Monday, 25 April 2011

Everyone has somewhere to go...

I enjoy my people watching (As you'll have seen in earlier posts) and last week on route to the capital was no exception. 

It always amazes me how everyone is going somewhere with purpose. Everyone is going from A to B and taking so many different routes to get there. In my train carriage alone I sat next to a gentlemen off to London to sell wholesale lighting, a lady behind who managed the ATMs of a number of major banks, a young lady across the aisle with something to do with politics, a girl off with her family to attend a weekend at what I'd call 'vet-camp' and finally a group of four gents returning home after a weekend in the lake district. As you can see a wide variety of people from all different backgrounds. I'm sure that throughout the other cabins on board the 7.38 Virgin Pendelino train to London Euston, it was no different.

Arriving in one of the world's biggest transport cities means travel is busy, slow and frustrating. Arriving just after rush hour I assumed that it would be a bit quieter to get about the city. How wrong I was. Due to the American Embassy policy of no mobile phones I had to check my bag into left luggage before finding the tube station. Even checking in my bag took thirty minutes - London is certainly not a place for those in a rush! Finally, on to the Victoria line, a quick stop on route and via the Central line I arrive at Bond Street. The area around Bond Street was, to say the least, quite affluent; certainly during the hours of the day. The likes of Mercedes, BMW and Audi would be seriously frowned upon as Bentley, Ferrari and Rolls Royce were the norm around the local streets. Each sat very patiently outside the coffee shops as their owners sunned themselves in the baking, 27 degrees sun. What a life for those who are lucky to inherit it or equally those who work hard enough to earn it.

Finally, I arrived at the Embassy. Sat proud at the top of Grosvenor Square the US Embassy cannot be missed. The famous eagle sits honourably and proud on top of the fifty year old building. Queuing to get inside the was in itself a long and drawn out process mainly focused on safety. Imagine security at an airport and you're about right. After queuing for almost 45 minutes I was allowed to enter.

Entering the building I was directed in to the room that would become my home for the next four hours. I was given a ticket number which must be adhered to. It's quite simple and effective really. It's something they have clearly nicked from Argos. I took a seat and awaited the calling of my number. 10 minutes passed and 436 was announced. Great - I'll be out of here within the hour! Or so I thought...I quickly learnt that the first call was to hand over all my documents to be processed. As I was applying for a student visa this included a number documents which were mainly to prove that I wasn't planning to work during my stay in the Sunshine State. Having handed over said documents I returned to my seat and awaited my recall, this time to be interviewed by an American.

While I waited I again continued my hobby of people watching. There were people from all different backgrounds, social classes and nationalities. It really was a mix of the human race; all with one aim - a ticket into the United States. 

An hour passed. Boredom began to set in. Another hour passed. With no phone, no internet access and only a 'Why to visit the USA' promotional brochure (really - you think people sat in that room needed persuasion?!) to keep me occupied it really was becoming ever more frustrating. What made it worse was seeing the hundreds of people sat out in the gardens facing the building enjoying the best weather we've seen so far this year. Anyway, we finally got to hour three and shortly afterwards I was recalled for the interview. Three questions later and I was done. "Your visa is approved." The four words I've been waiting weeks to hear. I was bouncing off the walls at this point. So many stories I'd heard of people failing over little things. I would have hated to have made the journey again, threatened my course start date and my scheme with Flybe. It was all or nothing - thankfully I had done enough to satisfy the US authorities.

It wasn't until after I'd returned to the train station, retrieved my bag and mobile, got something to eat, realised I'd missed my train and gone on a little tour of the terminal that I'd sat in a room for three hours, three bloody hours to be asked three questions! Three questions! My interview took a matter of two minutes for which I had to wait a whole 180! 

Having engagements in the evening and having missed my training back north I then had to look at my timings. Luckily I was able to catch the train leaving only an hour later and arrive just in time at my meeting. For anyone applying for a US visa and an interview is a requirement I seriously recommend booking the earliest appointment available and give yourself at least half a day, if not longer if possible to attain your desired result. It is a very drawn out process and without giving enough time it could be very costly afterwards in terms of transport etc. 

On the journey home between napping, I again could hear around me people making business and leisure plans. I saw the drinks cart brought through the carriage. The ticket conductor and the cleaner and a brief appearance by what I assumed to be one of the train drivers. It was at that moment I realised that all those people were involved in getting me, and my fellow passengers, from A to that all important B. Whether it be train, plane, bus or boat; there are so many people, cogs in a machine if you like, involved in getting passengers to that special 'somewhere.' 

Within eighteen months I hope to be one of those cogs in that well oiled machine.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Reality kicks in.

Having attended my medical a few weeks back it was simply a matter of waiting for the results. Before leaving the hospital I asked the chances of failing. The receptionist was very pleasant and just smiled and said "if there is a problem it would be discussed now." Handed me my receipt and then I left.

With this positive attitude I've waited a little over two weeks to hear back from the IAA in Ireland. Good news arrived on Thursday as the postman dropped off the golden ticket. Well, a green A4 sheet with a bunch of scribbles and the all important stamp of authentication.

With less than five weeks to go until departure, my medical certificate in the bag and US visa interview tomorrow the scary thought of this becoming a reality is slowly but surely starting to sink in. As I've mentioned before, it's been a long tiring journey so far and I haven't even left the UK yet!

I still very much have a long list of tasks to complete (which does seem to be getting longer!) before leaving the country. These range from giving up hobbies and professions to personal banking and a whole range of problems in between. It's a very odd situation. I'm used to a full calendar. Work, meetings and social events fill my weeks quite regularly and over the next five weeks I somehow have to reduce that from seven days per week to zero. I'm dropping things I love, stuff I'll miss as well as others which I am very happy to drop! The long term goal will hopefully make this all worthwhile.

So now I await tomorrow - one of the final fences to jump over before departure. By this time next week I hope to have all my paperwork in place for departure to Florida come May.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Facing the pressures...

Not much to report this week other than a very interesting article I saw on the BBC site this week.

I've spent many an hour investigating, researching and learning about the role of a commercial airline pilot. Everything from planes they fly on to the hours they work. However when looking at the latter it seems the glossy magazines and 'reports' cast a shadow on the real story.

45% of people who replied to the survey said they were seriously fatigued.

To me as a passenger that sounds quite scary. I know how my reactions and performance in any working environment are affected with the lack of only a few hours sleep but for 45% of pilots to be seriously fatigued is nerve racking to say the least.

What I find worse is the proposal for a European wide scheme. I am all for a flat scheme around the continent but must be held to the highest of standards. The UK has some of the most rigorous rules and regulations in the world and for the country to have to sacrifice any of those, in my opinion, is wrong. Especially seeing the article statistics.

I cannot speak as a pilot, as I am not lucky enough to be in that position yet but as a passenger - that report is a hard read.

And for someone who plans to be a pilot in the near future - it's a very hard read.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Jumping the hurdles

Last week I focused on the amount of paperwork involved in just being allowed to travel and learn on both sides of the Atlantic. It is very much built up like a 110-metre hurdle race. Speed and accuracy are of the essence. Jumping the different hurdles is proving to be difficult, tiring, time consuming and frustrating. However the final goal is always at the back of the mind and after leaping each hurdle the satisfaction outweighs any preceding problems encountered.

Last week's hurdle was most certainly the Class 1 medical all future and current commercial pilots much complete periodically to be allowed to fly. Having travelled out the night before, fasted for 14 hours and the medical beginning at 7.30am, I wasn't exactly in the best of shape for poking, prodding and even more paperwork. Having arrived at said time I began with eye tests. This involved initially what you would normally encounter at the opticians. It was quite embarrassing that although I could see the text the lack of sleep and starvation made it difficult to read the letters and words! Following this I had eye drops for both cataracts and glaucoma tests.

Paperwork again popped it's ugly head up throughout the morning. In between the dozens of questions I quickly completed my hearing test which involved sitting in a small room looking at a wall waiting to react to beeps in the earphones. If you've ever seen Mr and Mrs with Fern Britton and Philip Schofield it's just like that box but without the glitter. Following weight, height and blood pressure measurements I was sent for the worst part of the day.

The next three stages were very simple. ECG, blood tests and then a process of blowing into a tube. I'll come onto this later. Firstly the ECG took place with no problems whatsoever. I love how quickly private hospitals work - so quick and efficient. Then it was time for what I had been dreading the entire trip. The 'bloods.'

I'm very open in admitting I'm not the greatest fan of needles and blood. In fact the idea of a Saturday night with Casualty makes me feel sick even thinking about it. Who in their right mind thinks it's "interesting" as the trainee nurse said to me. "I don't watch Casualty - I watch the real programmes." Whatever rocks your boat love. Anyway, there is nothing worse than a student nurse standing there with a five foot needle (I'm not joking - honest!) while your strapped into a seat. Long story short she must have only just begun her on the job training as it took the senior nurse (on their fifth attempt) to get some blood out of my arm. Has left me with a lovely bruise as a memento. At least I got a free Lucazade.

Now that my torture was over I could start to relax a bit. I only had a few (most importantly non-intrusive!) processes left to complete. The next was the most peculiar. Sitting in a chair I then had to blow directly into this big tube which was connected to the computer. Apparently it is to measure the size and efficiency of the lungs and is only completed on one occasion throughout the career - I may be mistaken! I had to breathe in and blow out as fast as I possible could and hold for six seconds. The computer would then record the air flow and create this chart. I didn't really understand the process as at this point I was still tired, still hungry but worst of all down on the blood count but I did pass.

A urine test later I was then able to devour a lemon drizzle cake, Kit Kat and a bottle of coke to get the sugar levels back to somewhere near what they should have been.

A bit more waiting and paperwork it was now time to see the doctor who conducted a physical examination before giving me the good news he could find nothing wrong. All tests complete - it was time to head home (via the pub).

I'm a great lover of the art of people watching and the journey home was certainly no disappointment. Having played the 'Ryanair game' I'd bagged myself an emergency exit row seat with extra legroom for the short flight home. Another gentleman was also as fortunate on the other side of the isle. Having ordered a coffee and a small snack he duly went to lower his tray table in front of him. For both safety and practicality reasons the tray tables are, on emergency exit row seats, stored in the side of the seat. This elderly fellow was obviously unaware of this as he spent 10 minutes (and this is no exaggeration!) attempting to lower a table that simply didn't exist. After a good moan he finished his beverages and prepared himself for arrival. As he went to attach his seat belt for landing he discovered the tray table at the side of his seat. I've never seen an old man get so annoyed so quickly. I had a chuckle with the business man next to me as we descended into a murky Manchester.

Having completed the medical I now have to wait fifteen working days to hear as to whether I have been successful or not. I also now have to look forward to the visa interview in London in the coming weeks.

One more hurdle down.