Airline Pilot’s Life: How Is It Really Like? Pros & Cons

pilot's life
Photo credit: oakk_pn

Being a pilot is a dream job for many. But apart from spending their days in the skies and earning quite a decent salary, because it is so different from any other job, a pilot’s life can be pretty hard to imagine.

So let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Does a pilot have a social life: family life, private life?

Yes, but not weekends, and don’t take having birthdays or Christmas off for granted.

Because of the unusual working schedules, pilots don’t usually get the luxury of weekends off, so they can’t count on that Sunday lunch with the family and holidays are not something that they can count on at a time that suits them.

As rosters are only issued month by month, it can be quite difficult to plan long term important events and it’s very annoying if you have to miss them.

So, yes, pilots do have a social life but it’s not one that the average person would understand.

Colleagues, roommates, and friends

pilots in cockpit
Photo credit: teeetu

Their irregular schedules may be the reason why they have a lot of friends who are pilots or who also work in the aviation industry.

Some pilots share a crashpad near the airport.

This is what they call an apartment in their base city, a place that they may use for only a few days a month, such as when they have to commute the night before a trip or for those days when they are “on-call”.

If they don’t share a crashpad, a lot of pilots meet during layovers or at the training or re-current course, so a lot of them can become good friends.

Weekly activities

It’s difficult to commit to any weekly activity that is the same day every week because they never hold the same days off.

So if they are wanting to take Spanish classes or, dancing or cooking lessons, they can often only do that by paying for private tuition.

Soccer or singing in a band? Forget it. It’s just not possible when you are made unreliable by your continually changing schedule.

Girlfriends, sex and affairs with flight attendants

They don’t get to see their girlfriend too often, especially if they don’t live together, or if they live in different cities.

Depending on their personal schedules, they can be away for up to 15 days at a time, so considering that the other person also has a life, they probably won’t get a lot of time together.

But of course, it’s possible to have a girlfriend.

Actually, I would say most pilots do quite well in relationships and actually do have a girlfriend or wife.

Having a healthy sex life is a bit easier when you are a pilot, at least, it seems to be.

Pilots have a reputation for the ease with which they pick up girls and there is some truth to that.

And affairs with flight attendants?

Look, it happens just like in any other job. Pilots and flight attendants spend a lot of time together when they are working on the plane, in the hotel at the destination, or waiting together for hours for a delayed flight.

So there is ample opportunity for liaisons to develop and affairs to happen.

But, like I said, it’s not much different from any other job in that aspect.

Pros and Cons of a pilot’s life

As in all other jobs being a pilot has advantages and disadvantages, it’s not all fun.

To help you know more and to evaluate all aspects of a pilot’s life, here are some pros and cons.

pilots life pros and cons

PROS

  1. Salary: the pilot salary can be higher or lower depending on the airline, country, and category (First officer or Captain). And though many people complain about the entry-level contracts because they are very low, they do get better within a few years.
    According to research conducted by Glassdoor, in 5 years you can be earning $100,000 a year if you are upgraded to Captain, and that’s hard to beat.
  2. A lot of free time: despite their schedule, pilots get a lot of time off, unlike many other professions.
    This allows them the flexibility to pursue their hobbies or to do whatever they want.
  3. Layovers: You can end up with layovers in wonderful places like the Caribbean and you will definitely be visiting countries and places that you never would have done otherwise.
pilot deck view
Layover in paradise! (Photo credit: teeetu)
  1. Job perks: cheap/free flights for you and your partner, family and friends, and even hotel discounts.
  2. Seniority: Once you gain seniority in your airline you can normally get better schedules and work more or less what you want. The quality of life is better and so are the pay increases.
  3. Awesome views from the flight deck: The views pilots get are priceless, always different and breathtaking.
    Many pilots are into photography and they have amazing sunset photographs, northern light photos or –  my favorite – pictures of planes zipping past above or below them.
  4. You never bring your work home: When you walk out of the airport at the end of your trip, you are truly done working. That is a very, very, big plus.
  5. Live and work in any country you would like.
  6. Social respect: it may sound silly, but people in general respect you more. Embrace it.
  7. It’s never a routine life, every day is different.
    The people, the crew you fly with, the destination, the route, the landscape, the schedule, everything is different every day.
  8. New colleagues/friends: you meet a lot of crew that share the same passion for travel as you and you can share advice on tips about where to go and what to do.
  9. The hottest job: Being a pilot can be very attractive to women, no wonder it’s the most right-swiped job in Tinder!
  10. Getting paid for doing what you love doing: flying and traveling.

CONS

  1. Big initial investment for the course: From $70,000 to $130,000 and no job guarantee.
    Becoming a pilot isn’t cheap. And starting salaries are quite low.
    Plus it’s not so easy to find a job at the beginning.
  2. The possibility of losing your medical certificate. The greatest fear among pilots: Lose your medical certificate for whatever health reason and you’ll lose your pilot license too, which automatically means losing your job.
    This can be tough, depending on your age or your personal situation.
  3. Health concerns: Long working days, irregular sleeping patterns, plus being constantly traveling can take a toll on health.
    You may think crewmembers are used to all that but nobody gets really used to jet lag or having to get up at 4 a.m.
  4. Other pilot health risks: Pilots and flight attendants are exposed to cosmic radiation, which in the long term can cause cancer and also to toxic cabin air, which has been linked to cancer, neurological problems, and fatigue.
  5. Starting all over with a new airline: When you change airline or you lose your job at an airline, you have to start all over again at the very bottom, with an entry-level salary, and a lousy schedule for years.
  6. A lot of stress: dealing with pressure for on-time departures, the storms, coordinating with maintenance, the dispatcher, flying non-rev (on standby basis) to commute to work, the big responsibility, ATC delays, and fatigue are all stress triggers.
  7. Delays: Not only is there less resting time or less time to enjoy at destination, but you also don’t get paid while you’re not flying.
    Plus dealing with angry passengers while you can’t do anything about it’s not the greatest fun in the world.
pilots waiting at airport
Delays are part of a pilot’s life… (photo credit: Sgt. Pepper57)
  1. Missing family or important events: You cannot be guaranteed to have a certain day off.
    There’s nothing worse than getting to the hotel in Portland at 1 pm for a 24 hour overnight with a crew you don’t even like and knowing you can’t be with your friends and family at your friend’s wedding.
  2. Being sent to a base you hate: You can be based somewhere that you don’t want to go and you’ll have to move there (away from your family and friends) and have to commute home on your days off to get away from your hated base (which can involve sitting at the airport for hours to catch your flight home after a long day working) or have the unpleasant alternative of staying where you are and having a lonely time.
  3. Traveling to the same places get less exciting with time: Once you’ve stayed at the same destination many times it gets less exciting, plus sometimes you only have 10 hours rest there, so your only option is just to stay in the hotel room doing nothing.
  4. Schedules can make it difficult to have a normal life. Being on reserve is one of the worst things of all, because you can’t really plan anything as you might have to leave.
    So you are sitting around and waiting for the airline to call you and tell you where to go and pack, and you have to be able to report to work within 1 hour 30. Sometimes is better to have a tough line, because at least you know when you finish.

These are my views on the Pros and the Cons on life as an airline pilot. But remember that: being a pilot is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle choice.

I hope to have helped you evaluate your career options.

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