She sets controls for an exciting life
Chantel Manning has flown in some of world’s most dangerous places, writes HEIN KAISER
LIVING life to its fullest extent is pilot Chantel Manning’s mantra. After taking in the view from the flight deck on a trip to Mauritius in her 20s, Manning swopped a career in fashion for flight and now operates Boeing 737s across the continent and travels, daily, with a kitbag of incredible experiences. That’s not all. Many people will recognise her from the team Sugar and Spice in last year’s Ultimate Braai Master on e.tv.
“Getting a commercial pilot’s licence is not a cheap exercise and, once you have it, finding a job is extremely tough. Having all the qualifications but no experience sends all aspiring pilots on massive job hunting exercises, looking for the one break that will serve as a foundation for your career,” says Manning.
Opportunity knocked for Manning in 2007 when she landed her first job.
“When I started my training, I always thought that I would fly everywhere glamorous. London, New York, Paris. I got Kinshasa, Mbandaka and Gbadadolite instead,” she laughs.
Reporting for duty in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Manning quickly became familiar with the realities of her career. Blonde, in heels and in a “Barbie outfit” she had to deal with a passage of corruption between disembarking and baggage reclaim.
“I think I looked like an easy target at the time and, things got even worse when my luggage never arrived, there was nobody to collect me at the airport and I was given no contact number. Looking back, it was a great adventure but, at the time, waiting it out and watching rats as large as cats scuttle past me in the coffee shop where I ended up; I remind myself of these beginnings daily.”
Her first day on the job saw her don shiny, black skin-tight trousers she managed to buy en route, a borrowed white shirt three sizes too big, white socks and moccasins.
“I looked a far cry from the immaculately groomed vision of pilots I had in my mind and, with my luggage still following its own itinerary somewhere else, I was set for my debut.”
Building essential flying hours while on contract, misadventures and adventures have marked the years.
“Pilots have to put in so much sweat, tears and personal investment into their careers. Next time you board a commercial flight, appreciate the years of toil that earned your captain or first officer their seats in the flight deck.”
Flying in war-zones is nothing new to Manning either. After her stint in the DRC, a move to Kabul, Afghanistan followed.
“It was quite hair-raising being shot at from the ground and, being a mountainous area, it was impossible to successfully execute an emergency landing had we been hit – something we were unsure of throughout the flight. It made me realise how fragile life could be,” she recalls.
But her lust for life soon saw Manning becoming the toast of the compound, quite literally. Credited for running the first and only shebeen in Afghanistan, she even imported a portable splash pool to complete the cocktail bar feel of her enterprise.
It was a case of when in Rome, as the adage goes. “When in Afghanistan,” says Manning, “convince people to do things your way. I noticed a gap in the market to sell alcoholic beverages to contract workers stationed in our compound and ended up doing a daily flight,between duties, to other camps that had drinks for sale. It was very risky but extremely profitable at the time. Would I do it again – definitely not!”
Manning became known as the “Queen of (the) Kaia’ and needless to say her bunker was the social hub in the compound.
“Apart from the work experience I gained, the adventures and the risk I have forged lifelong friendships and the life-lessons one acquires made every moment a worthwhile experience,” she reflects.
Afghanistan was not the end of flying in conflict zones – she currently flies into South Sudan on contract.
While at home, Manning’s passion for food and entertaining is unrelenting. “From my earliest memories I have always loved food. I remember my gran giving me a set of children’s pots and pans for my fourth birthday. I’d pull up a stool to the stove, and cook. I loved trying new flavours and experimenting.”
Little surprise then that she has become affectionately known as the “Flying Cook”. “Wherever I end up operating flights, it is always irresistible to start up a braai, a dinner or just to whip up a little something for my colleagues.”
She has recently become a long-distance contributor to a lifestyle radio show and has plans to publish a cook book.
Living a fulfiling and full life, not only for yourself but for your friends and family too, is Manning’s mantra. “I believe that when you combine your natural talents and passions and choose a life conducive to making them come true, an outcome of personal satisfaction and outstanding performance is inevitable.”
● Kaiser is spokesman for Mango Airlines.
‘I think I looked
like an easy
target at the
time and things
got even worse
when my luggage
LIFE OF THE PARTY: Chantel Manning ran a shebeen in Afghanistan.