Question: What do pilots do in their off time at the hotel? Is it very boring? How often do pilots get to see their families? Do they have any say in what routes they are assigned?
— submitted by reader Mark, New York
Answer: Many times there is only time to sleep and eat before leaving the next day. If there is a long layover, pilots will often run or walk to get some exercise. Some will go sightseeing, while others will make use of the hotel’s Internet to catch up on e-mail and bills, or if they are in school they may get homework done.
Today, some of the training courses pilots frequently take are online. Hotels can be a good place to finish the required training and not impact your time at home.
Like any profession, pilot lifestyles vary significantly. Some pilots work for companies that allow them to be home most nights. Other operations can keep pilots flying around the world for weeks at a time.
Many operators have a bidding system for the assignment of crews to trips. The systems allow the pilots to submit their preference for the trips for a month of flying. The computer then assigns the crew often based on seniority. So yes, they have a say in their schedule, but how their requests are accommodated varies.
Q: Does extensive travel have a negative effect on the body? I take 2-4 flights per week, and wondered how flying affects you and the crew. Is it really harmful over a week or long term?
— Jack D. Mounts
A: I have been flying regularly since 1970 with no known negative effects. There have been some medical studies done on airline crews with conflicting results.
Based on my experience I would not call it harmful at all.
Q: At 44 years of age, wears glasses, has asthma, has been diagnosed with depression and has chronic sciatica, can one become an airline pilot?
— Vigor Halieoni, California
A: I am not sure that the rigors of professional flying would be the best choice for such a person.