I first met Romain Carre when I was traveling in eastern Ukraine, back in April right before civil war broke out in Donetsk. It’s a lot easier for a travel blogger like myself to stay conspicuous with this small camera in my hands but for professionals like Romain, photographing times of turmoil is much more dangerous. In Romain’s own words,
Born in Paris in 1983 I was first was into computers from the age of 10 and changed direction at 20. After different orientations (such as art school, medical school and faculty of history) I decided to orient myself on the field of photojournalism. During five years I’ve covered different fields such as Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Libya, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and others, mainly focusing on conflict fields. You can see some of my photography from these places on my site, RomainCarre.com.
Leave your questions for Romain in the comments below, he’ll be by later today to answer anything you want to know!
Romain’s work has been published in Al Jazeera, ParisMatch, VSD, Time, Elle, Le Figaro, Le Monde, le Parisien, Vesti Reporter, and FranceTv – he’s also worked for WostokPress and Sipa Agency. He’s currently in Kiev, Ukraine and will be here live chatting for two hours, from 12pm-2pm US EST to answer any and all questions you have about photographing conflict zones – all in the comments below!
I first read about Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis MMEDSci., PhD, FACSM in The Sports Gene, a book by David Epstein about what makes super athletes different than the majority of us. Dr. Pitsiladis is a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton who has done research on obesity and the detection of doping in athletes but his passion is running. He travels around the world studying the genes and environments of the world’s top runners (often on his own dime) and created the largest known DNA bio-bank from world-class athletes.
Additionally, Dr. Pitsiladis must deal with a severe fear of flying before boarding planes to places like Jamaica and Kenya. Dr. Pitsiladis was kind enough to answer a few questions about facing his anxiety to research the fastest people on Earth.
What is the extent of your fear of flying?
I typically have to ingest alcohol to board the flight. I cannot work, especially when there is turbulence. I also have to sit at the window and spend most of the time looking outside even in the dark. I only fly with certain airlines and often choose to drive long distances especially in Africa so as not to take local airlines. As a scientist this makes no sense as I am aware of the data.
How often do you travel and what is an average year like for you?
I travel typically every week of the year.
[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis with 4-time Olympic medalist Herb McKenley of Jamaica.]
Has all of this flying changed your anxiety, for better or worse?
I go through ups and downs depending on how bad/good the previous experience is but mainly depending on the airline and weather. On a British Airways flight on good weather my anxiety is low. On a Russian airliner in bad weather my anxiety is sky high! My anxiety is also very high when my family travel with me although I do my best to hide it so as not to pass on my fear to them – often without success.
There’s a saying that there is no greater enemy than one’s own fears, what about your research motivates you to overcome yours regularly?
Yes totally. I never let it stop me flying with a few African examples where i will drive 7 hours to avoid a 30 min flight across the Great Rift Valley.
[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis sampling blood in Africa.]
I’m fascinated by descriptions of the Champs [Jamaica’s annual high school sprinting competition] and would like to hear your impressions or favorite memories from the events you’ve attended.
The atmosphere, especially when the victorious school is clear, which is more exciting than an Olympics – even the 100m final day at the Olympics.
Which runner(s) have been the most difficult for you to reach due to travel constraints?
For data protection i cannot answer.
Finally, where are you headed next?
To break the 2 hour marathon barrier…
Thank you again Dr. Pitsiladis for taking the time to share some of your experiences in the air and catching the fleet-footed on the ground. You can read more about Dr. Pitsiladis’ research on why people of east African descent seem to always win marathons, Jamaicans excel at sprinting, plus studies done by others in a fascinating book I highly recommend, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance.
The other day I posted on Facebook an article of mine answering the question, ‘do you need a Pacsafe to protect valuables while traveling?’ – and reader Armanda added they can help prevent your bag straps from getting caught on belt loaders. Armanda is a part-time ramp agent at a regional international airport in the northeast United States as well as a full-time student studying Hospitality and Tourism Management. She was kind enough to answer a few more questions about her job plus some insights into how are bags really are handled once out of passenger sight.
What exactly is a ramp agent?
The responsibilities of a ramp agent can vary greatly from airport to airport and airline to airline. I work in a smaller regional airport, so we do quite a lot. We are responsible for sorting as well as loading and unloading the baggage and cargo on the planes. We also make sure the flight crew gets the necessary paperwork they need and call the city for fuel and/or lavatory services, and deicing (these are all handled by the city ramp workers at my airport and not the individual airlines ramp agents). We make sure flight attendants get ice and any other supplies they may need (not including catering services at my station). We also marshal the planes in and out plus wing walk. We are also responsible for cleaning, searching, and securing the planes that stay overnight at the airport to make up the outbound flights in the morning.
I always tell people, that we’re a lot like a NASCAR pit crew. When we have a plane on the ground we have a lot of things to get done in a short amount of time (barring delays), and safety is always our top concern.
In larger airports, a ramp agent is usually assigned to any one of the tasks I mentioned, and will do that same task for their entire shift. The job can be very stressful and very physically taxing, and at my particular airline, we make just above minimum wage. Most of us keep the job as a second part-time job for the flying benefits. With my airline, we fly stand-by for free! As well as our immediate family members. However, every airline is different, and every airport is different. Some airlines contract out their groundwork.
What is an average day like?
Once again, every airport is different. At my airport, in the summer months when our flight schedule practically doubles, the days are usually crazy. There are always many, many things going on at once, and communication and attention to safety are critical. One of the things that I love about this job is that every day is different, and you just never know how it’s going to play out. Some days your planes come in early, and everything runs smoothly and you get out early. Other days all of your planes are delayed, and nothing runs smoothly and you end up getting stuck two, three, four, or more hours longer than your scheduled shift. It can be grueling at times, working in the elements under high stress, and you’re not always able to take a break for a snack or a drink.
In the winter months, we have fewer flights and shorter shifts and a lot more down time, but we also have snow, ice, and brutally cold temperatures to work in and around making things a bit tricky! We also have pretty continuous computer training that we need to keep up to date on. The amount of training varies based on how many different types of aircraft your station services.
How bad (or well) are bags actually treated?
I cannot speak for every airport, but it has been my experience that bags aren’t treated as badly as people think. However, things happen. You have to keep in mind, that we are almost always under time constrictions, and we can’t place every bag carefully on the baggage cart, or on the belt, or in the bin, there’s just no time. I can only imagine that in bigger airports, this is even more so. Most of the time we have to work very quickly.
What is the most fragile thing you would consider packing? Anything we definitely shouldn’t put in a check-in bag?
As far as checked-in luggage goes, I wouldn’t put anything in your bag that you wouldn’t want to lose. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns. Having worked in an airport, it is clear to me how easily a bag can get lost or damaged, I am actually surprised it doesn’t happen more often! Especially in the larger airports that deal with hundreds or more flights a day.
I know that is not what people want to hear, but if you want to be safe, don’t check anything you wouldn’t want to lose. Definitely don’t check medications, it amazes me how many people make that mistake and then get mad at us.
I also would avoid checking liquids/lotions/etc. or anything breakable. I would absolutely recommend a suitcase with a hard case exterior. These hold up much better, are easier to stack, and have no straps that get hung up on belt loaders, or other bags leading to damage or getting lost. They also protect your clothing and whatnot from the elements. Your bag will definitely be spending time outside and we don’t always have enough covered carts to go around.
How much time or contact do ramp agents have with a single bag?
Again, it varies from airport to airport. But at my airport, I and/or other ramp agents will handle your bag at least two times, possibly more if there are delays and passengers change flights, or if flights are cancelled. At larger airports baggage goes through a much more complicated system, however, I am not familiar with this.
Anything travelers probably don’t know, but should, about checking in luggage?
I strongly suggest using baggage with as few straps, pockets, and zippers as possible. These are constantly getting hung up on equipment and other bags causing damage, and adding a safety hazard to our work environment. Just last week I was lifting a gate checked bag over my head to pass to another co-worker and the arm strap fell down and smacked me in the eye, luckily my eye was not scratched!
If you have to travel with a bag that has a lot of straps and pockets such as a hiking pack on a backpacking trip, find a way to at least keep the straps contained so they wont get caught up in equipment. The other thing I see all the time is car seats being checked as they are. You definitely want to put car seats in some sort of container, a garbage bag at the very least. The straps always always get caught on something, and a car seat is definitely not something you want to be compromised.
Strollers as well, make sure the straps are secured and tucked away before checking them. Ask the counter agents if you need to, they should have packing tape, zip ties, or garbage bags. However, it is best to be prepared upon arrival. Another thing is, pay attention to the weight restrictions of your bag. I see handles get ripped off pretty regularly simply because they are not designed to carry the amount of weight that has been stuffed in the bag. The same goes for zippers, if they are busting at the seams because you have stuffed as much as you possibly can in them, they will more than likely bust at the seams, and your clothing, shoes, etc. will end up all over the ramp, or the bin of the plane, or the carousel.
Pack light, pack secure, and pack smart! Don’t let luggage ruin your adventures!
Thank you again Armanda for sharing your advise, experience and expertise with us!
Turkish food is disproportionately represented by doner and other kebab varieties in the minds of many. Although it’s not immediately evident eating out around Istanbul’s bright Istiklal Caddesi, most dishes served in Turkish homes are vegetable-based. You might not remember the name of that spicy pepper paste or know how to work magic with lentils but my live chat guest has the answers to your kitchen questions.
Hulya Polat is an award-winning international broadcaster who managed to feed me growing up while working the demanding schedule of a journalist. A lot of Turkish dishes that seem complex (stuffed grape leaves; zeytinyağlı dolma) or excessively time consuming (lentil balls; mercimek köftesi) have tricks she’ll teach you so they’re easier to prepare.
The chat is open today, August 28th from 7:30pm-9:30pm US EST (11:30pm-1:30am GMT). Thanks everyone for participating!
You can eat around the world but often nothing we find on the road replaces our favorite meals we ate as children. My mom will be here for two hours today to help you with recipes, options for vegan-vegetarians, plus what dishes to look for to eat healthy in Turkey (yes, it’s possible!) I’ll also be joining – mostly to make sure there aren’t any embarrassing stories about me. Everything takes place in the comments below so don’t be shy, we look forward to hearing from you.