Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

The Truth About Being a Pilot Flying Internationally

We have a guest post this time, from pilot “Skyway Ramjet”, who is reporting from China.

I’ve been flying international since 1994.  I’ve been to Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Quebec, Reykjavik, Greenland, flying what’s known as the Blue Spruce Route between Europe and the USA when you are so heavy that you have to offset your payload with fuel, decreasing the fuel in order to carry all the payload.  The only way to do this is to land essentially at the half way point between Europe and the USA, in the blue spruce trees of Reykjavik.  Reikjavik is a charming little town.  Very, very clean and very well maintained.  

Continuing around the world, going east, I’ve spent numerous layovers in Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg, all delightful, clean, safe, great food with tons of history cities (except Luxembourg which is a country, not a city… a small little country that is basically a little kingdom).  London, Brighton Beach along the English Channel, Rome, Paris, Cologne (Germany), Frankfurt, Torino (Italy…where they have the “shroud of Turin”), Madrid.  That’s about all I can think of in Europe.  

Europe, in a nutshell, is enchanting.  There is possibly no better place in the world than sitting in any sidewalk cafe in the springtime in Europe.  Any of the cities.  Surrounded by the ancients.  Your senses are just so cleansed being in such vibrant, historical cities.  My favorite city is Rome, followed by London.  There is no better food in the world than in Italy.  Did you ever read the book, “Eat, Love, Pray”?  The eating part of the book was in Italy.  

Going south is the most magnificiant continent on the planet.  Africa.  Just three cities there have I been to as a pilot:  Nairobi, Dakar (Senegal, where they speak portugese!), and Johannesburg.  Truly a wonder of nature.  The animals are so abundant and so free!  Any continent where you cannot build fences east to west because they aren’t going to last with the animal migrations that are migrating north and south!  Wow!  The animals will destroy your fence in the migration!  They are everywhere!  We used to fly from Johannesburg to Nairobi, north south flying.  When I was the captain on the 747, I would cancel IFR, descend to 1500 AGL (above ground level), and fly 200 miles at that altitude into Nairobi.  Below you are vast plains of herding animals.  Elephants, wildabeast, water buffalo, gazelles, zebra, impalas.  Truly remarkable.  Flights I will never forget.  

Continuing east into Dubai, Bombay, Madras (India), New Dehli (India), Bahrain, Cairo, Qatar, Abu Dhabi.  Dubai is very neat.  Hot as hell, but very vibrant.  And rich.  Dubai is at the geographical center between Asia and Europe.  So it is a big air hub of commerce.  And they have really tried to put themselves on the map as a shopping mecca for the elite.  Now, they are bankrupt because they have over extended themselves.  Otherwise, I don’t like the mideast at all.  It’s the one place that you can’t, for example, pull your pilot shit.  Meaning, if you are in uniform in the airport, you can’t bluster your way through anything.  You will get shot.  Also, you are flying over many unfriendly countries (Iran, Iraq), and you pray that you don’t have any mechanical problems while flying over these countries because if you have to land, it’s going to be a hell on earth getting out of there.  The Turks and the Cypreites (Cyrpus), hate each other.  So flying over Ankara and Nicosia, you have to do a radio dance as each refuses to acknowledge the other and get very offended if you even say Ankara on Nicosia’s frequency and visa versa.   Bombay in India in general……how can I say it……I FREAKING HATE India.  There.  That pretty much sums it up.  I cannot even stand to leave the hotel.  Those people are completely nuts and in no way can I think like them nor understand why they do what they do.  Everyone should go to India, ONCE….for the experience.  And more than likely, you will never want to go back.  The place is nuts.  

Continuing east, after flying across the Bay of Bengal, a Godforsaken stretch of open water between India and China, in the Indian Ocean.  Godforsaken because the most huge thunderstorms you’ll ever encounter migrate north to south from the Himalayas and you will fly for 4 hours, strapped in, and being knocked around the sky (mostly at night), like a ragdoll in a washing machine.  The Himalayas are their own weather system and create tremendous turbulence and thunderstorms from the blowoff of the Himalayas going south to the warm moist waters of the Indian Ocean. 

The St Elmo’s fire (you’ll have to google it for the explanation as I still have a lot to write!  It’s basically an electrical charge that builds up on the surface of the airplane due to the friction of the airplane moving through the air…like static electricity….rubbing a balloon and sticking it on the wall, or shuffling your feet on carpet and touching a lightswitch), the St. Elmo’s fire is rampant around the airplane.  Dancing over the windshield in an electric storm until BAAAAMMMM… discharges all at once and blinds you.  I’ve been struck by lightening (not St Elmo’s…but lightening…..which is St Elmo’s times a million) so often over the Bay of Bengal, I’ve lost count.  I’ve seen a blue flame go right between the pilots, right down the center of the cockpit, and rumble its way to the back of the airplane before disappating back to the atmosphere.  You can here it…shushushushushushu….as it works its way to the back of the plane.  Like methodically dropping a dresser the length of the airplane.   I hate flying over the Bay of Bengal.  

Into Asia.  Singapore, Penang, Kuala Lumpor, Jakarta (Indonesia), Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Osaka, Tokyo, Manilla, Macau (more Portugese!!), and the cities of China Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Qingdao.   Asia flying is ok.  It’s not a western culture, so there are HUGE cultural differences.  They don’t think like we do.  But it’s not India, either.  They at least have some level of civility.  Not much.  But at least you can feel like you are in a normal part of the world.  Except Japan.  There, they are EXTREMELY civilized.   Asia is very mysterious.  I would LOVE to get out into the countryside here in China.  To see the REAL China.   The real people that define a country are in the small towns outside the big cities.  

My favorite layover here used to be Hong Kong, before the Chinese took it back from England.  What an unusual city.  An absolute gem.  British gentility plopped into the middle of the asian tropics.  Really a neat place.  I”m going back there this trip.  First time I’ve been back in 12 years.  Back then, I used to hit the ground running.  Catch the MTR to Wan Chai and party all night.  Great bars with great bands.  Surrounded by people from all over the world.  I don’t do that anymore.  Too tired!  

South to Australia and Sydney.  A wonderful city.  And we used to go from Sydney to Hong Kong, flying northwest across that wonderful continent, coasting out at Darwin.  I would have loved to have landed at Darwin.  Fly up the chain of the Phillipine islands (gorgeous), and into Hong Kong.  Sydney is a great city.  

Only city I’ve been to in Russia is Khabarovsk.  Strange place.  Creepy.  Russia is very creepy.  

South America was Rio, Sao Paulo, Campinas, Buenos Aires (great city), Lima, Santa Cruz (Bolivia), La Paz, Carracas, Bogota, Guayaquil (Ecquador), Quito (Ecquador), and into Central America Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and so on.   South America flying was the best.  Good food, lots of fun, and north/south flying.  No time zone changes.  They really kill you over the time.  It’s a western culture, although as we know, there are cultural differences.  But at least you are not a fish out of water completely like asia, or worse, India (I hate india!).  Certain parts of South America can be dangerous.  But it’s fun as hell.  I would have loved to have gone to Santiago.  But never made it there.  I would have loved to go to Medellin and Cali in Columbia.  Specifically Medellin.  Supposed to be absolutely gorgeous.   So that’s the world tour.  

What do I see sitting here in Qingdao (pronounced ching-dow)?  Modern, vibrant, clean city along the coast of the south china sea.  I see a bunch of chinese, who were 10 years ago on bicycles, and have no rules on the road.  Yes, I’m used to this in so many parts of the world.  But these people are very funny with their cars.  Constantly honking, cutting everyone off.  Zero judgement.  Yet, the cars are in pretty good shape!  Funny. What they are is like kids that got a new toy.  Cars.  They drive them like they used to ride their bikes with everything all helter skelter.  Its comical.     Not like driving in Cairo in absolute insanity where you are fearing for your life.  Paris and Rome will scare the hell out of you, too.  But the best way to put it with here in Qingdao, as I said, is that they are all like kids that got a new toy at christmas.  

I wish I could write long, expansive passages of sitting in the hotel bar in Istanbul and the exotic dark haired girl approaching you.  Leaving the bar together to go out on the town drinking and dancing.  Falling into bed in a baloconied room with doors swept open and crisp white curtains fluttering in the breeze while muslim chantings going on over the loud speaker in the town below, calling people to prayer 5 times a day, surrounded by turkish spires.  Wake up on the morning and have some Aladdin boy serve you strong coffee on the balcony, watching the sun come up with little kisses, longing glances wrapped in plush white robes, knowing that your time together will be ending shortly.  

It’s not like that.  You are working.  And you are tired.  You don’t go out into the nightlife.  Sure, years ago in Hong Kong, I did.  And I aged…burning the candle at both ends.   So you think, ok, tourism!  Yes, you can do that.  And some do.  One thing a few guys did in Lima, if you had a 3 day layover, was go to that magical mountain top in Peru, Machu Picchu.  But these places take time and money.  You’ve got to have enough time, and you’ve got to have the money.  Which means you are taking money away from your family.  The trip to Machu Picchu cost about $500.00 with the airfair, trainride from Coscous, and hotel stay overnight.  But it was supposed to be magical.    

To go into the countryside here in China, would take about 300 bucks.  If i do that, then I am taking money away from the family.   If you are single, no kids, then international life is a complete blast.  You will party your face off.  You might die young, but you’ll have a blast doing it!  Many of the young, single no kids, international pilots are barely home.  They fly their work trips, get friends around the world, finish their trip, and go right back.  They go backpacking across the Himalayas, Central America, meet tribes in Vietnam.  You name it, there are guys doing it.  Surfing safaris around the world.  Humanitarian efforts around the world.  There are many pilots around the world that do it all….if they have the time resources (no family), and the money resources.  

The hotel bars are not like the hollywood movies where they are vibrant and smoke filled with classy people dotting the bar landscape and the booths dimly lit while some band plays.  The last time I was in the hotel bar was about two months ago with my colleague.   I was having dirty martinis, and he was having rum and cokes.  My drink at least had culture!!!  We were in the bar in Shenzhen.  The JW Marriott that we stay at in Shenzhen is VERY nice.  Very nice indeed.  One of the most plush hotels I’ve ever stayed at.  You can google it.    Anyway, we were the only ones in the bar.  Which is typical for hotel bars.  

I want to go see the Great Wall of China on a Beijing layover.  But in the plane I fly, we don’t go to Beijing!!!  Booohoo!.  I would love to go to Tienamin Square.  And I will do those things eventually.   But in the meantime, the truth of being a pilot is that you are mostly very tired.  Flying long nights and flying each night to exhaustion.  The BEST thing you can do for yourself on the road, and I know this even though I don’t do it, is workout at the gym.  Workout, eat well, and rest.  That’s what you should be doing.  Yeah, you have some time to socialize with your captain or f/o or f/a’s.  But for the most part, you are by yourself.  Occassionally, you will hook up with someone that you are working with and things just click and you spend all your time together.  Because all of us out here flying internationally, have been doing it for years.  We are hardened.  We are not like WOW!!!!  SINGAPORE!!!!  Lets HIT IT!!   It’s not like that.  Land in Singapore, yeah, after some years, it’s like landing in Des Moines, Iowa.  Not sooooo humdrum as that.  But you get used to things.  You know what i mean? 

Singapore is now my favorite layover here in asia, by the way.  A fantastic, modern, clean city.  With great food.  GREAT FOOD.   One thing I like to do here in China is get massages.  No, not erotic massages.  Real massages by real Chinese.  The professional masseuse women have hands like a vice.  Very strong.  They are about 30 dollars for 1.5 hours.  And they really work you over.   The one thing I can’t figure out is the foot massage.  I had one yesterday.  They are 10 bucks for 70 minutes.  And they hurt like hell.  It’s the second one I did.  I did one in Singapore about 6 months ago and swore never again.    So much so that I came back to the hotel and googled, “Why do chinese foot massages hurt so much?”.  And believe me, they hurt like you can’t imagine!  It’s funny.  And you sit there in agony, saying, ok, this is good.  Pain is good.  Meanwhile, he/she is digging their fingers into the bottom of your foot, getting right to those nerves, until you feel white hot pain and start sweating, and yelp OUCH!  lol….they love it.    But it’s supposed to be very healthy.  Go figure.   

Being a pilot sounds glorious and sexxxy and alluring and adventure filled.  And it can be….if you are single, no kids, have the time to do what you want, and have the money to do what you want.  THEN…its the lifestyle you are thinking!  there are thousands of us.  Keep in mind, please, that I am a dime a dozen in my world.  There are thousands of us doing this every day across the world.  We think in terms of lat/long.  With just a big grid thrown over the earth.  Just by the lat/long of a place, we can get close to where it is on the earth.  You just deal with it all the time.   But to stress….every night there are thousands of us working this worldwide grid. 

I’m nothing special.  I know in your world it might sound pretty neat….and I realize that it is if it’s not your line of work.  I just wouldn’t want to come across on your blog as like something out of this world.  I’m not.  And I know so so so so SO many guys that really do great things for people around the world.  I’m nothing compared to them.  And I feel that writing about this and that is almost a disservice to those that are real global warriors making a difference.    I can and will offer my experiences.  But I do it knowing that to many of my colleagues, comparing myself to what they do on their days off, by virtue of being a pilot, I’m nothing. I don’t care where I am in the world.  I can play the 7 degrees of separation with any pilot from any country, and within 7 moves, find a common acquaintance.  It’s really a very small world for us.


May 21, 2010 Posted by | Travel | 4 Comments

My quick trip to Ireland

DublinThe best fish and chips I\'ve hadDublin-bustling aliveMe in front of an old Irish CastleMy husband Peter not enjoying a bitter Guiness beer at the top of the Guiness factory


Impressions of Ireland:

Ireland has a lot in common with other European countries. I am fan of Europe because they have quality of life with enjoying life at the same time. Lot’s of vacation time, no 50 hour work weeks, etc.  They also protect their old and their retired and they do not depend so much on cars, having really good public transportation systems (that is why the high gas prices does not affect them as such).

People are slim. People walk, cities are made for walking. People do not take the car to go to the local bank, they walk. Therefore, I only saw 5 overweight people amongst hundreds. I even counted 🙂

Men dress nicer, jackets and more fitted pants. None of that baggy crotch down the knees pants look.

A more homogenous society. There are immigrants but since many are from Poland and Eastern Europe, they blend right in with the Irish.

Very clean country. There were men with washing machines cleaning the sidewalks. No trash anywhere. Little police presence (the cops there are unarmed) and even though we drove around a lot we did not see one traffic cop pullling anyone over).

Still a family oriented society. Kids live at home while they are single, way into their 20’s (and sometimes 30’s and 40’s if they are unmarried, ha ha!). At least in the smaller and rural areas.

Women are better dressed than in the U.S., not so casual/frumpy.

Weather is cloudy, grey and rainy most of the time. Blue skies are rare. We had one sunny warm day (Saturday).  They never get too much snow though, since they are between the Atlantic ocean and the Irish sea.

Food is highly greasy and mostly fried, but somehow people are slim!  I had the best fish and chips there ever, in the town of Trim (north of Dublin), in a small take away shop called “Castle”.

A lot of people smoke, but surprisingly,you cannot smoke inside pubs and restaurants (like Maryland and DC). No smoking in their famous pubs? Wow. Good thing.Ireland seems to take care of their old and retired. My husband’s aunt is 88 and lives in a cute small house where twice a week people come and clean it for her. She told us her pension is good. My husband’s uncle, who is retired from construction work, seems to have a good standard of living with 4 kids, one still living at home.

There is public health for all and private health system for those who want a better and faster treatment.

We did not see any poverty nor did we see incredibly rich people or big mansions.

Ireland has a lot of new modern constructions. Old and new together. If the weather were better, it would be a nice place to live. But if the weather was warmer,  it would become a rat race too….

June 10, 2008 Posted by | Travel | Leave a comment