Tuesday 8 December 2015

Cape Town: Weathering two interesting pilots

Cape Town must be done
As my weekends rolled by towards the penultimate one in South Africa, I realised I needed to visit Cape Town to do the main and essential things and yet there would never really be enough time to do Cape Town justice.
The last time I was in Cape Town, I could only do the short bus tour before I was whisked away to a colleague’s home where we had a typical South African barbeque called a braai.
After struggling a bit to arrange travel online, I decided to visit a travel agent and this proved really valuable in the information I got and the appreciation of what I could get done in two days of a weekend. I planned on going up the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and also visiting Robben Island.
The travel agent then booked the flights, accommodation and airport transfers, the tours were best booked in Cape Town as I was advised because the weather could be unpredictable.
First pilot acquaintance
In the airport lounge, a mother with two boisterous boys was busy on her mobile phone as I took a seat not far from them when I realised it was a family with the father being a pilot with South African Airways brandishing a 3-stripe epaulette.
They were conversing in Afrikaans, most of which I understood using my Dutch knowledge, I was struggled to get the gripe off my glasses when got up and presented me with proper lens cleaners. I thanked him in Dutch and also said I could understand Afrikaans too.
He first thought I was Dutch, at least, the subtle differences in language help determine whether one is speaking Dutch or Afrikaans, the expression of gratitude can be a Shibboleth.
A conversation ensued as I told them I was visiting Cape Town for the weekend and they were on their way home to Cape Town from Hong Kong. The most important bit of information I got was about the weather, he checked the forecast and though it was cloudy in Cape Town on Friday morning, he surmised from the wind and humidity factors that it would be a clear day to go up Table Mountain.
I quickly realised too that pilots probably knew just as much about the weather as meteorologists, because that determines how they fly, just as must as the weather is important to sailors and mariners too.
Second pilot acquaintance
On the flight, I had the window seat sat beside a lady who seems to concentrate on her music and iPad for most of the journey. The Airbus A340 wide-bodied airliner was a revelation, ample leg room, almost fully reclining seats you could step out onto the aisle without disturbing your co-passenger. The aisle itself was wide enough for people to pass without having to sidle through if another passenger were put their hand luggage in the overhead cabins.
I noticed that she was not only recognised by the crew but literally every one of them came round to say hello, including other crew that were travelling as passengers. At one brief moment when she did not seem to be doing anything, I decided to start a conversation by asking if she lived in Cape Town.
She did, and in the process I learnt that she was returning from a holiday in America and as the conversation developed, another crew member came round to say hello and then asked when she was getting her fourth stripe. And though both cabin and flight crew can get stripes, I decided to play safe and ask instead if she also worked for South African Airways and it transpired she was a long-haul flight pilot with three-stripe epaulettes and one of the two female pilots that fly such distances.
A much interesting person
She sometimes flies the aircraft we were on, which is sometimes co-opted onto the busy Johannesburg to Cape Town route. By a strange coincidence, the captain of the flight we were on was the other long-haul flight South African Airways female pilot.
We got to talking about how she loved flying and that she had always wanted to fly from the age of 10, the only downside to the job was fatigue management, from crossing an average of 6 time zones overnight that there were days it was difficult to say what day of the week they were in.
As we approached, Cape Town, she hinted that the hotel I was staying at served an amazing menu of milkshakes and looking out, she also predicted that the clouds will lift enough to not only be able to summit the Table Mountain but that the views will be stunning too, that afternoon. Pilots know best when it comes to the weather.
Our conversation about many other things continued until we parted ways at baggage reclaim, and so, I was set for Cape Town, picked up by the pre-arranged shuttle service.

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