Sun, 04 Jun 2000

A day with Garuda pilot Ida Fiqriah

Of the 612 pilots at national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, Ida Fiqriah, 23, is one of two women, and the youngest flying the fleet of Boeing 737-300, -400 and -500 aircraft. A native of Jakarta, she lives in Petukangan Utara, South Jakarta, with her parents, two younger sisters and one brother.

JAKARTA (JP): "When I wake in the morning, the first thought that enters my mind is one of gratitude and I thank God that I am still alive. I love the morning; I feel fresh and invigorated when I wake up, which is at 5:00 if I am not flying. As I am Muslim, I must say the morning prayer. Afterward, I do some stretching exercises and sometimes go for a brisk walk outside. It's necessary in my line of work to be fit and I enjoy working out anyway.

Then I have breakfast, usually some fried rice, with my brother and sisters before they go to school. If I am not on a flight, I just stay at home and read the Kompas and Media Indonesia newspapers and Kartini and Gatra magazines. I like to read women's magazines and also to watch the news on television.

I love my house and my bedroom is my favorite place in the world. I've got a queen-size bed. There is nowhere as good as my room; it's my private place.

If I'm on a flight, I'm picked up three hours beforehand, usually at 3:00 a.m. I don't mind getting up so early because my body rhythm is used to it and I will have gone to bed before 9:00 the previous evening anyway.

I must go to the crew report counter at Cengkareng and then to flight dispatch to check the flight time, weather and if there is any special information I need to know about. Then I discuss this with the captain and the crew. We talk about what we need to do for the passengers. After that, we check the fuel and the flight plan and go to the gate. We have two offices in Cengkareng, one is for ground preparation and the other for flight preparation.

We walk around the interior of the plane and check it out thoroughly. Then we are ready for boarding.

I've been flying with Garuda for two years. When I was small, I used to dream about flying, and then, in high school, I decided I wanted a career that was exciting and realized that flying really was for me. I enrolled in a flying academy in Jakarta and afterward, when I graduated, applied to Garuda and was accepted.

There's not much time to think about things when you are flying miles above the earth; I just concentrate on doing my best.

People often ask me if I get scared when I am flying. When I was training with Garuda I was taught to control my fear. You've got to be fit, both physically and mentally to deal with it.

I fly both domestic and international routes. The international ones include Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Singapore and Darwin and Cairns in Australia -- all on 737's.

Always, before I enter the cockpit, I think about what would happen if my life ended and I put myself in God's hands. During the flight I watch the instruments and handle my fear. I check and cross check. But sometimes I get scared -- as does the captain.

The worst situations I've been in have been landings in bad weather. Approaching landing position is a dangerous time. If we encounter bad weather, then it's difficult. But landing is difficult and a critical time anyway. Take off is also a critical time, but I love it. I watch the instruments and the distance to the end of the runway in case there is an emergency -- but the feeling I get when the nose rises is great.

When the plane is at cruising altitude, and the autopilot is on, I take a rest. But we still have to keep an eye on the instruments. Sometimes, I talk to the captain about where he lives, his family and we talk about our lives.

I haven't come across any bad incidents with passengers, no air rage or anything like that. But sometimes small children can cause a bit of disruption with their screaming and crying. But it's not much bother.

Sometimes, in social circumstances, people don't believe that I am a pilot. Once, when I was out with my friends, I bumped into an old high school friend I hadn't seen for a few years. He asked me what I was doing and when I told him I was working with Garuda, he assumed I was a flight attendant. When I told him I was a pilot, he didn't believe me. I understand this kind of reaction though, as, in Indonesia, it is not usual for a woman to be a pilot.

I don't, however, encounter any difficulties in the workplace. When I was training, everybody just accepted me. There have been no problems at all, and I hope it will stay that way.

When I am on an international flight, I feel quite tired when I arrive at the destination. I have to rest for a while to get my energy back. Then I watch some television and maybe walk about a bit.

I don't miss my family when I am abroad as the cabin crew is my family too. We usually meet up in one of our hotel rooms and sit about chatting. But I do look forward to returning home -- Jakarta is my favorite destination.

I don't have a boyfriend at the moment. I think I am too young to have one anyway. But if I was looking, religion would have to come first; he would have to be Muslim. That's the most important thing. I want to have children at some point in the future and combine having a family with my career. Someday, I hope I can captain a 747 -- that's my goal.

I don't really worry about my health when I am flying -- except for the UV rays from the sun. To combat the radiation, I wear a clear, natural foundation to screen out the rays, so you wouldn't know I was wearing it at all. As for airline food, despite what many passengers say, I enjoy it. Mainly because I'm not that choosy about food anyway.

If I am at home, I have dinner about 7 p.m. I like to eat pindang bandeng (a fish dish) -- it's my favorite. I like Western food like pizza, too.

In the evenings, I like listening to slow, romantic music. I love classical music because it helps me to relax. Sometimes I go to the movies. The last movie I saw was The Story of Us -- it was good. I don't really like going out to cafes or anywhere else. I prefer to spend time with my family.

Last thing at night, when I put my head on the pillow, I think about what I did during the day and then nod off into a dreamless sleep." (as told to William Furney)