Voted Airline of the Year in 2014, Cathay Pacific has won ‘World’s Best Airline’ four times now, more than any other airline. Having traveled with Cathay throughout Asia this summer, I can tell you it’s all in their service quality, seat comfort and and inflight entertainment. But what about the people who are responsible for getting you from Point A to Point B? What about the fine women and men piloting the plane?
I had the opportunity to interview Pilot Michelle Fry who joined Cathay Pacific‘s fleet of outstanding pilots in January 2013. I must admit, I follow her on Instagram, and the girl has a knack for pretty photos with some wicked humor on the side. Read on as she opens up about life in the cockpit and why this career is a family affair.
Q: Out of all the jobs out there, what intrigues you about being a pilot and when did you decide that this was the career for you?
A: I knew I wanted to be a pilot since the age of 13 when I went up in a small Piper aircraft in Spain and had a go at flying. I still remember that experience so clearly! I thought it was the most amazing thing – I remember looking out the window when I was flying and watching my father in another plane flying in formation. From that moment onward there was no doubt in my mind this was the career I wanted to pursue! My dad is a Captain for Cathay, my mum used to be a cabin crew, and my older brother is a First officer in the airline too! I have been flying in Cathay planes since I was a baby so it’s just natural for me to want to continue the legacy. I would not have changed any of my decisions for the world. I am very grateful.
Q: You meet your co-pilot many times just before the flight, correct? Do you ever get to fly with the one person who taught you the ropes first – your dad?
A: Since there are around 3,000 pilots now, it’s quite rare we fly with the same crew twice! Unfortunately my dad is on the Airbus fleet and I am on the Boeing, so we don’t get to fly together which is a shame! We do get to talk flying a lot though. My older brother is also flying Boeing for Cathay so we have flown together which was surreal!
Q: Have you ever been tipped as a pilot?
A; No I never have! People are always surprised to hear that, I suppose it’s my age!
Q: How often are you snoozing in the cockpit?
A: I fly long range aircrafts with four pilots, so we have our own separate crew rest area outside of the cockpit.
Q: Are pilots really served two different meals during flight in case of food poisoning?
A: There are always multiple choices of crew meals for us to pick from as a precaution.
Q: What is your favorite route and destination you’ve visited?
A: My personal favorite is anywhere in Europe really. I am in love with the culture and the food. It’s amazing being able to walk around – grab some gelato, explore the coliseum! As far as cities go – I do love going to London. I have a lot of friends and family there and it is always a great layover.
Q: You’ve traveled to so many places. How much time can you dedicate to actually seeing a destination upon landing?
A: Obviously the priory is resting and recouping, however I do always make a conscious effort to get out and explore the city I fly to. It is sometimes hard with the jetlag but it is always worth it. I find once you travel to a place multiple times you start to get a routine down pat for that city, like which restaurants you like or which shops to hit!
Q: If you fly long-haul flights, that must be tough. Is it hard being confined to the cockpit for such a long period of time?
A: To be honest you get used to it. It would be the same as an office worker being stuck in a cubical for 8 hours a day, but we just have better views!
Q: Tell me about the airplane food. What’s your go-to meal or snack?
A: I’m sure most frequent travellers would agree airplane food can get tiring after a while. I try when I can to bring my own food and healthy snacks so when they bring the chocolate tray out I am not as tempted!
Q: What’s the hardest thing about being a pilot?
A: Technically, it would be keeping up with all the changes and updates to the manuals and keeping on top of all of the info. As far as lifestyle goes, I guess that would have to be keeping a routine going and keeping active. It is hard sometimes when you are so tired and last thing you want to do is go to the gym or eat healthy, but once you make the effort it feels so much better. People ask how I deal with jetlag and honestly I think exercising is the key. It gives you a better quality of sleep.
Q: How do you pack for each flight? Traveling light can be tough!
A: Haha like I said before, once you do this job for a few years you get a routine down pat – I have a list in my head of everything I want to bring! I’m getting good at packing light now – Sometimes I even have a smaller bag than the boys!
Q You must have amazing benefits working for an airline. Do you fly for free?
A: We don’t fly for free but we can staff travel at a heavily discounted rate if there is a spare seat on the plane.
Q: What’s the weirdest or scariest thing you’ve ever encountered while on the job?
A: So far I have been lucky and haven’t experienced anything too scary yet. I suppose flying near a big storm and experiencing brief moments of severe turbulence can be a bit uncomfortable. Weirdest thing was two passengers on my flight getting into a punch up because one claimed the other stole his menu. Another time we were taxing out and had to stop briefly to let a family of turtles pass the taxiway!
Q: Do you ever get scared of flying? What’s some advice you have for fearful fliers on your plane?
A: I personally have never been scared of flying or turbulence, but a lot of my friends ask me this question! I always tell them there is nothing to be worried about. There are so many back up systems on a plane that it is incredibly safe. Statistically it would be more dangerous getting in a car!
Q: Take me through a typical day in the life of Michelle Fry. What does it look like? How long do you have to arrive before the passengers? What do you do when you’re flying on auto-pilot? Does landing a plane ever get old? Do passengers ever personally thank you afterwards? What do you do to relax after a flight?
A: Since I am away a fair bit, when I am at home in Hong Kong it is mainly catching up on life admin! I always love seeing my friends, going to the gym, all the usual stuff! If I have a big block of days off in a row, I tend to get out and see my family back in Australia or make a sneaky getaway to a beach somewhere around Asia.
In terms of going to work, the crew reports for duty 70 minutes before departure, goes through all the paperwork together and has a chat about everything from weather to fuel decisions, then we make our way to the plane and start setting up. Right now I am currently a Second officer so I don’t take off or land the plane. I take over in the cruise while the other crew are resting, however I should be upgrading to First officer at the end of the year which is very exciting! After a flight to relax, I love just curling up in my hotel room and putting on an episode of friends or read a book and turn my brain off!
Q: The tragedies that have happened in recent years have been gut-wrenching – the fateful day of 9/11, both Malaysia Airline disasters, the current Germanwings investigation. How have these unforgettable catastrophes affected you and the way you fly?
A: It has been a terrible year for aviation. Personally, incidents like those just remind me that we carry a huge responsibility with our job and to never forget that!