Airline Pilot COVID-19 Layover Survival Guide

Rule #1: Cardio

Oh wait, that’s a different apocalypse.

Although the Coronavirus is wreaking havoc on our society and our economy, many of us professional pilots still have to work. In a way, I’m okay with that. Part of me would rather be out flying jets around the world than trying to convince my kids that, yes, they actually have to do all of this school work from home now. Part of me feels guilty for leaving my wife at home to do that for both of us. Part of me is also concerned that I’ll contract the bug in dirty, dirty NYC and bring it home to my family. (We’ll get to how I’m trying to avoid that shortly.)

If you’re tapped in to any group of professional pilots right now, one of the major concerns you’ll hear is: “What am I supposed to do on my layovers? I can’t got out, and all the bars and restaurants are closed.”

Forgive me, but this reminds me a little of my kids. Although they don’t want to do their school work, if I shut down the internet (and I do for part of every day) they’ll be complaining that they’re bored within minutes. (Let’s be honest. This also reminds me of myself when I was their age. I distinctly remember telling my mom I was bored on summer vacation too. “What a maroon!”) I’m not here to treat anyone like a child though. My goal today is to help you realize how many options you still have for your layovers. Maybe after all this is over, I’ll write a Post-COVID-19 Layover Guide.

Here are our major points for today:

  1. Perspective and Outreach
  2. COIVD-19 Layover Precautions
  3. Food
  4. Passive Entertainment
  5. Exercise
  6. Call Home
  7. Learn Something
  8. Do Something
  9. All Of The Above

Perspective and Outreach

Before we get going, let’s take a moment though to say that it could always be worse. TSA and Compass both announced that they’re ceasing operations almost immediately…even sooner than expected for TSA. United did a no-notice class cancellation, and most of the majors have frozen hiring and/or training. I’ve heard rumors that regionals like Commutair and Mesa are starting furloughs.

Don’t complain too much about your lousy layover situation. I promise that any one of these pilots would be willing to trade positions with you.

To those who are now dealing with both the Coronavirus pandemic and unemployment, I’m sorry. I’ll repeat a pledge that I made last month: if you’re a pilot suddenly out of a job and you really need someone to do an application or resume review, I’ll do it. For free.

I recommend you still have a pro review your materials before you submit them, but I believe you’ll get a better product overall if you have some other people help proofread your app/resume before that happens.

After I first sent out that notice, I started getting volunteers willing to help me with this effort. They’ve offered to help review your app/resume, and even offered some “scholarships” to provide you with a free copy of my book, Pilot Math Treasure Bath. Part of the reason I wrote it is to help people prepare for this exact situation. Having my own Treasure Bath is why my stress level is near zero, despite the rampant uncertainty associated with my job, our economy, and public health in general.

If you’re willing to help review apps/resumes, and/or contribute free copies of PMTB or other resources to hurting pilots, please shoot me a PM so I an add you to the list.

To The Pilot Networkers who aren’t up for application or resume reviews, is there some other way you could help support the pilots who are hurting the most right now? If so, please post your #offer in the comments. You’ll have my thanks and respect!

For the all-civilian pilots in our industry, let me provide another piece of context. I know that you spent many years working hard for little pay to get where you are today. Many of you still aren’t where you want to be. (I hope you get there, wherever that is, soon!)

No matter how tough you’ve had it, you don’t have all the bragging rights. I spent several of my years building flight time in places like Afghanistan, Djibouti, and the Philippines. My worst living conditions were plywood huts. They’d been housing pilots operating a 24/7 flying schedule for years by the time I got there. They hadn’t been seriously cleaned or repaired that whole time.

Slightly better than that we’re most of the tents I stayed in. Some were actually clean and nice, while others were only nominally cleaner than those plywood B-Huts.

The best I ever got were conexes…steel shipping containers. If you’re lucky, the interior had a fiberglass shell like a cheap shower stall. Most had air conditioning systems that worked…until the condensation freezing on the coils caused the system to overheat and the unit shut down. The only way to “fix” that problem is to wait for all the ice to melt. It takes a shockingly long time, even in a 120 degree desert.

At most of these locations, the only options for a toilet, shower, food, internet, or any other nicety involved getting dressed (in a uniform. Yes, there was some jerk deployed for the sole purpose of stopping you if your uniform wasn’t up to snuff, and sending you back to your hut to change.)

I carried a sidearm at all times on these deployments because each location was surrounded by people actively trying to kill me. (Granted, layovers in Baltimore are nearly as bad on this front, but I digress….)

The point is: the worst airline layover is immeasurably better than the best military deployment. You have your own ensuite bathroom. You have free, unlimited internet. You can order food from every imaginable type of quisine. A maid cleaned your room before you showed up.

When I hear airline pilots complain about layover hotels, I have to just roll my eyes. Those people have no clue and no perspective. Be glad if your worst problems on life are being stuck in a cushy hotel room. I promise it could be worse.

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COIVD-19 Layover Precautions

If you’re healthy, there’s a very good chance that COVID-19 won’t be fatal for you if you catch it. However, despite what we pilots all think, it’s not all about you. You could be a carrier for the virus and not even know it. If you transmit that virus to one of your kids, your spouse, your parents, or a friend who has a higher risk of complications from Coronavirus, you could be giving them a death sentence without even realizing it. I don’t want to dwell on this here though. I wrote a post yesterday on BogiDope with more thoughts along these lines.

In general, there are some simple ways to avoid COVID-19 exposure.

  • Wash your hands every chance you get. If you can find hand sanitizer, use it regularly.
  • Don’t touch your face. It will either transfer infection from your hands to your insides, or turn your hands into a biohazard.
  • Don’t cough or sneeze on people, or anything people might touch. Your elbow is an okay-but-not-great solution. A tissue that is thrown away immediately before washing your hands (again) is a better choice.
  • Try to distance yourself from anyone. Widebody pilots here are slightly better off than people crammed into sardine cans like RJs and B737s. 😉
  • Don’t go out unless you have to. You may not know that you’re carrying the disease when you’re in the same aisle at the grocery store as a 74-year old retired airline pilot who needs heart surgery.

Knowing these basic rules, I plan to spend most of my layovers in my room. (We’ll get to some acceptable reasons/ways to leave the room later.) I spent an entire week searching for Lysol or some other kind of spray or wipes and ran empty. (Thanks hoarders.) Try to get some of those. When you get to your hotel room, it’s not a bad idea to spray/wipe down every surface you think you might touch.

Soap is also effective against Coronavirus. Lacking something fancier, you could lather up a washcloth with the bar of soap in your hotel room and wipe things down with that.

You’re not going to find any bars or restaurants open for sit-down dining in most parts of the country, so you won’t have to worry too much about social distancing. I recommend you enjoy the excuse to just relax on your own. However, you still need to eat.

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Food

One of my favorite things about airline layovers is that they are (usually) a culinary tour of the world. Resources like Yelp and the Google have made it easy to scout the best food no matter where you are. As a major airline pilot, I’ve almost never had a layover in a city that didn’t have at least one craft brewery. Most of them make fantastic food and beverages.

Yes, Coronavirus has screwed all that up. Social distancing protocols mean you won’t be able to sit down in any dining establishment. However, this isn’t the end of the world!

First off, you could consider using this as an excuse to save some money and bring food from home. This may slightly reduce your risk of virus exposure. My current FO brought all his own food for our 3-day trip. You can manage it too, if you want.

I didn’t want to, so I only brought some trail mix and dried fruit. They made a good brunch one morning, and lunch another day, though I haven’t encountered any problems buying hot food yet.

Speaking of buying food on the road, one obvious choice is hotel room service. I usually avoid this because they tack on an extra fee for room service and it’s outrageously high. Given the ongoing crisis, I’d heard that most hotels are waiving this. I tried it one night on a recent trip and the delivery fee was, in fact, waived. Unfortunately, the hotel contracted the ordering process to a 3rd party, so I couldn’t get my customary airline pilot discount. If you’re concerned about delivery fees or airline discounts on room service, just make sure to ask the front desk staff before you order. Not difficult.

Although you aren’t likely to find dine-in options for restaurants, many of them are trying to stay open. They’re offering delivery, whether organically at places like Jimmy John’s and pizza joints, or through services like GrubHub, UberEats, DoorDash, etc. (If you’re interested, the BiggerPockets Business podcast had a great discussion about the need for older businesses to be flexible in times like this on Episode 47 this week.) I feel like most airline layover locations will have ways to get food through these types of services. From what I saw on the road this week, most restaurants will also let you walk in and order takeout in person.

I’ve also noticed that most airports have at least a few restaurants open. Knowing that both of JFK Terminal 4’s Shake Shacks are open right now, I opted to leave the hotel a little early and get lunch there one day. Shroom burger…mmm!

I’m always a little leery of answering my hotel room door when strangers knock. It’s probably not a bad idea to have your food delivered to the lobby. I’m willing to risk the possible Coronavirus exposure of a trip down the elevator and back to help keep randos from roaming the floors of my layover hotels.

Another option that surprised me at first was grocery stores. The United States is so industrialized that most of us live a long way from places where food is grown. No matter how bad COVID-19 quarantine measures get, the government has to keep grocery stores open and allow us to shop at them. Many layover hotels are located downtown where it’s tough to find a grocery store. However, any downtown big enough for a bunch of layover hotels will also have a bunch of apartments for office workers. They need food too, and there will be a grocery store somewhere nearby. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to layover in Houston and get food at Phoenicia Specialty Foods!

Worst case, you can catch a Lyft to the grocery store. If you’re going to the expense of the ride, you might as well stock up for at least a couple days of your trip.

Personally, I plan on bringing my airline ID any time I leave the room on layovers, at least for now. I have no idea what the quarantine rules are in a given city, but I know that as essential service providers we’re exempt from most of those rules. I think that I could talk my way out of trouble in most cases with the help of my airline badge.

Overall, I’m convinced that getting food while on a layover is a non-issue. There are plenty of options, and the way our economy is structured requires at least some of them to stay open.

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Passive Entertainment

Now that we know how to stay healthy and fed on layovers, the big question is: “What am I going to do with the rest of my time?”

The easiest (laziest) option here is just to consume some passive entertainment. We live in an amazing time in human history. Gone are the days of mail-order catalogs, AM-only radio stations, broadcast television, and, to a large extent, even the library. The miracle that is the internet gives us access to the vast majority of the creative works that the human race has produced over the last few thousand years. There is plenty here to enjoy.

Books

With the advent of the Amazon Kindle, you can carry a single device in your flight bag, and have nearly unlimited access to books. If you’re too cheap to spend an extra $114.99 on a Kindle Paperwhite, you can get access to Amazon’s entire book library through the Kindle app on your phone. I dare you to run out of books to read on layovers!

If you’re too cheap to pay for books, there are lots of legal and ethical ways to get content for free. If nothing else, the Gutenberg Project has more than 60,000 titles to choose from.

I considered listing some recommendations for you here, but I’ve already done that on another page. It’s constantly gaining additions, so be sure to check back. I call my list The Pilot Math Bible.

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Music

I’m a little leery of the fact that we don’t get to own music anymore. However, you can’t argue with the bounty of titles available on Spotify. You can listen to their entire catalog for free if you’re connected to the internet. Or, for just $10/mo, you can subscribe and download content for offline listening. ($15/mo gets you a family subscription, good for up to four people.) If you don’t like Spotify, Pandora is a great alternative with both free and paid options as well.

You can also listen to a shocking amount of music on YouTube. This is my favorite way to listen to anything by The Lonely Island because their videos are hysterical. Who doesn’t love the tale of Captain Jack Sparrow, or this classic line?

“She put a bag on my head.”
“Still Counts!”

For some people, listening to music can be a thing in and of itself. For others, it’s better as background for things like reading (see above.) If you’re bored because you’ve exhausted all of humanity’s written work, maybe try just closing your eyes and listening to some great music.

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Television

Television is really experiencing a renaissance right now. Thanks to streaming services murdering the cable industry (that has deserved to die for decades,) you can watch entire seasons of whatever you want at the click of a button, or tap on the screen. Most hotels have gotten wise to this phenomenon and started putting smart TVs into guest rooms. You can sign in to your account and get access to your watchlists from anywhere in the world in 65″ glory. (Except maybe China…sorry cargo pilots.)

These streaming services have realized that they can make money by producing great original content, and so they’ve gone after traditional content producers with a vengeance. Their domination at the Emmys over the past few years shows that they’ve done a great job of giving us new and exciting shows to watch.

If you were to subscribe to every possible streaming service all at once, it would be more expensive than cable. Even if you had a long Coronavirus layover every night, there’s no way you could watch that much TV, so don’t waste your money!

You probably pay for Amazon Prime, so you have access to all of their shows. I recommend The Man in the High Castle as a fascinating, and well-done alternate reality. However, in my mind you can’t beat The Expanse. If you enjoy SciFi, it’s fantastic. Even if you don’t usually go for SciFi, it provides fascinating examinations of social issues like ownership, the role of government, sovereignty, racism, and more. It also does justice to the physics of space travel in a way that most shows just explain away with technobabble like “inertial dampers.” These are all issues that the human race will have to deal with over the next few hundred years. I say it doesn’t hurt to think through them before we actually have to tackle them ourselves.

Other than Amazon, why not just subscribe to a single streaming service at a time. Watch the latest seasons of your favorite shows, then cancel your subscription and move on to the next one? Between Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Disney+, YouTube TV, HBO, ESPN+, CBS All Access, and whatever else is out there, I promise that there’s enough new content to continuously rotate through them without running out of new things to watch.

If you happen to still subscribe to cable (happy wife = happy life, in my case) and you can’t get enough TV through these streaming services, your cable company probably also offers streaming content through an app. Our Spectrum app lets us watch live and on-demand TV from anywhere with WiFi.

Since you’re a captive audience, I’ll make a few recommendations for some of the shows I’ve enjoyed on some of these services. It’s free advice, so take my recommendations for what they’re worth.

  • HBO:
    • Game of Thrones was fantastic through about S8E3. If you’re one of the too-cool-for-school holdouts who refused to watch it before now, you’re locked in a hotel room by yourself. Nobody will ever know that you caved.
    • Westworld is dark, mind-bending, and fascinating. It brings up all kinds of ethical issues that apply to our world as it is today, and as it will be in the all-too-near future.
    • Deadwood is an older HBO masterpiece.
    • As is The Sopranos.
  • Showtime
    • I’ve only watched a few episodes of Homeland, but it’s well done and pulls on the heartstrings of anyone who has spent time deployed in the last 19 years or so.
    • Billions is just plain fun. It’s a combination of heist film genre with some great characters and outrageous flashiness.
    • I’ve heard great things about Dexter, though I haven’t watched it yet.
  • Disney+
    • Your kids should be able to help you figure this one out. However, The Mandalorian is worth your time.
  • YouTube TV
    • I haven’t watched it yet, but doing a Karate Kid reboot, Cobra Kai, was going to earn at least one month of subscription from me. (It looks like some or all episodes are free now.)
  • Hulu
  • CBS All Access – I think this streaming service is a mistake. They don’t have enough content to compete with the big names. However, if you don’t hate Start Trek, you will enjoy:
  • Netflix has too much inventory to narrow down much. I’ll just give you a couple:
  • Amazon has done very well with streaming. In addition to the titles I already mentioned:
    • Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan does a great way of taking the best characters and stories the master ever wrote and making them applicable in the modern world. Plus Ryan also recommends low-fee index funds.

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Movies

Although movies are generally offered through the same streaming services as TV now, I feel like they’re a different category. They’re more compact stories, and some of them are a lot more impactful than the average procedural crime drama.

Copyright law hasn’t reached the 21st century yet, so the movie catalogs of most streaming services seem to change at random all the time. Check out what’s available on each service during the month(s) that you’re subscribed. Then move on to the next service.

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Podcasts

The advent of Web 2.o, and access to cheap electronics has turned podcasting into an accessible way for people to create content. There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts in the world, each with anywhere from a few episodes to a few hundred. While a few are merely entertainment, most of them are at least somewhat educational, insightful, or inspiring. Almost all of them are free, and accessible through a variety of smartphone apps. I dare you to run out of great podcasts to listen to on layovers!

Here are some of my favorites:

  • How I Built This is an NPR podcast where Guy Raz interviews some of the most famous names in business. (Richard Branson, Sarah Blakely, Jake Burton, Daymond John, and many more.) It’s fascinating as a business-related education. It’s comforting to hear that most of these titans of modern industry were absolutely clueless when they got started. Listening to them makes me believe that if they could figure things out and succeed, I have the potential to do the same.
  • I don’t even know what to call Radio Lab. It’s fascinating, insightful, and looks at…everything. Try it out, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show is fascinating as a business. What is essentially a random dude doing long-form interviews with interesting people, this show brings in crazy amounts of money thanks to its enormous following. If you’ve never heard of Tim Ferriss, go read The 4-Hour Workweek. Those of you in the military will recognize everything you hate about your organization and see how someone overcame all that queepy bullshit. You probably won’t be able to implement all his ideas, but if all this book does is shift your philosophy you’ll simultaneously become more effective and happier.
  • BiggerPockets is actually four podcasts.
  • The Pilot Network Podcast is Adam Uhan’s baby, though Matt Swee also runs some of the shows. It covers a lot of aviation- and job-related areas.
  • S-Town is a fascinating, and tragic story. It’s made by the same people who do Serial. I enjoyed season 1 of Serial, but they lost me with season 2. I’ve spent too much time in Afghanistan to enjoy listening to someone talk about it third- or fourth-hand.
  • The Mad Fientist is the first FIRE podcast I found. It’s interesting because you get to follow the host’s journey to Financial Independence. You see how he changes, you see some of the pitfalls with that community’s process/philosophy, and you see how reaching FI frees you from having to do anything you don’t want to (like hosting a podcast on a regular basis.)
  • ChooseFI is also a FIRE podcast, but it’s an interesting case. At first it seemed like a random project started by two acquaintances who both happened to live in Richmond. It’s grown into a massive ecosystem of a business with an enormous following. In the future, I think this podcast will be a textbook example of how to start a social movement from scratch as a business. Oh, there’s also a lot of good advice for a pilot hoping to achieve Financial Independence.
  • Adam Uhan recently posted a link to Episode #47 of The Drive by Dr. Peter Attia. (It’s a 3-part series. Listen to them all!) From what I can tell, these are some wicked smart dudes who know far more about biology and medicine than I ever will. I suspect that every other episode is equally fascinating, though this one discussed sleep and fatigue in a way that was especially poignant for us as pilots.

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YouTube

Beyond the traditional video viewing formats of serial television and major motion pictures, YouTube has spurred the creation of all kinds of great video content to watch. You should search for your own interests on there, but I’ll give you a couple rabbit holes to start with:

  • First and foremost, when it comes to free video entertainment, I cay you can’t beat Epic Rap Battles of History. My favorites are Bill & Ted vs. Lewis and Clark, TMNT vs. the Renaissance Masters, and Obama vs. Romney.
  • Mike Patey has a channel that includes videos of him flying Draco, his highly modified Wilga with a turboprop engine. Sadly, he balled his plane up, but that’s not the last we’ll see from him.
  • Many podcasts have an accompanying YouTube channel. The Jocko Podcast is an excellent one.
  • Many freelancers, and even big-name companies have how-to videos for everything from car repair to DIY home maintenance. Lowes uses painful music, but their videos are extremely useful. After watching videos like this one I tiled my walk-in closet, installed a water softener in my garage, and more.
  • The Pilot Network even has a YouTube channel.

Wow, as I look back at this section, I see several thousand hours of content, just in the items I’ve listed by name. If you can’t find enough from these suggestions to enjoy your Coronavirus layovers, then there’s not much more I can do for you.

I believe there’s nothing wrong with watching, reading, and listening to all of this. It’s good to enjoy all these forms of art, and they can lead you to think about important topics, or just laugh. Both are important. That said, what if you decided to not use the entirety of these layovers passively consuming entertainment?

As human beings, we’re capable of doing so much in our lives. Why not try something a little more active? If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend a post on this topic by Mr. Money Mustache himself. Let’s take a look at some of our options:

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Exercise

As pilots, it’s far too easy for us to overlook exercise and end up fat and unhealthy. Coronavirus only gives us more excuses to let ourselves go. Don’t let it happen to you though!

Most hotel gyms will be closed for COVID-19 concerns, but there are plenty of things you can do in your hotel room. Unless you’re a beast like Rich Harr, or a mountain of a man like Barrett Vandegrift, you can probably get more than enough of a workout by just hitting a few sets of pushups, situps, dips, lunges, airsquats, planks, etc. between episodes of your latest favorite show.

I think someone interested in starting a YouTube channel (see below) could get a lot of viewers right now by starting a series on how to work out in your airline layover hotel room…especially if you have a face prettier than Rich Harr or Barrett Vandegrift.

I’ve noticed back home that there are more people out on the streets walking with kids and dogs, or running and biking, than ever before. (Maybe some good will come of all this quarantine stuff.) I feel like this is a reasonably safe way to exercise while maintaining social distancing. As long as nobody coughs on you, you’re not likely to get close enough to anyone or anything to transmit a virus. Then, just don’t lick the bottom of your running shoes, and you’re good. I’ve heard that even in relatively locked-down places like San Francisco runners aren’t being given a hard time. (I plan on carrying my airline pilot ID with me anytime I got out for the next few months though…just in case.)

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Call Home

My wife’s dad built a house just a few blocks away from ours. We love having him nearby much of the time. Unfortunately, he’s 74 and at elevated risk if he gets COVID-19. As such, he’s staying at home and I’m not even going to deliver groceries to him after spending the last week in New York.

This is well and good, except that he and his wife are getting lonely. They have most of the passive entertainment options I listed above, but social interaction is also important. We’ve started doing video calls with them on a fairly regular basis, and they appreciate it. We both have the game Battleship, and our kids have been playing across the video chat. You could fit half of that game in your suitcase and play with your kids on layovers. You could probably achieve similar logistical success with Chess.

Even if you’re not playing games, now is a perfect time to catch up with your parents, friends, and other relatives. It’s also healthy for you to interact with some other human beings.

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Learn Something

For me, this is where these Coronavirus layovers really start getting valuable. You can spend a lot of time being entertained, working out, and talking on FaceTime. However, you still have plenty of time to learn something new.

If you’re a regional airline pilot without a Bachelor’s degree, there is no excuse for not being enrolled in a program and taking classes right now. Are you capable of flying a jet without a 4-year degree? Yes. Is it unfair that the majors want you to have a degree. Honestly, no. They get to specify whatever criteria they want. I did most of my Masters Degree while living in a plywood hut in Afghanistan with almost no internet access. I have no sympathy if you’re going to complain about doing undergraduate coursework while sitting in a cushy hotel room with free WiFi. Get to it!

Speaking of Master’s Degrees, if you don’t have one yet, now is the perfect time to start. If I were a regional pilot interested in moving up to the majors, this would be a no-brainer for me. I doubt any airline will ever require a Master’s, but I know for a fact that they like to see one. (It is now required on NASA’s astronaut application.) Why not enroll in a program?

There are plenty of options for getting a Master’s without doing a thesis. That was one of the major criteria for mine. You can also do most degrees 100% online. I have yet to set foot on the University of Idaho campus, but my diploma doesn’t look any different from someone who spent a full two years there in residence. Shop around, find something you’re interested in that might also be useful, and get to work!

Our society focuses so much on college that I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice. There are lots of other types of training available out there. Mike Rowe (there’s another podcast for you) has been a great voice in this push.

If you’re at all interested in business, getting a Six Sigma certification will give you valuable skills and boost your resume. I believe that this could help you get a cushy corporate job at your airline, if that’s something to which you aspire. I believe that it would be a unique and beneficial item on a major airline pilot application as well.

If you are, or want to be a musician, you could start carrying a guitar with you. YouTube is replete with channels offering free lessons. You could also carry a smaller instrument, or use a website to create music electronically. A quick search led me to Audiotool. It’s free and looks pretty capable, though there are many more options.

Back to business, being good at a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool like Salesforce is a high-demand skill these days. You could do Salesforce administration or consulting as a side-hustle (during layovers!) or just know how to use this very valuable tool when you start your own business. Salesforce even has a platform called Trailhead where you can start learning for free.

I learned computer programming in college, and I’ve been able to use that skill throughout my life both for fun and for profit. You absolutely do NOT need a degree to do it though! The internet is full of services like Treehouse where you can learn coding from zero-to-hero in as little as several months. Yes, they cost some money, but they’re totally worth it. There are actually scholarships that even a fully-employed airline pilot could get for these kinds of courses (if you’re too cheap to shell out the cash.) There are also free courses available, though the quality varies greatly.

Once you know how to code, the sky is the limit for fun personal projects and lucrative side-hustles. You could absolutely make money by doing almost all of your coding on layovers. Don’t listen to any lame naysayers. A motivated person could be less than a year from having the skills to take on serious, high-paying coding jobs.

What else are you interested to learn that you just haven’t been able to start on with the rest of real life being in the way? Now is the perfect chance to put all this extra time on layovers to good use and learn something.

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Do Something

I feel like most of humanity would be better off with more education, rather than less. Up to a point, I think that using free time on layovers to learn is a great idea.

However, after a point, learning more stuff is useless unless you actually do something with that knowledge. I know people who can recite every imaginable statistic about a given sport, yet are so fat and lazy that they couldn’t even compete well in a pickup game in the park. I’m not impressed.

So, once you’ve used all of your free time on layovers to gain some knowledge, put it to use!

One easy answer is to get an extra job as a side-hustle. TPN sponsor BogiDope just hired a bunch of new counselors. Did you apply? I suspect that other companies in this space, like TPN sponsors like Emerald Coast and Checked and Set, are always on the lookout for good people. It might be worth asking.

If you want something more academically rigorous, you could become an online college professor. You’d be shocked to see how many of these jobs there are. I almost signed up for one with Embry-Riddle a few years ago. Most of these jobs allow you to work asynchronously…meaning you could save most of your work to be done on layovers, keeping family time for family at home.

You don’t have to work for another company to start teaching something though. All it takes is a website and a FaceTime account (or Zoom if you want to appear at least a little more professional) to start a business teaching a skill. What are you good at that someone else would pay to learn? If you’re the type of person who immediately responded, “Nothing,” then ignore this suggestion because you’ll never figure it out. However, if you’re the kind of person who can recognize an opportunity, you probably thought of a few ideas right away. Good for you! Now, pick one and get to work!

If you took my earlier advice and learned coding, the sky is the limit for you to create the next great app. TPN sponsor MilKEEP took an idea that we’ve all had and made it reality…through vision, good design, and finding someone with the ability to code. If you have a great idea, you can hire someone else to do the programming for you. However, if you can do that coding yourself, you can put your layovers to good use while saving $20K or more.

Many of these suggestions start under the general umbrella of “start a business.” The COVID-19 pandemic is hammering our economy. Many poorly-run businesses are going to disappear because of it. We should mourn the loss of those jobs and the hardships that it will cause people. However, you can absolutely capitalize on the opportunity to provide similar or new services with a better-run company.

You can also just take an idea you’ve had for a while and use this as an excuse to finally launch it. What would it take for you to start something like the original TPN sponsor, Planeform?

You can start a company capable of providing a good or service in our current environment of social distancing, but this won’t be forever. You could also spend your time now setting up your company and planning so that the moment quarantines start lifting, you’re ready to go. Based on experience, starting any company requires you at least:

  • File paperwork with your state to establish your company as a legal entity
  • Find or hire a registered agent
  • Possibly file for taxation as an S-corp with the IRS
  • Set up a checking account
  • Get a company credit card
  • Set up a website
  • Set up social media accounts
  • Write a business plan
  • Set up some form of accounting for your company

Some of these items can be accomplished in an hour. Others, could occupy several days. There’s plenty to cover a few layovers. Then you can get on to some other potential items like:

  • Create a logo for your company. You may want to add letterhead and other style/brand elements to your portfolio as well.
  • Design and prototype your product
  • Write SOPs for future employees
  • Set up an email list, including writing the bodies of the emails
  • Set up a CRM (see Salesforce above)
  • Build invoice templates
  • Contact potential manufacturers for your product
  • Shop for real estate

I’ve had a business idea kicking around my brain for a while. Just before all this Coronavirus stuff hit, my brother-in-law expressed an interest in some sort of a joint business venture. I pitched my idea to him, and may end up using my next few layovers accomplishing all the items I just listed. It sounds like a lot of work until you come up with a great idea, then it’s just a bunch of things that will help you make your business a success. In that light, getting them done is fun, rather than a chore.

Short of what I consider a “serious” business, in most cases, you could also use this time to start a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel. You should pick a topic that you’re passionate about, because you need to be able to produce a lot of content. If you can do that, there is a lot of money to be made in this space!

There are lots of people making millions of dollars on YouTube for insanely stupid shit. You could be one of them. (Or you could start a channel that produces content that will actually improve the human race and still make some money.)

Tim Ferriss is an outlier, but he discloses in Episode #296 of his podcast (“How to Build Popular Podcasts and Blogs”) how much he charges his advertisers. Based on the number of downloads he gets, each episode of his podcast brings in at least $500,000. Wow!

There is huge demand for good podcasting these days. All it takes to get started is a half-decent microphone like an ATR 2100 and a computer. From there, it’s all about how good your content is, how well you advertise, and how good you are at forming a community.

It’s also possible to make money blogging. The idea is the same as YouTube or Podcasting. You need an interesting topic that you can address with some authority. The barrier to entry is almost nothing.

If you want to really get hip with the young kids, you could launch an online presence just using social media like Instagram. (Avoid TikTok. It’s run by Chinese spies.) One of my wife’s former dental assistants makes a living on Instagram with nothing more than shots of a camera focused on her T&A while does does “workouts” and types comments that are so incoherent they make George Bush and Donald Trump seem eloquent. Imagine what an influencer could do by producing some quality content!

All of this leads toward one of my personal quests: I want you to do more quality writing. The world is rife with books on the military history of the World Wars and Vietnam. However, other than Navy SEALs who spend half of their books talking about how awesome they are, there’s not very much literature about the wars that our generation has been fighting.

I know you have good war stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where the Global War on Terrorism has been taking place. Let’s get them published so the rest of the world can understand more about what’s been happening, find inspiration from what we’ve done, and maybe learn something from it.

A blog or podcast would be a perfect platform for telling these stories. So would a book. If you don’t know how to get started on a project like this, please reach out to me! I’ve been writing online since about 2007, and I recently self published a book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. It’s easier than you think and I’d be thrilled to help you through the process. I don’t even charge anybody for that help…yet.

If you’d like to just dip your toes in these waters, We’re always looking for more people to write on TPN. I’d love to help you write an article or two to post here. Please reach out to me and tell me what you want to write about!

If you don’t feel like your work is polished enough for the harsh criticism of 25,000+ pilots, I’ll gladly help you set up your own blog or other platform. I firmly believe that the #1 best way to improve your writing is to write.

You don’t have to write about war or aviation either. If there is any topic you know more about than the average bear, you can find people interested in what you have to say. You don’t have to stick to non-fiction either. I remember years ago mentioning that I liked the Lord of the Rings and being teased for it. Then Peter Jackson made them into extremely popular and profitable movies. Game of Thrones was one of the most highly-watched TV series of all time. There is no shortage of demand for good fiction. I would love to help you set up a platform for writing any of this!

If you were to run a statistical analysis of the lengths of my TPN and BogiDope posts, and the dates on which I publish them, you’d see that most of my writing gets done while I’m on layover. Even without quarantine, it’s easy to be able to spend an hour or two writing on a layover to put out some good content. Given our COVID-19 environment, you could get a lot of great writing done over the next few weeks!

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a way to use your talents to make our world a better place…or to just make a buck…or both at the same time. Once you find a viable project that you’re passionate about, it becomes so much fun to work on that you won’t even realize that you’re quarantined and scared of getting sick. In my opinion, doing or producing something of value is absolutely the best way to spend your time on a Coronavirus layover.

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All Of The Above

I regard moderation as a virtue. After 8 deployments to various parts of the world, plus watching our social and political environments for the past few years, I’ve become opposed to most forms of extremism. I believe these principles apply to how we spend time on airline layovers too.

Yes, you could spend every waking minute on layover writing the next great American novel. It’d be a great pursuit, but it’d eventually get old. I think that any layover strategy needs to use a variety of the ideas I’ve listed here. You don’t have to give each area equal time, but breaking things up isn’t bad.

If you’re in any type of formal study program, or you find a business or project to work on, I recommend you start your layover or your morning with that while you’re still fresh.

You don’t even need to feel obligated to get work or studying done in every single night of every layover. Many times, I say “F*** it!” and just binge on the latest season of my favorite show.

The beauty of even the most demanding activity you set up for your layovers is that you get to decide your schedule.

On of the many reasons I wrote Pilot Math Treasure Bath is that once you free yourself from the confines of mandatory full-time work, your flexibility gets enhanced. Even if you start a business with demanding clients, having a nice, full Treasure Bath means that your family doesn’t need your clients’ money to survive. You can keep doing that job because you enjoy it, but you never have to feel any more obligated to it than you want.

Living life with that kind of freedom is fantastic. I believe that it’s very achievable for any major airline pilot. If you haven’t already read my book, please do. I want you to have that kind of freedom!

I hope my suggestions help make your COVID-19 layovers more enjoyable. I also know that I’m not the only source of ideas here. What strategies do you use to enjoy and make use of your layovers right now? What are you studying? What businesses or other projects are you working on? Leave a comment here to inspire a fellow pilot, or just brag. You have my permission to do either.

By putting together a good balance of the strategies I outlined here, I think that you’d be hard-pressed to feel bored while trapped in your room during a COVID-19 layover.

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