LOVING LIFE IN THE SKIES
What it’s really like to be the pilot of a jumbo jet
THE sky’s the limit in one Llanelli man’s day job - but he’s happy to keep his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to family life.
Michael Cole, aged 44, has been a pilot for 18 years, and seen parts of the world many can only dream about.
His wife and two children have joined him on some trips, and, as he admits: “It is a challenge to maintain both family and friend relationships, but the solution is to really make up for it when I’m home.
“Modern technology helps, although with the time difference, the breakfast video call from me is often the dinner time video call at home.
“I’m often coming back home from work and going straight to the school play, rugby training or getting out on the bikes having finished work and been awake for maybe 20 or 30 hours.
“I manage by putting the family first, then doing the other chores and jobs when they are in school or work to free up family time when they get home again.
“However, sometimes I take them to work with me and then I’m at work and with my loved ones. That’s the best part.”
Before becoming an airline pilot, Michael studied chemical engineering and Spanish at Sheffied University and joined the RAF Universities’ Air Squadron, later applying to a British Airways-sponsored pilot programme.
He lives in Furnace with his wife and two children, but he lives an extraordinary life flying British Airways Jumbo Jets across the planet.
Michael said: “I’ve been extremely lucky to have travelled to many places throughout Europe and many parts of the world: Australia, Singa- pore, Thailand, Malaysia, China, India, Dubai, Bahrain, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South America, USA and Canada to name just a few.
“I love seeing the northern lights over Canada, especially when we’re on a northerly routing not too far from the North Pole.
“Another great sight is seeing the Great Wall of China near Beijing or the Himalayas on the way to Hong Kong.
“Just recently, I flew from Los Angeles back to London. We had the most amazing views of the sprawling city, seeing the famous Hollywood sign, then flew up over the Mojave Desert up to and right over Las Vegas with clear views of the famous Vegas strip below.
“Moments later we had views of the Grand Canyon on our right and Death Valley to our left. We then flew past Salt Lake City and the snowcapped Rocky Mountains, up to Canada for amazing views of the northern lights in the clear night sky before sunrise crossing the Atlantic.”
His favourite destination is Cape Town in South Africa.
“Both the destination and the journey are fantastic; flying down through Africa overnight then watching the sunrise as we fly over the plains of Namibia.
“From hundreds of miles away you can see the shape of Table Mountain becoming clearer and more defined as we approach,” he said.
“Descending into Cape Town, we have the most amazing views of the bay, Table Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape of Good Hope.
“And that’s just getting there. While there, you have an amazing array of things to do. I love the outdoors and love climbing Table Mountain or cycling along the coast.”
He went on: “Two days are never the same, and going to work is as exciting as going on holiday, except instead of maybe going on holiday once a year, I get to go every week.
“What’s even more wonderful is that I often take the family with me so we all get to travel lots. The children have been to some tremendous places and it’s wonderful to share that with them and expand their horizons.
“They now have friends all
I can often be cycling along the coastline in California to go surfing one day then cycling along the coastline of South Wales to Pembrey Country Park the next
Pilot Michael Cole
over the world and have seen some amazing things.”
Michael said: “I can often be cycling along the coastline in California to go surfing one day then cycling along the coastline of South Wales to Pembrey Country Park the next.”
He said pilots “have a healthy respect and understanding of the dangers . . . our professionalism and commitment to safety is so high, we don’t feel any particular burden of responsibility and we are the type of people that tend to enjoy working under pressure.”
He went on: “On a personal level, I find fitness is extremely important in my job, it helps keep a positive life balance and helps me recover from time zone changes. I’m lucky, but I know of many colleagues that are wide awake and working out in the gym at 4am in the morning and then sleep later in the day.”
As well as seeing the world, there have been other notable experiences as a pilot.
Michael says: “I was once on a flight to Venice when a message was relayed to us from the cabin crew that a customer wanted to ask his girlfriend a ‘special question’. The captain quickly recognised the moment and in good spirits made an announcement to the passengers that a certain gentleman had a very special question to ask his girlfriend.
“Not long afterwards, we heard a cheer and clapping from the cabin and the lady that started the flight as his girlfriend was now his fiancee!
“A couple of years ago, flying back from the United States bound for London, we were instructed by air traffic control to turn and leave our planned route to allow another aircraft to pass.
“After carrying out the turn, a few minutes later we heard another aircraft check-in with the call sign, ‘Air Force One’. It was none other than President Obama returning from a Middle East peace summit.”
He added: “Flying is seen as glamorous and it’s easy to feel it’s out of reach or beyond our abilities but it really is not. Just because it may be your dream job it doesn’t have to be just a dream. Work hard, make opportunities and never give up.”
Michael at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, with his family Sarah, Hatty and James in Cape Town, and hiking up Table Mountain in Cape Town. Michael in the cockpit of one of his planes.