Pilots, sleep & planes

I am a pilot and here is my experience:

A flight of 14 hours means that there are two full crews (for flights requiring two operating pilots). This usually means that the first 30 and last 45 minutes have all four pilots on the flight deck and during the remaining time, two of them are taking a break, splitting it up so that the operating crew—the ones at the controls for landing—get a long break around the middle of the flight, so as to be adequately rested for the arrival, but fully engaged with the last portion.

Many planes have rest areas; small rooms with a couple bunks and a couple seats. Sometimes these seats will have entertainment systems similar to those in the cabin. Other planes will have designated rest seats in the cabin; usually business/first-class seats with curtains to separate them from the light and some of the noise of the cabin.

With such a long flight, it would be unusual if some sleeping weren’t involved. Even if the flight left at body-clock 0800 and arrived at body-clock 2000, the flight crew has been in the plane since at least 0700, arriving at the airport likely 30 minutes earlier. With a close home or layover hotel, they might have awakened at 0530, but it’s likely earlier. That makes for a long, tiring day. Some sleeping is in order, but they can also pursue any other normal form of diversion available to the passengers: read, watch movies, eat, listen to music, play games, etc.

But come on! You have the chance to get paid to sleep! I nap aggressively, like lives depended on it.

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Traveling alone

Though I didn’t plan on traveling alone, but was compelled to do so I had planned a trip to Leh, ladakh with a group of friends. The discussions were done, plan was made, routes decided, necessary purchases made, motorcycles readied everything taken care of…
The plan was to ride 4 motorcycles from Bangalore to Leh. As the day of the journey started approaching, people started dropping out one by one. Each giving a different reason. On the day of the journey the last and the final person backed out…

So, had to make a choice, whether to give up on the plan or attempt a solo ride to the Himalayas riding across the country on a 20 year old motorcycle. I decided: what the heck, let me have a go at it, I’ve already applied those leaves no point backing out. I made up a mental agreement, the moment when the motorcycle gives up is when I will give up and head back.

As it turned out for the next 26 days it never did. Me and my motorcycle, we took it a day at a time, picked a destination and tried to make it. Almost always we did.

The route took me across the country, Blore – Pune – Mumbai- Ahmedabad – Mt Abu- Udaipur- Jaipur- Amritsar- Chandigarh- Jammu- Srinagar- Kargil- Leh
I noticed, everybody was surprised to see a 22 year old guy traveling alone from Bangalore on a motorcycle almost nearly as old as him.

By the time I had reached Leh, I had already covered 4000kms, was tired and fell sick as I didn’t expect AMS to set in. But the bike was in perfect condition and I remembered the agreement we had made. Kardungla pass, the highest motorable road at 18380 feet and the beautiful Pangong lake is what I came all the way for… I decided to make one final push…

No back up crew, no company to rely on. Just a few biker friends who I had met on the way. Soon after, the AMS started getting really worse and I had to head to lower altitudes but the toughest road Leh- Manali was what I had to tackle to reach home. Crossing those flooded roads, no tarmac to insane traffic. I remember very little of the journey but just kept going. Reached Chandigarh, shipped the bike and took a flight to Bangalore.

Though I spent the next 7 days at a hospital recovering from losing over 12 kilos on the journey, I had the most memorable experience of my life. Met some amazing people on the way, some in Punjab who took me to their home and offered me lassi, to the amazing biker brotherhood who stop to help any stranded biker on those routes, to the couple of army fellows who offered me free lodging in Leh for a couple of days just because they saw my number plate which belonged to their state.

It removed my inhibitions and fear of traveling alone. It’s a beautiful world out there, and some really amazing and helpful people you’ll meet along the way. Traveling alone is a way to know your own self in ways you never imagined.

After this I’ve traveled 6 more times to the Himalayas, 3 times of those solo biking.. And I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon.. 🙂 cheers…

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Do you hate flying?

There is no need to tell you that flying these days is a miserable experience. In fact, it’s so miserable that it’s tempting to suspect that the suffering is deliberate — that airlines are making us miserable as part of a calculated strategy to extort more money from us.

Tim Wu has given in to that temptation. In an article at the New Yorker, he argues that everything we hate about modern air travel — the tiny seats, the baggage fees, the exorbitant cost to change flights — is the result of a vast, social-welfare-destroying scheme to make us miserable in order to make us pay the airlines to palliate the suffering they’ve caused us.

A number of people have asked me what I think of this article, so here’s what I think: He nails the effect but lays the blame at the wrong door. The problem isn’t greedy airlines. It’s us.

The economics of the airline industry are daunting; by some accounts, the industry as a whole has never made money. Individual airlines make money, or at least they do in boom years. But overall, it’s a hard business. The capital costs are enormous, while the marginal costs of putting an extra person on a plane are tiny. And seats are rapidly wasting assets: The minute a plane takes off with an unsold seat, the value of that seat plummets to zero.

High-fixed-cost, low-marginal-cost industries are characterized by brutal competition and punishing boom and bust cycles. Which is exactly what we see in the airline industry. Over the last 15 years, the three remaining major airlines — Delta, United and American Airlines — have averaged profit margins of 3 to 8 percent, with periodic dips into deep red. Things aren’t getting more crowded and fees higher because it’s a good way for them to shake a little more off the money tree. Rather, the only way that they can make any money is to schedule more flights, cram more seats into the planes and manage their yield so that the planes fly fuller. The result is unpleasantly reminiscent of cattle walking up the slaughterhouse chute.

But unlike the cattle, we have to claim our own share of the responsibility. Ultimately, the reason airlines cram us into tiny seats and upcharge for everything is that we’re out there on Expedia and Kayak, shopping on exactly one dimension: the price of the flight. To win business, airlines have to deliver the absolute lowest fare. And the way to do that is . . . to cram us into tiny seats and upcharge for everything. If American consumers were willing to pay more for a better experience, they’d deliver it. We’re not, and they don’t.

The upside is that more people can afford to fly more often. The downside is that we’re not very comfortable doing it.

Of course, some air travelers are willing to pay more: business travelers whose employers cover the cost of their flights. As I’ve noted before, this group of people really is worse off in the new world of air travel. In the old days, flights cost more, and businesses had to pay more to fly their employees around, but those employees enjoyed a much better experience. Small wonder that they’re disgruntled. Also small wonder that the New Yorker — whose audience contains a large number of those people — is running articles about their plight. But as I’ve also noted before, “the elites are having their knees scrunched” is not a cause that cries out for all that much sympathy.

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