Transcribed Interview: Interview 1: Pilot Micro-culture

Transcribed Interview: Interview 1                                                                              2/15/14

Pilot Micro-Culture

Time: 47:05

Folk Terms:

Background noise: distant music, grandfather clock chimes, vacuum, pen scratching.. hammering.


S: So first I’m going to, explain to you, Ethnography. Ethnography, is the way that, Anthropologists get to, learn about other people’s cultures, and, I’m interviewing you on the Ethnography of pilots. So my first question- do you have any questions before we start?

T: I guess not

S: Ok, an I also am going to thank you for participating, and if you have any questions along the way you can ask them. So first the first question, tell me about, um, being a pilot, and you can start anywhere –it’s a very broad question.

T: Let’s see, you have to be dedicated to get to a major airline. It’s a lot of studyin’….uh there’s a lot of continuing studying, you have to keep yourself healthy because there’s a medical every 6 months you have to pass.

S: OK hold on just one second.


S: I forgot to take notes during the interview; I have to take notes, called my field notes.

S: Ok

T: What else

S: Sorry keep going from where you were going.

T: Um, I don’t know

S: You were talking about staying healthy.

T: Yeah, any more specific questions?

S: No, the specific questions will , not be in this interview, um, what else can you say about being a pilot?

T: Well, now I’m talking about a pilot for a major airline- there’s only, there’s two ways to go about it.  You either go through the military or you do civilian. Uh, I was civilian, I did the civilian way and I got a four-year bachelor’s degree in air commerce transportation technology.

S: Air commerce?

T: Which gave me uh, private commercial flight instructor uh ratings and a uh four-year business degree. So in the civilian uh way of getting to majors you come out of college and then you build time. And it usually starts with being a flight instructor. You get more time, you get hired as a charter pilot. You get more time and you get hired as a commuter pilot.  And uh eventually you get hired by a major airline.

T:  If you went the military way you would go into the military and do their uh, I think its minimum 6-10 years and then you come out and try to get hired by a major airline.  Uh- what was the question- what’s it like being a pilot

S: m hm.

T: What’s it like being a pilot- you have no set schedule, usually. Your schedule changes every month. You can be flying at all times of the day, if you’re an international pilot your flying, uh, over, at night, it’s a long flight, 8-16 hours. So its very hard on your body.

T: Let’s see…for an airline pilot it’s all based on seniority: the date of hire. So the more people hired AFTER you and as the airline grows, that’s how you, uh, advance. Most people that get hired by a major airline, well not most, but all-everyone, goes to a right seat of some airline. For United it’s the 737, for the Airbus 319, and so you build time and experience  and as your seniority number comes up you’ll eventually go into captain training.

T: Probably jumping around

S: un unn, this is good.

S: What happens after Captain’s Training.

T: Well then you become a Captain and again its all based on seniority, the type of plane you fly, is based off seniority and how senior you want to be on the airplane.

T: I will again, in my, pilot history, I was a captain on the 737; I was a very senior captain. On the 737 and that was my choice. Back in the late ‘90s and 2000’s, I, I could have moved to a bigger airplane but I chose to stay on the 737 to stay with more seniority I have a better, I have more control over my schedule.

T: Let’s see… being a pilot you get to of course, travel a lot. You layover at different cities, of course. Sometimes you have time to get out, um, if you’re layover is long enough, get out walk around sight seeing in different places. That’s why I like flying to Europe because you usually have a 29-hour layover. So you get to, you have to sleep but you also get out and walk around, see some of the, of the sites.

T: On longer flights, being a pilot, on longer flights, uh, you have more than just the captain and first officer it’s called an Augmented crew. Like for Europe, when we fly we have an additional first officer he’s called a relief officer. Like if a flight is over 8 hours. You have a relief first officer, so there’s uh, a couple hours, where you can uh, the pilots are actually able to go into a rest seat and rest. If the flight is over 12 hours, you actually have a full second crew, and example, a flight from, New York to Tokyo is about 16 hours so theirs two full crews, a captain, first officer and a captain and a first officer. So the first, captain and first officer fly for 8 hours and then they come back to the rest seats and the second captain and first officer go up and fly and finish flying the airplane.

S: Are you saying New York, to Tokyo?

T: Yeah. That’s an example. Sixteen hour flight.

By the way the New York to Tokyo flight, well it doesn’t have anything to do about being a pilot  but, that goes over the north, over the pole. Uh being a pilot you learn a lot of geography. Laugh, laugh. Laugh.

S: laugh laugh, laugh.

T: You get to see a lot of things.

T: Being a pilot you can see a lot better in the front of the airplane than from looking out a side window.

T: I’m sure there’s more stuff but I can’t think of anything right now.  I guess, do you have anymore specific questions.

S: The next question I have, uh, for you, is…a tour question. I’m gonna ask you to talk me through uh, what you do from morning to night as a pilot.

S: And I wasn’t sure how to arrange this, we could start, from, when you leave the house and when you drive to work, and then what you do from there,  or we could start from, uh, say you’re at like, a hotel,  and what you do from there, it’s up to you.

T: Well we could start from the house, 

S: Ok.


T: Let’s, ok, Let’s say I have a trip to Europe, ok?

S: Ok.

T: Because I either do, west coast, east coast, or a Europe trip so, out of Dulles, flying for United- that’s usually a three day trip.

S: To Europe? And back? In three days?

S: Ok, nervous laugh.

T: So this would be, let’s see this is specific enough this will be ok. So majority of the European trips leaving the East coast of the United States, leave late afternoon. So, Day 1: I’m leaving the house, usually around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Takes me an hour and a half to drive to Dulles. 

T: Park in the employee parking lot. I go, get in the employee bus, go to the terminal. And I pass through, this area, since I have my uniform, and my ID…airline issued ID, I can go through this one area- it’s a crew member area, pilot crew member, and they look at my idea, they bring up on their computers, my picture, so they are verifying I am who I am. And I have to have another photo ID so it’s usually my passport. So I have two, two photo identifications.  My photo’s coming up on their computer base, the government, this is uh, TSA. And uh, that, if that all goes well they let me pass through, so now I just went through security.  And I’m into a secure area.

S: Hold on a second, my pen just went out.

S: Ok, so you got through TSA and you are in a secure area.

T: A lot easier than what a passenger would have to do. You know my bags are not checked, I don’t have to go through a metal detector. As long as my IDs match their data base, uh that’s, I can walk, I can continue. 

T: I head over to United Operations.  So and that’s where my mailbox is, that’s where the flight office is, that’s where all the computer’s are. We go in there, you know I meet up with the rest of my crew, and uh, we sit down, and we go over the flight. We have access to all the weather on the computers. And we have our flight plans that we go over. Make sure that the airplane is in operating condition you know, if there is anything wrong with the airplane. We have to figure out all that stuff. And uh we uh that’s, with our flight plans, the weather, the airplane- that’s what we do in operations. And uh, and that’s an hour and a half before departure. So we’re the crew, the cockpit crew, is walking to the airplane on an international flight about an hour before departure. The flight attendants, you know they’re already there…passengers… I’m flying a Boeing 767.  Yeah, I guess that would be valid, 767 United’s holds about 236 passengers.  10 flight attendants and 3 cockpit crew members: Myself, the captain, the first officer, and the relief first officer.

T:  Let’s say we’re going to Zurich, because that’s where I usually go.  So an hour before departure we walk on the airplane, we are, again IDS are checked by customer service agents, on their paperwork, so we are who we are and we get on the airplane and we do our pre-flight checks. And I’m  not going to go into too much detail, the relief first officer does the walk around outside- he checks the side to make sure everything is where it should be.

T: Uh the, uh myself and the other first officer we have our checks to do, make sure our instruments are in working order. Uh, the first officer loads the uh, the its called the Flight Management Computer. That’s our navigation. So he’ll load everything in there, our route, to Zurich.  Uh, and then I will double check, his entries and if everything’s good I will press the go button. Laugh, laugh, laugh

S: laugh, laugh, laugh.

T: Uh let’s see…if I could remember the flight from Dulles to Zurich is about 3,200 miles or something like that.

T: So we have a map, in front of us, and it moves as we move in the air.

T: Let’s see, what else, during the pre-flight, I’m the captain so I go back and uh, I say hi to all the flight attendants, and talk to the chief flight attendant, you know, uh, I tell her if there’s any problems let me know, if anyone gives you a problem, let me know. We’ll kick ‘em off the airplane real quick. That’s about it for the pre-flight. Now, now the passengers are starting to load so we have, we’re just finishing up our pre-flight checks, passengers are on board. Hopefully everything went smooth. We got our fuel, that’s the other we did, that’s the other big thing we did in operations, during our, when we’re sitting down doing our paperwork we decided on our fuel load, uh, which the fuel varies because of the weather. If the weather is good we don’t have to take as much fuel, if the weather is bad we have to take fuel to get to our destination and we have to take more fuel to go to a possible alternate. There is all kinds of rules for that- how much fuel you should take. The bottom line of how much fuel you should take, most people take uh, you gotta take enough fuel to get to your destination, to an alternate location and another hour after that.

T: So all passengers are on board, all the pre-flight checks are completed, we usually  have our coffees by now…uh, laughing.

S: That’s good.

T: We’re sitting in our seats. Captain’ in the front left, first officer is in the front right, reserve first officer in the middle jump seat- in the Boeing 767 there is  two jump-seats. So there’s four seats up there in the cockpit.

T:  Customer service agent comes on board, asks me if I’m ready to go,  I say yes, he says are all the passengers on board, is it ok to close the door- I tell him: Yes. So uh, customer service closes the door, jet way goes back.  And we’re sitting there, waiting for the tug people to call us.

S: Tug people…? Like T-U-G.

T: Yeah,  the crew on the ground, the tug crew, there’s the crew that pushes the airplane back, the tug, now in the back, in the passenger area- they’re starting to listen to their safety speech like you’re all familiar with. So we call for push clearance around to Dulles ramp, we get clearance to push, call tug crew, tell them we are clear to push and they push us back, to the designated spot. And uh, we start the engines. The first officer starts.  I tell him to check, we double check, all our checks, then tell I tell him to start the engine.  And uh, let’s see they start up- tell the tug crew to disconnect- uh, so he, that’s if you ever notice the tug crew disconnects then the guy stands down their an salutes, me, and I salute him back and now we’re on our own. Now anything that happens to the airplane it’s my responsibility. Laughing.

T: Engines are running, everybody’s in their seats, we call for a taxi clearance and uh, we are taxing out, um, we do, before take off checks again. There are certain checks- checklist that we go down.  And one of the big things is after we started taxing, after engines are started, we get a final weight and balance verification. We have to have that. In order to take off- legally. So what that is, you know they put a lot of weigh, you know everybody’s bags are underneath, right, there’s formulas- but they know how much weight is underneath plus all the passengers, that it is distributed properly. And once uh, all that checks out they send us information and so we’re good to go. Uh…that’s about it. Cleared, uh, we get to number one and we’re cleared for take off. And we roll down the runway. Now in the real life, I usually fly one leg and the first officer flies the other leg. Unlike the movies where the captain flies everything.

S: You said you fly one leg and the first officer flies the other leg..?

T: Yeah. We trade off.

K: Tim can you please stop putting duck tape on the doors it’s pulling the paint off the doors- it’s a- It’s a redneck thing- it looks terrible and it’s ruining the paint and I don’t have that paint anymore-

T: Ok—

S: Ok hold on mom, we’re almost done with this interview.

K: Whaut?

T: We’re Interviewing.

K. Oh. Sorry.

S: It’s OK, it just goes in the final report.

T: So—we’re on our way to Zurich. Uh, remember we are flying the Great Circle Route- and we’re flying our route, is also based on the winds, of course, the prevailing winds, are usually west to east so if we could get ourselves into the jet stream, uh, where ever that might be, uh that’s the route we take- its usually, going to Europe, it takes us uh, right off the coast of long island and out over the water, and uh,  on average we’ll come in on the other side, if we’re going to Zurich, uh right about the coast of Normandy. So the North France.

T: Of course depending on the wind speed the flight to Zurich will take, going TO Zurich usually takes, about 8 hours. Coming back to the United States takes about 8 and a half, eight forty five depending on the winds.

T: See I don’t know how much detail you want.  You originally said, a trip, so- I land in Zurich. Probably went into too much detail.

S: No, actually thawa- that was perfect. Um-

T: I land in Zurich-

S: What goes on- when you are flying.

T- Well- of course, when I fly, I’m flying the airplane to about 18,000 feet and then I’ll engage the airplane into autopilot. Autopilot will follow the route and we’re watching the airplane. To make sure it’s doin’ what we want it to do. Uh- when we cross into the water, open water, about every hour we have to send information, to Oceanic Control. To uh, let them know, our position, because there’s no radar out there. So they know, where everybody is.  At all the times, crossing, over the water. And if anybody is out of place, they’re gonna, they can get ahold of us, to uh, communication link- it’ll say call us, call me, at a certain frequency, and then we’ll, we always have communication with air traffic control, we’re just not talkin’ to them all the time, over the water, unlike the united states or over in Europe over land, we’re always talking to them. And they’re talking to us- because there is a lot more traffic. The other thing is everybody is going in the same direction. At a certain time of day, everybody’s going west. Or East to West-

S: So you mean at a certain time of day nobody is coming East to West-

T: If, if they are- they’re either way high or way low- if they’re comin in the opposite direction uh, below 22,000 feet and above 41. Because there is too much traffic and with no radar, they have to keep it that way.

T: So from late afternoon from early evening traffic is going west to east- from early morning to mid afternoon traffic is going-coming back. East to West.

T: Um..let’s see…so we’re just checking- making sure the airplane is doing what it’s doing, the fuel, we’re always looking at the fuel, making sure the wind is what it forecast, because you know if the wind is not what it forecast we might be using more fuel- we always, we always have contingences. “What ifs” –what if this happens, what if this happens.

T: Uh, of course in the particular flight there’s no emergencies or anything.

T: So, we get over on the otherside and we start talking to French Air Traffic Control, they radar, or identify us, and clear us into their airspace.

T: Going into Zurich we’ll pass right over the beautiful alps, and uh, and come on into Zurich. We’ll land in Zurich. Park the airplane. Do our checks.

S: How does landing go about?

T: How does landing go…what, what do you mean?

S: um…I guess you jus wait to be cleared for the runaway, and just take it right down and land it?

T: Yeah, now when we get closer to Zurich they are going to sequence us in with everybody else because Zurich during that time of day gets pretty busy, so we’re followin’, there’s a long line of traffic, we get what they call: Sequenced in, so there’s traffic in front of us, traffic behind us, and they’ll just give us headings, until we get to the final approach course. And then we’ll follow what’s called an Instrument Landing System, an ILS. And that will allow us to descend to the runway, threshold.

T: Uh, we always follow that whether its good whether or bad weather because that’s one of the safety procedures, you know you’re landing at the right airport.

Uh, we’re cleared to land, usually a mile/mile and a half out- except if its in London, its like 300 feet out. Laugh.

T: Um, Yeah again, its just a series of checklists. Slowing the airplane down. Landing gear flaps. Uh…let’s see… after we land, we’re assigned a gate, and uh, park. By the time we’re done our shut down checklist most of the passengers are almost out. And then uh, the flight attendants and the cockpit crew, we’re the last ones to leave. And everybody goes through customs. Although, we have a crew, a crew line. So we don’t have to wait. Our passengers are like, backed up. We can go through quicker because we have a specific line. And um, we go through customs and uh, sometimes they look at our passports sometimes they don’t, sometimes we walk right through.

T: Everybody gets in the hotel van and we drive to the hotel. Now we have a 29-hour layover- usually. So, Its 7:30 in the morning, Zurich time, which is about 2:30, Easter time, so usually everybody that gets to the hotel, goes to sleep- because it’s time to you know, 2:30 in the morning- ….now, myself,  I go to sleep for about 4 hours, then I’ll have to wake myself up.

T: And this is what’s nice about Europe: If I get up about 11:30, uh, I’ll just walk around, the town, Zurich’s a nice town…it’ s got a lake there, or you know sometime you, get to sight see, sometimes everybody, sometimes people meet for dinner later that day- um…but usually…by about ten o’clock Zurich time, ten o’clock at night, this is why you only slept 4 hours, I’m ready to go back to sleep 10…lets see, 9,8,7,6,5,4,- its only like 4:30/5 o’clock in the afternoon Eastern time, but I only had four hours of sleep so, I’m ready to go to sleep- and uh, because you’ll have to wake up, the hotel wakes you up the following morning around 7:30. 7:00. It depends.

T: We all meet. The European out- the Zurich flight leaves 11:30 Zurich time, 11:30 in the morning, so we’re usually meeting at the hotel 8-8:30 to get on the van to take us to the airport, now that’s the day, that’s the 3rd Day.

T:  So the first day, you know starts in the afternoon and then you’re flying into the second morning, and you’re uh, try to get some sleep- to recap- maybe do some sight seeing- eat some dinner- then you get some more sleep, then the morning of the 3rd day you wake up, hotel van takes you back to the airport and you do,  the same thing, you’re in Zurich Opps and you do the same thing that you did in Dulles: review all the flight stuff only its in reverse, and uh, take off around 11:30, its an 8.5-9 hour flight, sometimes its longer, and your usually landing back in Dulles around uh…2:300/3:30 in the afternoon on the 3rd day.

T: Go through customs; tell everybody you’ll see them next week.( Laugh. )Go get the employee bus, and you go to your car, in the employee parking lot.  So that’s a three day European trip on United Boeing 767- some of it was more in detail than others.

T: Zurich Starbucks has very good coffee.

S: (laughs) Should I write that down?

T: Laughs- I mean that’s one of the nice things- the food is good. That was one of the things when you asked about being a pilot- that’s one of the better- you get to choose- I mean you don’t get to choose, you get uh, at that point, get to, experience different cultures. There are some pilots that do not like to fly to Europe, there are some pilots that would rather stay in the United States. Because its too hard on them,…and they just don’t like change.  There’s pilots, uh, on some airlines that don’t have a choice. If you’re flying Southwest, you  don’t have choice, you have to stay in the United States- That’s one of the nice things about United Airlines- or any of the bigger airlines, once you are there long enough you have a choice, you can either fly in the United States or you can fly in Europe- like I said earlier it’s all based on Seniority, you get to choose…have more choices.

S: Anything else?

T: I can’t think of anything right now.

S: Ok. 

T: I’m sure they’re some things, some major things I forgot.

S: That’s OK we’ll have more time. 


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