) so, in fact, it's best to just grab whoever comes along, and make the best of it. She says:

"Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t rule out a guy
based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in the cinema. Overlook his
halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. If you want the infrastructure
in place for a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in
fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, because
many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with
each passing year."
Having read this article, I ended up discussing it with three single female colleagues, all over 30 (which she says is when the need to settle starts). Although they classed themselves as "romantics", they all told me they had given up on finding the "perfect man", and were thinking that perhaps they were just being too picky.

Now, I'm sure that in some cases, this might be true. If you're too hooked on external appearances, say, or you're obsessed with finding a man with a particular job or status. But I also believe that there's someone for everyone, in the end, and that the "perfect man" DOES exist. I know this, because I married mine. I met him and my life changed overnight. Everything fell into place.

And although I know that this isn't possible for everyone, I also believe that it's far better to be single and self-sufficient rather than unhappily married to a man who isn't your best friend, your partner in crime, and the person you love most in the world. Being married to a man you've "settled" for (even if it means you can have children) must be very unpleasant indeed - and let's face it, it's not really fair on the kids, either, is it?

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Aviation makes you grow old before your time!

If proof were needed that flying throughout the night, and having a constantly re-setting body clock takes its toll - my husband fell asleep watching television last night - at 8.30pm!! He did that old-man-esque thing of claiming that he was just "resting his eyes", but even he admitted defeat when he realised he had absolutely no idea what was going on in the TV drama we were watching (and not surprising, given that he'd missed half an hour!)

Poor thing, he was so knackered, so I took pity on him and steered him in the direction of bed. And being the dutiful wife, I headed up with him, and lay down beside him as he snored himself into la-la land. It's a nice sound, actually, because I do worry about how tired he gets, and of course a rested husband is a happy husband - and a safer pilot too, there is no doubt.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

"How can I become a pilot?" - my answer to this frequent question

I've lost count of the number of times we've been asked this question, and I know it's something a lot of people are at least curious to know the answer to, so I thought I might try to answer it here. Obviously I'm not a pilot myself, but I've learned a fair amount about it all along the way, so here goes... Please correct me if you disagree!

Truthfully, there are many different ways you can go about it, and I'll start off by suggesting you take a look at If you haven't come across it before, it's a forum for professional pilots (mostly British ones) and it has a great section devoted to training. There, you will find the endless debate about which type of training is best - integrated (where you do the whole load of training in one go, full time, at one school) or modular (where you do bits in different places, at your own pace, often part-time).

The hard truth about both options is that they're going to cost you a HELL of a lot of money. By a lot, I mean over £50,000 in many cases. My husband was lucky enough to get a sponsorship when he trained, but that was some time ago, and unfortunately post 9/11 these options have all but dried up. There are some cadet schemes where you're likely (but not guaranteed) to be offered a job with a particular airline after you finish your training, but you usually have to foot the bill for your training yourself, and are bonded to the airline once you start work. Here are some useful links:

Cabair Airline Sponsorship Schemes:
EasyJet pilot sponsorship:
Oxford Aviation Training (UK):

Amazingly, my husband knows pilots who started their professional training without ever having a flying lesson. I think that's the wrong way around! Have at least a few lessons to see whether you like it first, at least.. Bear in mind that the image of the glamorous lifestyle is just that - an image. It's not reality, and if you don't like flying, you aren't going to like this job! You'll be tired a lot of the time, on long-haul routes you'll often feel more like an operator than an aviator, and you'll be away from home an awful lot, unless you work for Ryanair or Easyjet.

It's also a very tough time for the industry at the moment. Fuel prices are hitting hard, and cut backs are already being made. A lot of airlines aren't recruiting at the moment.

I'm not trying to put you off; it's just really important to take your blinkers off before you launch yourself into pilot training .It's extremely hard, and no mistake, and not to be entered into lightly, but only after serious thought! (And yes, the echo of the wedding service is intended - as a pilot you'll be wedded to your airline, and trust me, they nag more than wives!!)

Monday, 12 May 2008

The bright side

There's no doubt that it's sometimes tricky being married to a pilot. You spend a lot of your time alone, your life is often completely unplannable, your husband is often away just when you need him most, and there's sometimes not much to smile about. But there are a lot of benefits, too. They're not spoken about much. I wish they had been, when we started this life; I think if I'd known that then, I might not have been so frightened about what was in store.

1) You never, ever get bored of each other. Unlike couples who are stuck in a 9-5 rut, our life is never predictable, and we often enjoy completely random (and wonderful) days off together during the week, or have that fantastic moment of glee when he comes home after days away, just like we are teenagers again.

2) You get cheap(er) travel! Sure, the glory days of free flights has more of less gone in a lot of the industry, but we still manage to get great cheap flights around the world, and lots of discounts on hotels and much more besides. I think this is a tremendous privilege. We are much more widely travelled than a lot of our friends, and for a lot less, too!

3) You're married to a man who loves his job. Well, mostly! There are certainly days when my husband is cursing the work pattern he's on, and he's tired and annoyed, but mostly he loves to fly, and it shows. Far better than a husband who comes home and feels downtrodden and frustrated by his job.

4) Duty Free! Our entire house is stocked full of booze that my husband's bought for us when he's away. And, of course, there are the pressies!

What brought this outburst of optimism on? Well, we've just had a blissful, amazing couple of days. We had so much fun together, and at one point my husband just looked at me and said "I just love being married to you."

Which is quite enough to keep me smiling for the rest of the month, at least.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Tiredness, and its effects

I'm knackered. Really, really tired. I often feel like this, as I also have a very demanding job. Granted, I don't have the lives of hundreds of people in my hands every time I go to work, but I certainly hope I make a difference in what I do, and I try to do my best.

The effect of this, though, is that I'm often too tired to enjoy my home life properly, and worse, I start to take it out on the people I love.

Similarly, my husband is often exhausted. The way airlines (even flag carriers, nowadays) operate their schedules leaves very little time for recovery between flights. They chop and change the hours he reports at so he has little chance to establish a sleeping pattern. The result is an often exhausted husband. And when an exhausted husband meets an exhausted wife, it's difficult.

I get very short tempered, and very intolerant. Small things, like whether the lounge is tidy, or the bin emptied, start to assume an importance far greater than they deserve. I get headaches, and my smiles get rarer and my scowls get more and more prevalent. My husband, in turn, starts to get peeved that I'm so cross, and we have lots of awkward silences. Luckily, though, we don't have the type of relationship where we have huge, shouting arguments (you know, the type where you end up saying something hurtful you didn't mean). Instead, these silences are brief and we make up swiftly.

This is because, at our core, we love each other deeply, and we hate being like this. It's not our natural state at all. We both recognise that it's our jobs rather than our natures that lead us to behave like spoilt children.

Ways to cope? Well, clearly not shouting and raving is key. Giving each other space at times like this is best, I think. And being gentle with each other. And, when you're both feeling great and you're having a wonderful time, making the most of it. Life is full of highs and lows, and the key to happiness, I think, is to celebrate the high points.

Or perhaps I should just become a lady of leisure? Hmmmm, not too sure about that.



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