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Behind-the-scenes on a cargo flight to Shanghai

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My name is Sascha, I‘m a pilot on our Boeing 777 and I‘d like to share some insights into our work with you, because many things are quite different than usual these days. Needless to say, we all would prefer having you guys with us aboard as usual: but how does a cargo-only flight with a passenger aircraft look like and what‘s special about it? I‘ll take you along to Shanghai and show you.

Pre-flight briefing
Pre-flight briefing

Our flight to Shanghai was a cargo-only flight and a very special one as well. In this particular Boeing 777, the entire SWISS Economy seats were removed in order to be able to transport even more cargo. There were no passengers on the entire rotation, only a small crew, a loadmaster and a cabin maintenance engineer were on board. For us pilots in the cockpit, a cargo flight is actually not that different from a passenger flight: our task is to fly from destination A to destination B safely. The only difference is that the aircraft is a bit lighter than usual. For our colleagues in the cabin, however, the operation is completely different: the most obvious difference is not having any passengers to look after. In our case, cargo was only loaded on our way back, so the cabin was completely empty on the flight to Shanghai and actually looked almost eerie.

Preparations in the cabin
Preparations in the cabin
Sunrise
Sunrise

After a quiet flight and a beautiful sunrise, we arrived in Shanghai. On site, we were picked up at the aircraft and accompanied to the hotel. On the way there, we passed through various stations due to the increased security measures: from passport control to medical checks with interview, the entire procedure took a good 2 hours before we finally arrived at the airport hotel. Equipped with a packed lunch we were led to our rooms, we said goodbye to each other and spent the rest of the layover in isolation. Besides resting for a few hours, we would normally meet up with crew colleagues to enjoy some time together, explore the city or have a meal – unfortunately impossible in the current situation.

Cockpit of the Boeing 777
Cockpit of the Boeing 777
Arrival in Shanghai
Arrival in Shanghai
Loading of the aircraft
Loading of the aircraft
Cargo in the cabin
Cargo in the cabin

The next morning we were already on our way home again, this time not only with cargo in the belly but now also in the cabin. To make such a cargo flight possible, a loadmaster and a cabin maintenance engineer are required on board. They plan the loading of the aircraft, make freight calculations and ensure that the cargo is properly secured. Together they also instruct the rest of the crew members and show them what to look out for during the flight and explain them what to do if parts of the cargo should come loose during the flight. As soon as everything was loaded and last matters had been solved, we started our return flight to Zurich. During the flight, our crew colleagues made meticulously organized rounds through the entire cabin every 10 minutes to ensure that everything was in order, just as they normally would with our valued passengers on board.

Thank you for following me along to Shanghai. Stay safe.

Cheers, Sascha