First officer Chrystal Walker offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into her career as a pilot and passion for travel.

First officer Chrystal Walker from Cape Town has been a pilot for 17 years. The Emirates pilot shares her travels...

What do you love most about flying? Being behind the controls of a machine that defies gravity and travels above the earth. I love the challenges and the sense of achievement flying gives me and learning new things. Flying makes that possible each time I do it.

What is your favourite destination? Hong Kong. I enjoy hiking in the hills, eating food at the street markets and the overall buzz of the place. 

What’s your favourite thing to do in Dubai? Going to the fabric and spice souks on The Creek. I love taking an Abra (craft) across the water and seeing the impressive dhows, still in operation. It’s marvellous to see how the big city of Dubai has still maintained its traditional way of life.

Give us a glimpse into life as a pilot? Being a long-haul airline pilot is challenging purely because of the different work hours and time spent away from home. Success greatly depends on your ability to balance a few things. Firstly, it is most important to make time for your family and friends back home. While away on trips one needs to prioritise and balance between sleep, eating and exercise. 

The roster we receive each month dictates our lives. Packing a suitcase is a regular part of the job; this usually happens about four times a week. Meeting complete strangers and learning about their lives happens on each flight.The uniform is a bonus  as I never have to think what to wear to work. I get to do what I love. There is nothing else more awe-inspiring than watching the sun rise while everyone else is asleep behind you. The views from the flight deck are epic. The feeling you get landing in the world’s largest airports and knowing “you” were the one to land that great, big machine safely gives one a sense of pride that I believe would be difficult to replicate in another job.

What do you do in the cockpit for the duration of the flight, like for example when flying from South Africa to Dubai for so many hours?

I usually make my other pilot talk to me for most of the way. Pilots are quite a multi-talented bunch of people. Flying is usually just one of many skills that they are good at.

How do you find getting some shut-eye while in the air?

For most pilots, it isn’t easy to switch off and rest. But I have no problem sleeping anywhere. I can sleep instantly, if required. My mother taught me to do this when we travelled a lot as kids. 

How do you cope with jet lag? I sleep when I am tired. And I exercise whenever possible, even if it is just a walk around the block because I only have 15 minutes. This works wonders.

How long do you get for a stopover? Emirates runs a very efficient operation. Generally we only have 24-hour layovers unless we do long-range flights, which legally require more rest, then we have 48 hours at destination.

Do you have any favourite or not-so favourite airport runways to land on? I love landing at Mauritius because it is a challenging approach and the scenery is beautiful. Christchurch (the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand) is also a wonderful place to land. It reminds me of the small airports that I remember as a child.

Where does one study to become a pilot? There are many countries one can learn to fly in but you would need to approach an air school to start the process. Most air schools can be found at the smaller, domestic airports.

What are the requirements needed? To be accepted into air school, you need the money to afford the very expensive flight lessons. In order to complete the course, though, you will need to pass 8-14 (depending on which country) aviation related exams. They are usually multiple choice and include subjects like flight planning, meteorology, navigation, instrumentation, aircraft technical, etc. Of course, you would also need to pass the actual flying tests. The tricky part is landing - pun intended - your first job.