If you fly a domestic aircraft, you will only have OEs (refer to my last blog post for info on the OE). If you are hired into an aircraft that flies internationally, you will also have 1 or 2 TOE (Transoceanic Operating Experience) trips. My first TOE (back in 2017) was to Paris, France, which was incredible! My second TOE trip was to Seoul, Korea.
This was the view from my hotel room in Paris. Amazing!
My trip was on May Day in 2017, so most businesses were closed for the holiday . I was one of the few people actually at the Eiffel tower, which was incredible.
The second trip felt much less stressful than the first; partly because I'd already flown internationally and things were beginning to come together, but also because flying over the Pacific ocean is much easier than flying over the Atlantic ocean because there are less rules.
At the airline I currently fly for, they had some great study material to read through before I ever began my TOE trips. This was incredibly helpful because there was a lot to learn and know when flying internationally. So if you get hired onto an international fleet, make sure you study as much as possible before you start that first international flight.
On both of my TOEs, I had really great captains that walked me through everything beforehand, and great relief pilots that were super familiar with the operations. As a side note, a relief pilot is the third extra pilot required on longer flights; they are in the flight deck for takeoff and landing, and for the final 2/3rds of the flight; they are there to give the captain and first officer relief from flight deck duties so rest breaks can happen. If the flights are over 12 hours (I think that's the magic number still? but correct me if I am wrong), there will be a relief captain AND first officer, so it will be a 4-pilot crew.
Because my first two international flights were for my TOE/training flights, I was the flying pilot, which was great in terms of rest breaks. The flying pilot usually gets the best rest break- the second break in this case. This is the best break because it is usually a few hours into the flight so a nap can happen- as in my body/brain are ready for a nap- and most of the passengers are asleep by this point so it is quiet in the cabin. I was in the flight deck with the checkairman (captain) for the first few hours, on my break for the next few hours, and then back in the flight deck with the other first officer for the last few hours.
On my 2nd TOE, the rest area on that 767 for the pilots was a first class lay flat seat with a curtain to give us some privacy. The curtain was stowed during taxi/takeoff/landing, and then each of us pulled it around the chair when we were on our rest breaks. The overhead bin above the seat had blankets and pillows in it, which we locked on our preflight inspection so passengers wouldn't take them while they were boarding. It was not a bad set up at all. On my break, I enjoyed a movie for a few minutes and then indulged in a nice nap at 37,000'.
This photo was actually taken on my rest break from my first TOE from Paris. What a gorgeous view!
Just under an hour before we were to land in Korea, the captain came back up and the relief pilot moved to the jumpseat. With all three of us in the flight deck, we discussed our game plan for descending and landing in Incheon International airport (RKSI). I gave the brief, as I was the flying pilot, but they both filled me in on what to expect. I was glad at this point that I was flying and not having to talk over the radios; some of the controllers were so hard for me to understand. Thankfully this has gotten easier over time and I can understand the controllers even with their thick accents now.
We made it safely to the gate after what felt like a super long taxi (which probably only felt long because I was the pilot speaking on the radios at this point and trying to decipher the instructions; haha). It was evening time when we got to the hotel, so I joined the captain and other first officer for some real Korean BBQ. Wow! If I could just eat that every day I would be a happy girl. The food and the meat was all so delicious. And being able to see them cook it at our table was kinda fun.
The next morning I had some time to explore. I found a super neat park just blocks from the hotel. It even came equipped with exercise equipment, which I found amusing. I've never seen cardio machines in a park like that before.
I took a nap afterward, and then we were on our way back to Seattle. It was a quick 3-day trip, but it was perfect. The checkairman gave me my final sign off and I was officially done with training. It felt so good to be done! When you finish airline training, you'll know exactly what I mean! It's like a weight lifted off of your shoulders and the real fun can begin.
I don't fly internationally anymore, and I am okay with that. It was fun and exciting, and flying to Paris, London, and Amsterdam always seemed so glamorous, but it is not the season for me right now. Last year before Covid began, I was actually trying to bid off of the 757/767 fleet; I got awarded the 737 in SLC but the bid was canceled because of Covid. I know international seems like a pilot's dream, so why didn't I want to continue doing it?
For one, It was really hard with little kids. I'd come home around noon after 6-day trips and be dog tired, but I had to fight sleep until I put the kids to bed at night when all I wanted to do was sleep. I was impatient and didn't feel I was being the mom that I wanted to be for my sweet kiddos.
Two, I really love my sleep, and I like a consecutive 8 hours about every 16 hours. I like routine, but routine is not possible on international trips. You sleep when you can, and you stay awake when you have to, which sometimes can be for a very long time. The last trip I did to London I was awake for over 24 hours (minus the nap I got on my rest break during the flight), so when I finally got to the hotel room to sleep I slept for a solid 14 hours and still felt like I could have slept for longer.
For me, it was always a battle of trying to figure out when I should let myself sleep. Some pilots would get to the hotel and take a 4-hour nap, sight see for 4+ hours, then go back and sleep for a few more until it was time to leave. I found if I took that 4-hour nap it was too hard to wake up, and I wouldn't fall asleep at all that night, so it was best to just power through and stay awake until it was actually night time at our destination. But I never felt 100%, and I didn't like it. That being said, I will most likely do some more international flying towards the end of my career when my kids are grown and out of the house and I'll be able to sleep when I come home; I think that would make all of the difference.