BALPA is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots
FO Christopher Jephcott
BALPA Member

As I put on my uniform and prepare to go to work, I am aware of how surreal it is. While I am carrying on, in a similar way to how I would have before coronavirus, many of my friends and former colleagues are at home, unsure of what the future holds.

Right now, many pilots are taking unpaid leave or are grounded due to the significant fall in demand for passenger travel. Meanwhile, as the world reels in the crisis that is coronavirus, the freight industry is seeing a spike in demand.

A combination of the reduction in space of ‘belly freight’ in passenger aircraft and the urgent need to ensure the supply chain is uninterrupted mean that freight is continuing unabated – and quite often the loads we are carrying are significantly increased.  

This situation comes with a unique set of challenges. We often spend up to nine days away from home, visiting different countries around the world. Some of them are deemed ‘virus hotspots’ – New York, Italy and Spain. There is also the added challenge of changes in restrictions to crew, leading us to wonder at times, if we’ll be allowed off the aircraft at the end of our duties.

We spend a lot of time in hotels and wondering about quarantine. What happens if we infect our families at home? What about our colleagues? What if we have to spend 14 days in isolation at our destinations?

...meals can be hard to come by

Another significant (and immediate) issue is the closure of restaurants and hotels bars meaning that breakfast and meals can be hard to come by. We are regularly now flying with ‘packed lunches’ just in this case. 

Of course, we remedy as many of our concerns as we possibly can do. We have anti-viral wipes that can be used for disinfecting controls and for effectively washing our hands with. Many of us now carry our own hand sanitising products, and quite a few now bring their own face masks. We are moving toward electronic operating flight plans (PLOGS) and tech logs meaning that interaction with ground crew is much less required. We often round-trip fuel too. 

As freight pilots in these difficult times, we are part of a vital supply chain. Our aircraft are busier than ever transporting much needed goods. Food, medicines and (of course!) toilet roll are needed around the globe and we are here to deliver them. 

...each city we visit feels like a ghost town

It feels odd. Airports are deserted. Although we often find ourselves in the dark corners of airports away from the public vision, we notice a lack of commercial traffic. We’re used to direct routings across Europe at night, and that hasn’t changed. But what has changed is that each city we visit feels like a ghost town. 

In many ways, it feels like we’ve joined an army. An army of health workers, delivery drivers, supermarket workers… all of us working to fight coronavirus and ensure people have all they need to stay well. 

We are proud of the work that we are doing.

It might not have the perceived glamour of passenger flying, but what we are doing is vital. Vital in fighting this pandemic. Vital in bringing medical supplies into affected regions. Vital in aiding this crisis and hopefully bringing about a resolution as fast as possible.

It is an uncertain time, but we are working hard. Flying in the face of coronavirus. 

Posted on 27 March 2020

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