Vegan and pilot are two terms that aren’t typically used interchangeably, but Compass’ LAX-based Captain, Matthew Ayer, shows that the two can coincide with one another well. This Men’s Health Month, Compass shares Matt’s story about becoming a vegan, how he started his popular “Veggie Pilot” blog and tips on eating clean while flying more than 36,000 feet in the air.
Captain Ayer has lived as a vegan for a year, but his love for eating mainly leafy greens started as a child vegetarian. When Captain Ayer started researching more information about dairy products and the dairy industry, he became surprised with the nutritional content that he found.
“I had already stopped eating eggs, and I was eating cheese at the time,” Captain Ayer said. “It made sense to become vegan and to stop consuming dairy altogether, because I had become a vegetarian due to my animal advocacy,” Captain Ayer tells Metro UK in an interview.
Working as a pilot and being a vegan can be a challenging experience, because there aren’t always the best food options available on the road. Additionally, the options that are available usually are not the most appetizing. The Veggie Pilot blog was created after Captain Ayer was displeased with a sandwich he ordered in LAX.
“It was one of the worst sandwiches I had ever had, and it cost $12,” Captain Ayer told Metro UK in an interview.
The Veggie Pilot blog was also created to help other aviation professionals who are vegan or vegetarian find restaurants with healthy options, and to assist with their meal planning.
“I created Veggie Pilot because I wanted to help my fellow flight attendants and pilot colleagues come up with fun and exciting meals that fit their diet,” Captain Ayer said.
In his blog, Captain Ayer includes some of the meals he packs while traveling. In a video on his blog he shares the meals he ate throughout the day. The meals he ate included home-cooked refried pinto beans with seitan and jalapeños, kale sautéed in pink Himalayan sea salt, yellow zucchini and kidney beans.
While his cooked meals sound mouthwatering, Captain Ayer’s dining adventures are just as appetizing as you can see on his Instagram feed @theveggiepilot.
Captain Ayer’s blog has provided him with a lot of internet attention, which lead to him being featured in PETA, Metro UK, and other media outlets.
The ATP Flight School tuition reimbursement program is one of the best deals out there for aspiring commercial pilots. Through this program, Compass provides up to $11,000 in tuition reimbursement to ATP student pilots who commit to flying for Compass after completing their hours working as an ATP flight instructor. First Officer Kevin Wickstrom is a former ATP flight instructor who took advantage of this program, and below he explains why Compass and ATP were a perfect fit for him.
What is your background in aviation?
I love being in the sky. I am a third generation pilot who, like many of my friends, grew up in the industry. It took me a while to figure out this was what I was looking for, but once I went on my discovery flight in Hawaii, I was hooked.
Why did you want to fly for Compass Airlines?
Compass was my first choice when it came to deciding on a regional airline. Its West Coast base locations, fast upgrade times, and professional reputation were among the many reasons I felt Compass was a perfect fit. I was raised in Hawaii and California, so naturally the West Coast feels the most like home. The upgrade times and attrition rate to the majors also aligned with my personal career goals. I had heard that Compass produces excellent and competent pilots, that the crews are respectful and considerate of each other and their passengers, and the pilots enjoy working there. I’ve found Compass’ all of this to be true.
What made you decide to choose ATP Flight School for your training?
I was looking around at different flight schools, but what drew me to ATP was the fast pace and the direct track to the airlines. My time as an instructor was rewarding and educational on many levels, and assisted me in this next stage of my career.
Describe your experience in utilizing the tuition reimbursement program through Compass’ partnership with ATP.
The ATP tuition reimbursement program was very beneficial to me as an instructor. I think what’s most important is how it helps us on a personal level. I went through my training at ATP Phoenix, and like most students, I took out a significant chunk of change to invest in my future. This program eased some of the stress of balancing my loan and my personal expenses. It has made the transition from flight instructor to airline pilot significantly smoother.
The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey has left thousands struggling to rebuild. Compass Captain Andrew Bennett was part of a team of volunteers who visited some of the hardest hit areas after the storm, with a goal of helping local residents take the first steps towards rebuilding their lives.
Andrew and his team of volunteers focused their efforts on the towns of Aransas Pass and Rockport, both of which sustained heavy damage during Harvey. Over a weekend, Andrew and his 18-person team logged a total of 288 man hours, along side an army of others including the Red Cross, utility workers, local charities, and religious organizations.
Their work included transporting donated relief supplies, including food and water, to the people who needed them the most, along with removing debris so electric and water companies could re-establish desperately needed utilities. The group also constructed a geodesic dome, which was used for supply storage. The dome kept the much needed supplies out of the Texas sun, while also giving volunteers and others a reprieve from the heat and mosquitos.
Andrew found that working directly with disaster victims posed a unique challenge. “Some are willing to take you up on your assistance, but others are in denial or shock after living through a disaster. They’re not willing to accept help that requires removing their home or belongings if they haven’t fully accepted what has happened to them yet. You don’t want to alienate someone by approaching them the wrong way, so you have to learn how to properly communicate with people.”
While he has returned to the flight line, Andrew is already making tentative plans to return to the disaster area in the near future. He hopes to help electricians and contractors to rebuild and repair homes and other structures that were damaged during the storm.
With a route map stretching from coast to coast and into Canada and Mexico, working for Compass can equate to some pretty incredible sightseeing opportunities for our crew members. This month, two of our pilots, Chad Rabinowitz and John Burris, took advantage of an overnight layover in Fairbanks, Alaska to catch the start of the iconic Iditarod dog sled race. The famed event usually starts in the town of Willow, Alaska, after a ceremonial start in Anchorage, but poor track conditions required organizers to move the start to Fairbanks for only the third time in the race’s history.
“We couldn’t believe our luck when we found out that our layover in Fairbanks would coincide with the start of the most famous dog sled race in the world,” Chad remarked. “The number of people who braved sub-zero temperatures to watch the 60+ teams start their 1,000 mile journey was a pretty incredible sight.”
As it turns out, Chad and John were on hand for the start of what would become an historic one-two finish. Father and son duo Mitch and Dallas Seavey came in first and second, with Mitch coming in two and a half hours ahead of his son, Dallas. In addition to becoming the only father and son duo to claim the two top spots in the same year, Mitch and Dallas are both the oldest and youngest winners in the event’s history. At 57, Mitch is the oldest ever winning Iditarod driver. Dallas holds the record as the youngest driver to win the Iditarod, having won it in 2012 at the age of 25.
Becoming a commercial airline pilot requires a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication. No one knows that better than First Officer Marlon Dayes, whose journey to the Compass flight deck was fraught with challenges. “Whenever I tell other pilots about how I got here, a lot of them get emotional and express how proud they are of me,” Marlon says.
Marlon was born in Jamaica, where he was raised by a single mother. “We didn’t have much, but my mother always told me to believe, because we would find a way.” When Marlon was five, he took his first airplane ride to the United States. The pilots showed him the cockpit, and he was hooked. He was going to be a pilot. He would find a way.
Six years ago, Marlon moved to the United States, where he hoped to find a better life and study aviation. Eventually, all of the pieces fell into place, and he was given the opportunity to study aviation at Florida Institute of Technology.
“At first, I struggled to find the finances for school, but many miracles and blessings fell upon me, allowing me to receive world class aviation training.”
After finishing his degree in Aviation Management with an airline pilot focus, Marlon reached ATP minimums by working as a flight instructor at FIT Aviation, LLC, a flight school affiliated with his alma mater.
When the time came to apply for a commercial airline job, Marlon knew that he wanted to fly the Embraer 175, which made his decision to interview with Compass an easy one. Now he’s a Los Angeles-based First Officer, flying the Embraer 175 in some of the world’s busiest air space. As a new commercial pilot, one of his biggest challenges was learning to follow Air Traffic Control’s speed assignments, then slowing down quickly and configuring for landing. “Flying commercially has taught me to plan way ahead, as well as to think and react faster,” he remarked.
One of the things about Compass that impresses Marlon the most is its commitment to safety.”It’s in my DNA now to always make safety my number one priority. The safety culture at Compass is amazing.”
While Marlon admits that it was challenging to adjust to the Embraer 175 after flight instructing in a light twin engine aircraft, his fellow pilots have mentored him every step of the way and are committed to his success.
I’ve had very good mentors. Compass is my first real crew environment, and I’ve been blessed to fly with good Captains that value teamwork, as well as my input. Starting my flying career here at Compass has been nothing short of a dream come true.”
One of the best things about working in the airline industry is the travel benefits. Airline employees are fortunate to have a wide range of affordable air fare options available to them, ranging from free domestic travel, to heavily discounted international travel. As a result, airline families tend to travel a lot, and children from airline families often develop a love for travel at young age. When those children grow into teenagers afflicted by wanderlust, they can spend up to two weeks in another country as part of a special program for airline families called the International Youth Exchange.
The International Youth Exchange pairs up teens from airline families in different countries and gives them each the opportunity to spend two weeks with the family they are matched with. After a participant spends two weeks with a host family, they return home, and the teen they were matched with stays with them for two weeks.
Participants are matched based on similarities in age, gender, and interests, as well as where they would like to visit. Available locations include the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia. After the teens are matched and dates are decided, the participants communicate with one another so that they can get to know each other, as well as decide what activities they would like to do during their summer exchange.
The International Youth Exchange is the brainchild of Camille Wheeler, a retired Northwest Airlines employee, and the mother of Compass Airlines Captain Aaron Wheeler. Camille is the mother of four, and international travel for a family of six can be expensive, even with pass benefits. On the International Youth Exchange website, Camille explains that the program was born from her desire for her children to be able to affordably travel abroad, learn different languages, and experience new cultures. Aaron says that his mom first got the idea for the program when his family took a trip to France when he was younger. She was looking for different options to avoid hotel costs, and began making connections with other airline families abroad.
Camille soon realized that there were other airline families all over the world who were interested in affordable international travel opportunities for their children. The program slowly began to take shape. Teens could fly overseas using their parents’ pass privileges, and stay for free for two weeks with an airline host family. Then the teens would switch, and a teen from host family could visit the other teen’s home during a separate two week visit.
In 1994, Camille connected with a Swiss Air gate agent in Geneva, Switzerland, and young Aaron became the first participant in the International Youth Exchange program. He was matched with a Swiss teen, Greg Cunnet, who was around the same age, and shared his interests. “When Greg came to visit, we just hung out, played baseball and biked,” Aaron recalls. When Aaron and Greg first met, Greg was only beginning to learn English. “Since he grew up traveling in airplanes, he would always read the safety instructions. In fact, the first time that we met, all he could say in English was, ‘Fast-ten-seat-belt.'”
After Greg stayed with his family, Aaron visited Geneva and stayed with Greg’s family. Aaron recalls mostly doing things that were familiar to him from back home. “We went swimming, biked around town, and even played Monopoly. Even a young age, I was struck by how we had more in common than not, even though we lived so far apart.” Aaron and Greg continued to visit each other for 7 years through the program, and are still friends. “We still visit each other when we can,” Aaron said. “I even went to his wedding about a year and a half ago.”
The International Youth Exchange has come a long way from its one inaugural participant in 1994. It has since placed over 6,000 students in exchanges. “In 1994,” jokes Aaron, “we just had a single fax machine running twenty-four-seven. We would get applications from Europe in the middle of the night! But now, applicants can apply online.”
Aaron continues to help his mother with the program, who is now devoted to it full-time. “I actually matched a young boy from Minneapolis,” recalls Aaron, “and his mom happened to be my gate agent for a while. Every couple of months, we would bump into each other, and she would say how much her son enjoyed the experience.” He recounts another story from years ago, in which a young person was matched up with a family in Seattle. The father of the family flew for an airline in the area. The program participant loved Seattle so much, that years later, he got in touch with the father and ended up working for that same airline.
Aaron’s experiences with the International Youth Exchange have stayed with him through the years, and he encourages other airline families to take advantage of the opportunities for travel and friendship that the program offers. “I truly believe that there is no better way to experience another country than with someone your own age,” he says.
The International Youth Exchange is currently accepting applications for new exchanges. Visit their website to learn more and apply online.
Wings Of Rescue is an animal transport charity that flies animals from shelters with high-intake rates to no-kill shelters in other areas that have waiting lists for adoptable pets. The program, which utilizes Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, is always looking for qualified pilots to transport the animals to their new homes. Some of the pets that are pulled from the original shelters for transport are already scheduled for euthanasia and have only hours left to live.
Los Angeles-based First Officer Alexei Tsekoun started flying for Wings Of Rescue in 2015, and is an ardent supporter of its mission. “I’ve always been very passionate about animals,” Alexei said. “They may not be human, but we’re saving their lives. Without bringing them to another area, they would be put down.”
Alexi later introduced fellow Compass pilot Cassandra Shultz to the organization. Cassandra, an animal lover who had always wanted to fly the Pilatus PC-12, knew immediately that Wings of Rescue would be a perfect fit for her. “Interacting with animals is important to me, but I don’t have a pet because I’m always traveling for work,” Cassandra explains. “I knew that this would be an opportunity for me to combine two things that I love – animals and flying.”
Alexei says that his most memorable experience thus far with Wings of Rescue was the time that he few a large, injured dog to Seattle. “It really sticks in my mind, because of the medical attention that it needed,” he recalled. “It was such a large dog, and severely abused. Its leg was broken and in a cast.” He was relieved that he was taking this dog away from a situation where it was being abused to a new life where it could receive the love that it deserved.
Cassandra’s most memorable rescue was the first one that she participated in. During that trip, she transported around 90 dogs and cats from Salt Lake City to just outside of Denver. In addition to encountering some of the worst weather she’d ever experienced as a pilot, the trip was also incredibly eye-opening. In a post on Wings of Rescue’s blog, she relates how the importance of her mission really sank in when she realized that all of the animals that she was transporting were scheduled for euthanasia. “This wasn’t about my love for cute things or flying cool airplanes. This was immensely more meaningful. This was about salvation.”
Wings Of Rescue is always looking for pilots qualified to fly PC-12 aircraft to help transport animals. However, Alexei points out that there are many other ways that non-pilots can help out. “They always need help loading and unloading the animals on flights, cleaning cages, and even donating money can help. Flying BC-12s around the country isn’t exactly cheap.” One of the easiest ways to give is by shopping on Amazon via Wings of Rescue’s AmazonSmile link. Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchases to Wings Of Rescue.
For more information on how you can get involved, click here.