Day in the life of
Airline Captain – Martin Pletzer
There is so much variety in schedules, destinations, teams you are working with…that makes each day very unique.
I live and work in Austria. I have to say, that the pandemic changed my life quite drastically. Until a year ago my working base was close to my hometown, where I live with my family. This made life easy. Thirty minutes after shutting down the engines at the gate I was at home with my family. To be honest, this was not the normal life of an airline pilot.
Since May last year, I am based in Vienna, Austria, which is a beautiful city. But for me, this is a 3 and a half-hour drive from my home. I had to rent a small apartment close to Vienna airport. During my working shifts, I stay in my apartment in Vienna, on my days off I drive home to my family.
So how does my day look like? I just took my last shift, which I had last Friday/Saturday which was a short overnight shift. It means, you start late, fly to a European city, overnight in a hotel for ~3 hrs and then return on the early morning flight, then you’re done.
Check-in 8:55pm – 70 min before departure time
On Friday my check-in was scheduled at 8:55 pm for a flight from Vienna to Bucharest, Romania. It takes me about 35 min from my apartment to my airline’s base at Vienna Airport. During check-in I meet my crew (copilot and cabin crew) and discuss all relevant data for your upcoming flights. Check-in for medium-haul flights in my airline is 70 min before the scheduled departure time. First I meet my copilot and we start checking all data for the flight: aircraft tail-number, any technical issues, number of passengers and freight, weather conditions at destination/alternate airports/enroute, flight route, any pertinent operational information about airports, navaids,… (this is called “NOTAM”, “notice to airmen”), any given restrictions from air traffic control (also known as SLOT time). Based on all this info we decide about the fuel load and pass this on to the fuel company. All this planning is done electronically with our tablet computers, the so-called “Electronic Flight Bag” (EFB).
When all is done, we meet with the cabin crew and brief them about flight time, weather, and any other important info. We also discuss a “what-if” emergency scenario with the cabin crew, for example, what to expect and what to do in case of an aborted take-off at high speed or in case of a rapid decompression during flight.
40 min before departure time
40 min before departure time a crew bus takes us to our aircraft, which was already fuelled as requested. My copilot requested to be the flying pilot at the controls for the first leg to Bucharest, so I would do the radios, the paperwork, and all the support functions. After arriving at the aircraft, I check the outside condition of the aircraft (the so-called “walk-around”) and the copilot starts working the checklists inside, while the cabin crew prepares the cabin for passenger boarding. Finally, the passengers arrive, we get the final load documentation, calculate aircraft performance, feed everything into our navigation and performance computer, close the doors, request clearance for our flight route, clearance to start engines, and push-back (from our gate) from air traffic control. We taxi to our departure runway, while the cabin crew secures the cabin for take-off.
“Austrian 561F, wind 290 degrees at 8, runway 29, you are cleared for take-off”, with this clearance we advance our thrust levers and begin our 80 min flight to Bucharest. The night flight at 35,000 feet is uneventful. As the flight time is pretty short, you have not much time to relax during cruise flight. Preparations for approach and landing start soon after reaching cruising level: get actual weather from Bucharest airport, plan type of approach, compute landing performance, feed everything into the computers and make a thorough briefing with the copilot about relevant items of the upcoming approach and landing. The copilot’s touchdown on runway 08L in Bucharest was perfectly smooth, we taxied to the gate, disembarked the passengers, and prepared the aircraft for parking. It was now 23:45 Vienna time or 00:45 local time.
Arrived at hotel for a short 3 1/2 hour stay before next flight back
A taxi picked us up for a 20 min drive to our hotel in Bucharest city center. We checked in for a short 3 1/2 hour stay. Now try to sleep fast, the pick-up is scheduled at 04:20 Vienna time. The alarm clock at 03:55 was not my friend, however, a strong coffee helped me out. Back to the airport, and the same procedure again for the return flight to Vienna. Now I was at the controls for an uneventful flight (although my touchdown after the short night was not as smooth as the copilot’s one 🙂
After returning to the crew base, we did a short debriefing with the cabin crew, returned all required papers to the company office, and then we were done! Check-in at 8:55 pm, check-out at 7:55 am the next day, what a luxury! Just missing some sleep – coming back to my apartment I fixed this issue immediately 😉
- Every day in the “office” is different (see above). You constantly have to adjust to new destinations, schedules, changing crews, different weather conditions, and new technology.
- Although working in a big organization with lots of interdependencies, you´re pretty much your own boss. Nobody will interfere as long as you follow the rules.
- You are in charge and your dedication and decisions make the difference.
- It’s quite hard to maintain a stable social life away from work. When family and friends join for a barbecue on Saturday evening, you’re maybe just heading off for a long night flight.
- You spend quite a long time away from home.
- The industry is very volatile and you have to be flexible. Losing your job in a crisis – like now – could mean losing your pilot license.. Therefore you have to be prepared to relocate to different countries (or even continents), just to keep on working and maintaining your pilot’s license (which is basically nothing else than your work permit).
Martin is an Airline Captain for a major European Airline. On the side, he runs Hundefutterchecker24.de, a dog nutrition website.
pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing aircraft, usually on scheduled air carrier routes, for the transport of passengers and cargo. Requires Federal Air Transport certificate and rating for specific aircraft type used. Includes regional, national, and international airline pilots and flight instructors of airline pilots.