Cargo Flying During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Ameriflight pilots and mechanics are frontline workers and heroes during the current COVID-19 situation. They are working tirelessly to transport essential items to communities across the nation. We asked Captain Kayleigh Bordner to provide us with some insight on what it’s like to be an Ameriflight pilot during the COVID-19 situation.
“The past three months have been riddled with uncertainty for so many of us across the globe. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything paused, and plans and procedures were thrown in the air. Specifically for our industry, passenger airline demand went from an all-time high to an unprecedented low. Some of the busiest airports in the world have become parking lots for airliners, and, it’s unfortunate to say, furloughs across the industry have begun.
I’ve been working out of Omaha, Nebraska flying the Beech 99 for about a year and a half now, and I’ve been with the company for almost two and a half years. The cargo volume coming into Omaha has been on a steady increase for some time now. Before the pandemic, the typical day on the route I primarily fly would be to carry anywhere from 1,100 to 2,100 pounds. Some days were lighter, while other days the plane was at 100% capacity and we’d even have to call in our reserve pilot to carry our customer’s overflow volume.
When COVID-19 first started affecting the United States with ‘shelter in place’ mandates, there wasn’t much of a change in volume for me. There was a solid week where my plane was at close to 100% capacity each day. When the businesses deemed non-essential started shutting down, the cargo shipped from our outstations – the airports we fly in and out of where our customers don’t land their jets – dwindled a bit. Shortly after, panic buying set in. In fear of long-term shutdowns, people were stocking up on essential items. During that time, my aircraft volume didn’t change much but the items being shipped did. Instead of hauling individual packages like normal, I was hauling bulk food shipments like meats and other perishable goods, toilet paper, baby diapers, and all sorts of similarly vital items.
After the initial wave of panic subsided, I did see some decrease in volume. The individual packages and bulk boxes decreased but the medical cargo and emergency supplies increased. The amount of ‘critical boxes’ loaded onto my plane doubled, if not tripled! One day in mid-April, I flew a box labeled ‘Human Tissue for Transplant.’ I’m not sure what it was but I hope that whoever received it is recovering and doing well. The longer the COVID-19 situation goes on, the more intrigued I am to see what comes through my plane.
As for daily life and routine for us on the pilot side; things are normal. Unlike others in the industry facing massive reductions in flying and major changes to their daily lives, nothing in my daily schedule has seen a significant change, and I am very blessed for that. The only differences I have noticed is that the customer loaders and drivers are wearing masks and gloves, social distancing practices are being upheld where possible, and an increase in daily cleaning of the aircraft. Other than those small changes, life is normal.
I have however felt a change in my sense of duty. Cargo flying isn’t very glamorous, and truth be told, I never really thought about cargo flying as a career path until I landed my internship with UPS Airlines. Cargo pilots don’t wear the fancy uniforms with hats, and they don’t see much of the end result of their work. In the passenger airlines, pilots get to see the excitement for travel on people’s faces. With my job, when I reach my destinations, I just pass the boxes off to the driver.
Before the pandemic hit, I never really gave much thought to how the cargo being loaded onto my aircraft makes a difference. But when Ameriflight was deemed an ‘essential business,’ it made me analyze how important my job is to the communities we fly into. Now when I see those medical boxes onboard, I know I’m impacting someone’s life or work situation. Nonvital items like children’s toys are possibly the parents’ only way of bringing some sense of normalcy into their children’s lives during this time. And the vital items like food and medicine will definitely make the difference as to whether someone goes to bed hungry or not and whether someone gets well or not. It’s amazing how such a tough situation can make you look at things in a different light.
I will close by saying I have been very lucky during this pandemic to have a stable job and I thank God daily for it. I pray that anyone who has been affected by job cuts will soon find an opportunity to get back to work.”
-Captain Kayleigh Bordner