Traverse City Native and International Cargo Pilot Shares Birds Eye Perspective of Pandemic

While planes around the world are grounded, cargo pilots are literally pulling their weight during this pandemic.

Traverse City native Captain Kelly Lepley pilots a B-747 freighter for UPS and moves shipments from Asia to the United States and beyond.Kelly Selfie In Cockpit

Lately, she’s been carrying medical supplies and other precious cargo.

“PPE, nasal swabs, all kinds of stuff that we normally do not carry.” said Lepley, whose runs include stops in China, Thailand, India, Germany and Hong Kong.

Her plane averages about 300,000 pounds of cargo and her work can involve travels that span a week or more. While globetrotting has been part of the job since she started in 2005, the usual busy air space has been radio-silent lately.
Plane Being Loaded

“As we would fly over that airspace in Asia we’d be the only people talking on the radio,” said Lepley. “Even in the middle of night there’s [usually] a lot of chatter between the controllers and the airplanes, but we would be going across China and we would be one of just a few airplanes the whole trip.”

Lepley’s a regular at some of the world’s busiest airports but lately, they’ve been quiet too. Between flights, she enjoys sight-seeing, but now, she has to be quarantined inside her hotel room when she’s off the clock.

City From The Sky

“Pretty much we would get off airplanes we were escorted to our rooms,” said Lepley. “You know after flying an eight, 10, 12 hour trip, you’re exhausted and now you’re having to go through and answer questionnaires, you have to get your temperature check.”Thermometer In Hotel

On board, UPS has ramped up cleaning routines dramatically, and Lepley is provided a mask for every flight. Plus, Lepley and her crew face multiple medical screenings in every city they visit.

She is one of the rare people with a true bird’s eye view of the pandemic, and says it will be a while before air travel returns to “normal.”

“I think you’ll probably be at some time before we kind of see traffic, the way that it was back pre-pandemic,” said Lepley. “Some of the countries just are not even providing any international travel at the moment until they figure out what is going to happen how are they going to be able to contain it.”

For now, she’s thankful she can help connect the world with the supplies they need to keep going.

“It’s part of the White House global initiative to help provide services to countries and around the world,” said Lepley. “To be able to do something to give back to those who need it, it’s been truly a humbling experience at this point in time.”

Categories: Coronavirus