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Long Haul Pilots, How Do They Do It?  
User currently offlineQantas777 From United States of America, joined Aug 2000, 484 posts, RR: 1
Posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 12318 times:

After traveling many long haul segments in Y and J, I just feel so awful after every flight. Whether it be in the new SQ 380 suite or coach, I just feel terrible; takes me days to recover.

So, question is, how the heck do pilots cope with the insane hours of flying? I know they have crew breaks etc, but I would lose my mind. And it only makes me think more when, say, after 15 hrs in flight, you fly into JFK airspace loaded with TSRA at peak hrs. !!!!

So, any pilots out there, care to tell how do you do it?

Thanks

56 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
 
User currently offlineMcdu From United States of America, joined Apr 2005, 1437 posts, RR: 17
Reply 1, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 12218 times:

Personally it takes a couple of days for me to recover from some of the longer segments. Especially the Asia trips seem to be the hardest. However, you ask how do the pilots cope with arrival task after the long hours airborne? That is where the augmented crew really helps in keeping everyone focused on the job at hand. Having one or two sets of eyes and ears helps aide the operating crew in keeping track of what needs to be accomplished. While fatigue is present, there is a bit of adrenaline that goes with even a normal approach and landing. That little boost seems to get you over the edge.

I have been in NRT and seen guys fall asleep soundly on the bus from the hotel to downtown Narita (about a 15minute ride in good traffic) only an hour arrive at the hotel. Once we just sent one of the pilots back on the bus as he was too sleepy to climb the hill to have dinner. If you spend any time at the layover hotels for pilots in Japan you will find based crews in the gyms at 0200. Exercise and hydrating is great for recovery. Also, avoiding alcohol will help but you won't find many takers on that method  Wink


User currently offlineSpeedBirdA380 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2008, 539 posts, RR: 2
Reply 2, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 12030 times:



Quoting Qantas777 (Thread starter):
So, question is, how the heck do pilots cope with the insane hours of flying?

I suppose it just depends on the person and how their body responds to travel and change. I am not a pilot (yet Big grin ) but I never really experience jetlag and I seem to adapt really well. I often fly from London to the far east and back on flights sometimes 13-14 hours long but apart from feeling a little tired it never really affects me that much.

Its just in your DNA I suppose. I have a friend who is super intelligent and the mathmatical sums he can do are mind boggling to me. I lose my mind trying to work out all those numbers! But on the other hand when he and I flew from LHR-SIN which is about a 12 hour flight in economy and no sleep we arrived in Singapore about 17.30 and that night I went out partying till the small hours. Then I was up at 8.00 the next morning for the buffet breakfast! - He could not believe that.

So its just who you are I suppose. Perhaps there is not much going on in my head so my brain uses less energy and needs less sleep.... Big grin


User currently offlineWILCO737 From Greenland, joined Jun 2004, 8919 posts, RR: 76
Reply 3, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 12012 times:
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Well, it is tough indeed sometimes. Long days, long nights, not knowing where you are or what you do.
When I am on a trip I try to plan when to sleep and when exploring the City. It often doesn't work out as I want to. Usually the body tells you when it is really time to sleep,then you go to bed and sleep.
I call myself a Zombie sometimes,when Iam up for 24+ hours... That's how I feel.
When I get back home I try to get back to my home time ASAP... It usually takes 2 days. When I coma from far east it takes longer than coming from the US...

Wilco737



It it's not Boeing, I am not going.
User currently offlineCosmicCruiser From United States of America, joined Feb 2005, 2254 posts, RR: 16
Reply 4, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 12005 times:



Quoting SpeedBirdA380 (Reply 2):
But on the other hand when he and I flew from LHR-SIN which is about a 12 hour flight in economy and no sleep we arrived in Singapore about 17.30 and that night I went out partying till the small hours. Then I was up at 8.00 the next morning for the buffet breakfast! - He could not believe that.

Well alot of that is because you're young, it was an exciting adventure and you dont do it for 2 weeks every month. Couple certain line dates from month to month and you may find yourself getting home from a 2 week trip, being home 5 days or less and doing it all over again. Consider as well on a line trip you're not at liberty to come, go, eat and sleep as if you're on this adventure. You know that there will be a short time for fun and time to eat and a time for sleep if you can do it. It all adds up.


User currently offlineSpeedBirdA380 From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2008, 539 posts, RR: 2
Reply 5, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 16 hours ago) and read 11981 times:



Quoting CosmicCruiser (Reply 4):
Well alot of that is because you're young, it was an exciting adventure and you dont do it for 2 weeks every month.

Very good point.

I guess the novelty starts to wear off and it takes more of a toll on your body the more often you do it and the older you get. Seeing as this is a thread about long-haul pilots and how do they do it I would like to ask a question about caffeine, and is how much a pilot can drink limited?

I know if I drink two or three cups of coffee I start to feel a little strange in the head and find it difficult to concentrate and I wondered if there are any rules or guidelines in place for pilots on how much caffeine they are allowed to drink on a flight?


User currently offlineManuCH From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 3007 posts, RR: 48
Reply 6, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 16 hours ago) and read 11965 times:
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Quoting CosmicCruiser (Reply 4):
Well alot of that is because you're young, it was an exciting adventure and you dont do it for 2 weeks every month.

It's funny, for me it was actually much harder to cope with jet lag when I was 15 than today (I'm 32). Back in those days, I would feel like a wreck for almost 5 days after flying from the US east coast back home to Europe. Probably it's not jet lag per se bothering me, but the absolute lack of sleep (somehow I can't sleep on a plane). The same happens to me even at home if for some reason I don't sleep at all for one night: it will take me days to recover.

I have found melatonin to work wonders for nighttime flights from the US to Europe. Now I only feel tired, but the "I feel sick" thing is gone.

I guess we're just all different. And yes, I also wonder how pilots manage all this. Is melatonin allowed for an airline pilot (as it's a dietary supplement after all), or is it banned?



Never trust a statistic you didn't fake yourself
User currently offline413X3 From United States of America, joined Jul 2008, 1983 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 11 hours ago) and read 11853 times:



Quoting CosmicCruiser (Reply 4):
Well alot of that is because you're young,

And also a passenger resting in the cabin reading a book or watching a movie is a little different than a pilot who deals with the stresses of flying for those 8-12 hrs


User currently offlineFlyMIA From United States of America, joined Jun 2001, 7006 posts, RR: 9
Reply 8, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 11 hours ago) and read 11817 times:



Quoting 413X3 (Reply 7):
And also a passenger resting in the cabin reading a book or watching a movie is a little different than a pilot who deals with the stresses of flying for those 8-12 hrs

Well I am not sure how much stress there is at FL350 in the middle of the Atlantic besides for your HF radio reports, but it is definitely different.

I am not a pilot but to Europe I will get a bit of Jet Lag but coming back from Europe no jet lag at all, the flight feels like a normal afternoon flight in the day light.

I know pilots flying to Europe from the US will usually sleep for a few hours when they arrive and than spend the day out doing what ever they want come back into the hotel and try to go to sleep at a normal time. But Europe flying seems a lot easier on the body than going to Asia or the Pacific.



"It was just four of us on the flight deck, trying to do our job" (Captain Al Haynes)
User currently offline413X3 From United States of America, joined Jul 2008, 1983 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 10 hours ago) and read 11801 times:

always watching the instruments and in the back of your head going through the what if possibilities, there are many examples of stress even if you are just cruising.

User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 16908 posts, RR: 67
Reply 10, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 6 hours ago) and read 11678 times:

I used to go back and forth between the US and Europe every couple of weeks. My simple rule was to try and get on the destination time as fast as possible, assuming I stayed longer than, say, a day or two. As opposed to a pilot, I had meetings all through the local working day so no off duty time there. Yech.

As mentioned above westbound is easier than eastbound.

Quoting ManuCH (Reply 6):
I have found melatonin to work wonders for nighttime flights from the US to Europe. Now I only feel tired, but the "I feel sick" thing is gone.

Melatonin is indeed great for getting a tired body to relax enough to sleep at the wrong time.

Quoting FlyMIA (Reply 8):
But Europe flying seems a lot easier on the body than going to Asia or the Pacific.

If nothing else the distances and lags involved are much shorter. JFK-LHR is barely longer than JFK-LAX.



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineJawed From United States of America, joined Sep 2006, 482 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (4 years 8 months 2 weeks 3 hours ago) and read 11618 times:

I posted a question specifically about pilot's sleep problems:

Pilots: What If You Can't Fall Asleep? (by Jawed Aug 13 2009 in Civil Aviation)

(which I think is a complex problem in and of itself, as part of the heavy travel schedule)


User currently offlineCosmicCruiser From United States of America, joined Feb 2005, 2254 posts, RR: 16
Reply 12, posted (4 years 8 months 1 week 6 days 18 hours ago) and read 11525 times:



Quoting SpeedBirdA380 (Reply 5):
I guess the novelty starts to wear off and it takes more of a toll on your body the more often you do it and the older you get. Seeing as this is a thread about long-haul pilots and how do they do it I would like to ask a question about caffeine, and is how much a pilot can drink limited?

Correct. Over the years there's places I still enjoy going to and others I try NOT to go to. Then there's others that I like going to but you will get hammered either on the way or afterwards so I miss those. Sometimes it's unavoidable so you bite the bullet and fly. No limit on caffiene but I don't find that it does much for me. I'll have a couple of cups but the acid isn't that good for you in large amounts on an empty stomach. It's a Catch 22 really. The airlines can't economically build a trip, say around the world, that would allow you to be perfectly rested on each leg but not being a robot you just can't flip a switch and turn off either. Everyone finds their own way to cope.


User currently offlineVikkyvik From United States of America, joined Jul 2003, 9410 posts, RR: 27
Reply 13, posted (4 years 8 months 1 week 6 days 13 hours ago) and read 11447 times:
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Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 10):
If nothing else the distances and lags involved are much shorter. JFK-LHR is barely longer than JFK-LAX.

True, although you do go through 2 more time zones on JFK-LHR than you do on JFK-LAX.



"Two and a Half Men" was filmed in front of a live ostrich.
User currently offlineGRZ-AIR From Austria, joined Apr 2001, 573 posts, RR: 4
Reply 14, posted (4 years 8 months 1 week 6 days 11 hours ago) and read 11407 times:

I don't fly the big iron so no long haul for me but I do have experienced that the older I get the more exhausted I am after transcon flights...and yes I prefer Y class but it doesn't help.

When I was 14 I had no problems adjusting. No I need a week after a flight from the US to Europe...

G



When I joined A.net it was still free, haha ;).
User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 16908 posts, RR: 67
Reply 15, posted (4 years 8 months 1 week 6 days 7 hours ago) and read 11341 times:



Quoting Vikkyvik (Reply 13):
Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 10):
If nothing else the distances and lags involved are much shorter. JFK-LHR is barely longer than JFK-LAX.

True, although you do go through 2 more time zones on JFK-LHR than you do on JFK-LAX.

Quite.



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineFlighty From United States of America, joined Apr 2007, 8216 posts, RR: 3
Reply 16, posted (4 years 8 months 1 week 6 days 6 hours ago) and read 11320 times:



Quoting Qantas777 (Thread starter):

So, any pilots out there, care to tell how do you do it?

Speaking only as a frequent traveler, you get used to it. Eventually an aircraft is just as comfortable as your home sofa, or your office chair. Maybe flying makes you feel uneasy, but pilots probably feel nice and comfortable in the sky.

Pilots might ask us how we spend 40 to 50 hours per week working in the office.


User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 16908 posts, RR: 67
Reply 17, posted (4 years 8 months 1 week 6 days 4 hours ago) and read 11305 times:



Quoting Flighty (Reply 16):
Pilots might ask us how we spend 40 to 50 hours per week working in the office.

Or in my wife's case, 60-80.  Wink



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineBabybus From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 18, posted (4 years 7 months 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 9930 times:

I was talking to a BA FA at Easter and she was saying that although she's been flying for like 30 years she still finds LHR-OZ a killer.

It takes her a week to get over it. From arriving in Singapore to a week after getting home she doesn't know where she is.

I feel sorry for the pilots. Unlike the pax who can close the blind and pretend it's night, the crew have to suffer the disorientating effects of very short nights and very long days.  boggled 


User currently offlineViscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 24109 posts, RR: 23
Reply 19, posted (4 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 9556 times:



Quoting Vikkyvik (Reply 13):
Quoting Starlionblue (Reply 10):
If nothing else the distances and lags involved are much shorter. JFK-LHR is barely longer than JFK-LAX.

True, although you do go through 2 more time zones on JFK-LHR than you do on JFK-LAX.

On that point, I've always found it strange that time zones seem narrower going westbound from Europe than eastbound. For example, it's roughly the same distance from AMS to JFK as to DXB/AUH but the time difference is 6 hours to the U.S. east coast but only 2 hours to DXB/AUH. And the time difference from AMS to places like SIN/BKK/JKT is 6 hours, the same as to JFK, although those Asian points are much further east than JFK is west.


User currently offlinePGNCS From United States of America, joined Apr 2007, 2758 posts, RR: 45
Reply 20, posted (4 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 9546 times:



Quoting CosmicCruiser (Reply 12):
It's a Catch 22 really. The airlines can't economically build a trip, say around the world, that would allow you to be perfectly rested on each leg but not being a robot you just can't flip a switch and turn off either. Everyone finds their own way to cope.

You make several good points, and everyone does develop their own coping strategies. Some people never really develop a system that lets them enjoy the long haul flying. I did it for several years, and hated every second of it. I kept telling myself that I would get used to it, but while I developed several coping strategies, they were far from foolproof, so I came back to domestic flying. I lost weight, feel better, am home more often, and actually enjoy flying again. I will never again willfully fly long haul.

Quoting Flighty (Reply 16):
Speaking only as a frequent traveler, you get used to it. Eventually an aircraft is just as comfortable as your home sofa, or your office chair. Maybe flying makes you feel uneasy, but pilots probably feel nice and comfortable in the sky.

Everyone is different; there are many of us who hate long range flying. No aircraft is as comfortable as the most uncomfortable chair in my house.


User currently offlineStarlionblue From Greenland, joined Feb 2004, 16908 posts, RR: 67
Reply 21, posted (4 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 9506 times:



Quoting Viscount724 (Reply 19):
On that point, I've always found it strange that time zones seem narrower going westbound from Europe than eastbound. For example, it's roughly the same distance from AMS to JFK as to DXB/AUH but the time difference is 6 hours to the U.S. east coast but only 2 hours to DXB/AUH. And the time difference from AMS to places like SIN/BKK/JKT is 6 hours, the same as to JFK, although those Asian points are much further east than JFK is west.

I think there are a few factors at work:
- Latitude: LHR is much further north than JFK. Time zones are narrower further north.
- Conventions. The Central European time zone is VERY wide in order to make it convenient to trade. Purely longitude wise, Amsterdam should probably be on British Standard Time.
- DBX is much further south than JFK, and SIN even more so. This adds to the flight time without adding time zones.



"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."
User currently offlineCosmicCruiser From United States of America, joined Feb 2005, 2254 posts, RR: 16
Reply 22, posted (4 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 9497 times:



Quoting PGNCS (Reply 20):
No aircraft is as comfortable as the most uncomfortable chair in my house.

Ha! so true!! I got in at 3am this morn and my butt is still sore! Almost 10 hrs FRA-MEM!!


User currently offlineAaron747 From Japan, joined Aug 2003, 7952 posts, RR: 26
Reply 23, posted (4 years 6 months 4 weeks 23 hours ago) and read 9443 times:



Quoting CosmicCruiser (Reply 22):

Ha! so true!! I got in at 3am this morn and my butt is still sore! Almost 10 hrs FRA-MEM!!

Don't be fooled any folks - if you've spent time up front or in a sim, you know rather well that crew seating isn't anywhere near as comfortable as it looks - now imagine four to six hours planted in those things  Sad



If you need someone to blame / throw a rock in the air / you'll hit someone guilty
User currently offlineWILCO737 From Greenland, joined Jun 2004, 8919 posts, RR: 76
Reply 24, posted (4 years 6 months 4 weeks 22 hours ago) and read 9427 times:
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Quoting Aaron747 (Reply 23):
on't be fooled any folks - if you've spent time up front or in a sim, you know rather well that crew seating isn't anywhere near as comfortable as it looks - now imagine four to six hours planted in those things  

Yeah, the seats are old, worn out and far from comfortable. Pretty much every seat in modern cars is more comfortable...

wilco737



It it's not Boeing, I am not going.
25 DocLightning : I don't see how you could enforce a ban. If you test my urine for melatonin metabolites, I'll have it. So will any mammal.
26 Lowrider : Or very long nights and short days, depending on which way you are flying. I have, however, come to loath the sunrise when we are flying eastbound. I
27 Starlionblue : Melatonin is a pretty weak "drug" as such things go. I'm not an medical expert but I would think coffee has just as much effect in the opposite direc
28 DocLightning : It's OT, but I'll do it. It's "banned" in several countries, including Australia, but possession is permitted; sale is not. So nobody is going to thr
29 300below4L : Obviously this is a little stray off the pilot/crew thread focus, but I use Xanax on long-haul flights to assist with sleep. Everyone's body is differ
30 CX flyboy : I find coffee does not do much for me. In flight the best thing to battle falling asleep is conversation with the person next to you. Even if it is on
31 CosmicCruiser : True on all counts but the bunks can be good or bad for sure. Some of ours have poor ventilation and become stuffy to me. I can't last more than and
32 Borism : How many legs did you guys have to do for the flying novelty to wear out? Often if you're flying even the same route (which many probably don't) you m
33 Starlionblue : One trick that special forces use to stay awake while doing long surveillance is the following. Grab a candy bar. Every time you feel like you are fal
34 Lowrider : I will have to try that on the upcoming trip. By the 4th or 5th day things can get really challenging...
35 Starlionblue : I would love to have some first hand accounts on the method's efficacy!
36 CX flyboy : For those die-hard people who really want the answer, give yourself a longhaul pilot's roster for a few weeks. Tonight, at 3am, sit infront of your co
37 WILCO737 : Excellent. I couldn't have said it any better... 3:30am in a hotel room, cannot sleep anymore, 6 hours time differfence to my hometown. And don't for
38 Borism : I'll try it some time Real Pilots don't read: usually I leave my Flightsim on A/P and go to sleep to land in the morning (sometimes just to find my pl
39 Lowrider : For the freight pilots version only allow yourself 12 to 24 hours off, then repeat.
40 WILCO737 : I am a freighter pilot myself and we sometimes have 24 hours off, sometimes 4 days. Depends. I had 3 days off in SEA, DEL this months. 18 hours in KJ
41 CX flyboy : For layovers after a longhaul we get around 24hrs as a minimum. Most are around 24-48hrs with a few trips longer. When we get home however we normall
42 Lowrider : On two consecutive flights I tried a Hershey Bar (with almonds) on the first, and spearmint gum on the second. I found that both helped slightly, but
43 WAH64D : Its probably a damned sight less taxing than spending 92 hours a week with dirt caked to your every moving part, sun and wind burned and carrying you
44 Starlionblue : Thanks Lowrider. I do think that the method is both based on the continual addition of sugar, and on the act of chewing actively.
45 Saab2000 : For the life of me I can't figure out how a pilot on an RJ does it! 14 hour days scheduled. Extended to 16 hours. Start at 4 AM on day one and have a
46 CX flyboy : I would venture to say that there is every possibility that those RJ pilots you talk about work harder than a long-haul pilot. With longhaul it is th
47 DocLightning : I'll throw in a few stories of my own. Here's the schedule in residency: M:6A-6P T:6A-6P W:6A- (overnight) Th: (overnight)-10A F:6A-6P Sa: off Su: 8A-
48 Starlionblue : When I was in the army I fell asleep while walking a few times. I remember walking, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground. Didn't want t
49 CX flyboy : It is worse for the medical sector than for pilots. I don't know how doctors/nurse rosters can be legal given the work required from them; potentiall
50 Lowrider : Hate to burst your bubble, but not everyone has such good duty rules for long haul. I just finished a day where we logged 11.3 hours over 2 legs with
51 CX flyboy : Oh absolutely, there are plenty of countries which have worse rules than we do here, but we also have some pretty nasty flights where you do a 15hr s
52 CosmicCruiser : Oh yeah, been there done that! We do have some great hotels that really do a good job leaving us alone but there's also a few that will call your roo
53 DocLightning : It's very relaxed. After all, you have to show how dedicated you are to becoming a doctor by going through this absurd process and showing you're tou
54 Kimberlyrj : Don’t forget some pilots are single and they get to spend time in foreign lands... I know some pilots have their little black book of gals (or boys)
55 Saab2000 : Welcome to my world!!
56 TimePilot : Hey, booze are free on international flights
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