I had the opportunity to interview Captain Robert Hughes about his career as an airline pilot. With over a decade of experience, Captain Hughes has visited almost every major airport in the country and currently flies for SkyWest Airlines. Here is what he had to say about being a pilot.
What is it like to be a pilot?
It’s amazing! When I am flying the plane, it is absolutely the best job in the world—the sights you see, the people you meet. It obviously has its ups and downs, but it truly is an amazing job. That being said, there is more to it than flying a plane. Generally, I work four-day trips, so I leave on day one and don’t come home until day four every week; that comes with its own set of challenges. But it’s such an amazing job, and the flight benefits are incredible.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is landing the plane. Taking off is fun, cruising through the air at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) is an amazing feeling, but it is really the landing that takes the most skill. I usually kick off the autopilot at about 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and hand fly the plane to the runway—sometimes fighting strong winds and turbulence on the way down.
What is your least favorite part?
My least favorite part of the job is easily being gone for days at a time. I have a family with small children, and it can be really difficult to be away.
What was the weirdest experience you have had?
Getting hit with a laser pen while landing at night in LAX. We were about 3,000 feet (914 meters) above the ground, and it was 9:00 p.m. I was an FO (First Officer) at the time, and suddenly, I had a green laser hit my eyes from the ground, which is incredibly dangerous. It ended up okay, and luckily, it has only happened once.
Do you get to enjoy the places you land?
I do. I see some really cool places. I’ve seen the Teton Mountains in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I’ve stayed on the beach on the gold coast in San Luis Obispo, California. I’ve also been to some not-so-great places, such as Devils Lake, North Dakota. Overall, I really enjoy the places I go; there’s a lot of cool history in the small towns across the US I’ve been everywhere from New York to California.
How has your job changed since COVID-19?
The travel industry has virtually shut down overnight. The airlines went from being the most profitable they have ever been to taking on more loans and debt to stay afloat. At its worst, the airline I fly for was burning $1 million per day; other airlines were burning as much as $100 million per day. We went from 2.5 million passengers per day to 87,000 passengers (at its lowest) nationwide. [Business] has slowly been coming back, though. We now have approximately 800,000 passengers per day.
It’s obvious that travel, especially by airplane, has been greatly impacted due to COVID-19. However, it’s wonderful to hear that the travel industry is slowly getting back on its feet. Remember to thank dedicated workers like Captain Hughes who work hard to protect travelers while helping them reach their destinations.