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November 14, 2011

The Adventures of Crew Layovers!

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By: Justin Schlechter
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Every few seconds, an airliner touches down somewhere in the world. For the passengers onboard these flights, the aerial journey has ended and with it a return to the real world. For some it means off on a well deserved vacation, for others it may be straight into a cab and off to work no matter how jet-lagged they may be. What most people don’t consider is what happens to the last people that are expunged from the jet: The Flight Crew.

They look so rested and refreshed!

For the flight crew, the end of the flight is a time for sightseeing, dinner and dancing all night long, romantic escapades with co-workers, and adventure at every corner! At least that’s what the television show Pan Am makes it seem like. It’s just amazing that the crewmembers always look fresh and not jet-lagged all the time. That must be nice! This fairy tale is just that, a fairy tale. There are definitely some layovers that do fit this bill, but from what I have seen they are few and far between. Sure, a 48-hour layover in the Caribbean with a young bevy of flight attendants is sure to be a good time, but the reality is when a flight crew finishes a flight, especially across multiple time zones, they are just simply haggard and tired.

When a crew finishes their duty, they begin their “rest” period. In most situations this period is as short as eight hours or it can be as long as a few days, depending on the airline. When I get into a new city, my first priority is getting enough sleep to either combat the effects of an all-nighter, or to prepare myself as best as possible for my next departure.

The typical layover for a flight from the East Coast to Europe has the crew arriving in the early morning and leaving the next morning for a return to the U.S. Most crewmembers doing this sort of pattern will get to the hotel, sleep for 3-4 hours and force themselves, red-eyed and groggy, to get up and hit the town so that they can fall back asleep that night before the trip back. Once the misery of waking up is over, the advantages of being a flight crew in a nice city can begin (depending on where your layover is). For a crew laying over in the heart of Paris or Rome, a stroll through museums, markets, and other sights is usually the choice for most. A light lunch and then maybe dinner with the whole crew at night is a possibility. But one thing is for certain; you always have a nagging feeling of tiredness.

Sun has set, the planes sit at the gate and the crew must be living it up at the hotel and clubs all around the city. Or are they? (Photo by Eric Dunetz)

Resting becomes much more of a juggling act if your schedule is one that crosses multiple time zones over many days. A typical schedule has me crossing into a different time zone 24-40 times in a 7-10 day period. By the end of it, your body doesn’t know if it wants to sleep, eat, exercise, or anything else because it has been thrown off by being awake when its dark, and sleeping when it is light out.

A big factor in a crewmember layover is whether the other crewmembers are outgoing and ready to go out, or if they are the proverbial “slam-clicker”. These people get that name because that is the last sound you hear from them as they enter their hotel rooms until the next day when you get ready to leave. Not everyone is into going out all the time and some people just like to do their own thing.

In my experience it seems as though most of the crew is almost always up to going out for dinner and perhaps some sort of activity during the day (or night depending on time zone) such as shopping, sight seeing, or going to the gym for some exercise.

Many crewmembers use the down time to run small businesses from the road and some use the time to study for an upcoming check ride.

Whatever the case may be, when you see a flight crew walk into a hotel after a twelve-hour flight, don’t be surprised to not see them all smiles and perfectly manicured! It would be great if what we saw on TV were true all the time but unfortunately it just isn’t the case. So the next time you dash off your flight remember there is a flight crew that got you there safely and is going to be spending sometime on the ground recuperating before taking the next load of jetsetters onto their next destination.

NYCAviation Columnist Justin Schlechter is a First Officer for an international airline and lives with his family on Long Island, New York. You can read more of his writing on his Positive Rate blog.