In our Ask a Pilot series, pilot Spencer Marker answers one of your aviation-related questions each week. See past installments here and submit your own to Whitney@johnnyjet.com.
What kind of things do pilots bring with them when they hit the road?
Hey Walter! Thanks for writing in to this week’s Ask a Pilot. You pose a very interesting question and certainly one that I’d never really considered before!
Over my professional aviation career, I have become somewhat of an expert at packing exactly what I need when I leave home for work every week. Sometimes the trips I fly are simple out-and-backs (we call these turns) where I will only be gone for a day, so I don’t bring much. More often than not, I fly three- or four-day trips. During these trips, I bring along my roller bag and everything I may need during the week. Most of it is probably not different from what any frequent traveler brings, but these are the things I’ve learned to always have on hand.
Flight crews are on the road several days a week, every month of every year until they retire. Such extremely frequent travel requires sturdy luggage that can take abuse. Most consumer type bags (I’ve owned a few) wear out after a few months of heavy use. I, like many flight crews, employ a Luggage Works roller bag with a metal external frame. It can be heavy for some, but can stand up to the most punishing of conditions. Plus, the screws holding it together can be found at any hardware store and its inline skate wheels can also be located easily and are simple to replace, making luggage repairs at home or on the road a breeze.
For more information about Luggage Works bags, click here.
Extra change of clothes
While most road warriors have packing down to an exact science, I began packing backups a few years ago when I came to the sobering realization that clothing problems do pop up every now and then, despite my best efforts. Since I don’t care to wear a coffee stain on my pilot shirt for the next few days, I always toss in back ups, just in case.
As anybody who travels regularly (especially out of the country) knows, managing your sleep through countless shifting time zones can be a struggle. For pilots, we do this on a daily basis and an early wake up or a really late night can be made even worse by moving just a few time zones. It is our responsibility to our passengers to stay properly rested, so I began packing a sleep aid to assist in being able to sleep outside of my normal sleep schedule.
Eye mask and earplugs
Many pilots live far away from the airports at which they’re based. So to get to work every week, they will take a flight. This practice is called commuting and its very common in the industry. On one occasion, when I commuted, I was sitting in coach on a red eye flight home when the crew didn’t shut off the overhead lights all night. Needless to say, I didn’t get a wink of sleep on that flight. So, as silly as it may look, I began packing an eye mask and earplugs to help me catch a few extra winks on my commute flights.
Gym clothes and shoes
One upside of staying in hotels a few nights a week is the access to their fitness centers. Every hotel has something and for a lot of crewmembers, it reduces the need for a gym membership at home. Some hotel fitness centers have just a few treadmills and weights, while others are equipped like a full service gym. Every flight crew has a favorite hotel gym in their airline’s system (mine’s the Marriott Marquis Houston, TX). Because it is hard to stay in shape while you’re out on the road, I’ve committed myself to working out on my layovers. So my gym shoes and clothes are a must.
Airplanes are decidedly shared spaces. As are their cockpits. Since the flight crew on a particular airplane my change 10 to 12 times a day, I began packing sanitizing wipes for the common things I’d be touching like the control yoke, throttles and other assorted buttons and switches. It may seem overly cautious, but caution is a decidedly better alternative to getting sick. Especially during cold and flu season.
Notes from home
Flight crew members spend a lot of time away from home so they can work in a job they’re truly passionate about. But this time on the road often comes at the expense of spending time with loved ones. So I always keep notes from my fiancé in my bag when I go to work. It’s a small gesture but it makes me feel closer to home, even when I’m thousands of miles away. And while I love my job, I’m always excited to get back home.
To sum up
Thanks for your question this week, Walter. I’ve refined the things I bring to work over the course of my career, compressing it down to only the essentials. While my list above may not be a revelation to anyone who spends their lives on the road, for me, it’s the things I’ve learned one way or another, that its better to have on hand.
What can’t you live without when you go on the road? Post in the comments below! And if anyone has a burning aviation question or something you would like cleared up, drop us a line at Whitney@johnnyjet.com to get your question featured in an upcoming Ask a Pilot column.