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Bill Hutchinson ’81

I’ve been a commercial airline pilot for over 30 years, and the story of how COVID-19 has affected our industry is somewhat of a moving target — the situation changes daily and we’re just trying to respond to those changes. Airports and planes are less crowded, and where you might once have been number 30 in line for takeoff, now you taxi down to the runway and there might be one other airplane down there. When you’re on approach at your destination airport, it’s maybe you and one or two other airplanes. “Surreal” is the best way to describe it.

When I get to work, I wear a mask from the car to the airplane, and when I brief flight attendants — but not in the cockpit. That’s because communication is so critical in my profession, and a large portion of communication is visual. When I say I need something done, I can’t have a long conversation about it — it just needs to get done.

All of this has evolved very quickly, and the airlines have needed to respond quickly to survive. 9/11 was a watershed event in the airline industry that resulted in a lot of changes in the way we operate; it increased our awareness of security and took us out of what some might say was a naïve view of the world. This pandemic will likely do the same thing. We just have to see what our new reality is going to be.