When people think airline pilots, they think glamor and high pay. The reality is far from the current myth circulating. You see, my husband has been an airline pilot for ten years, and his experiences eventually made him retire from it. This is what he had to say about being an airline pilot:
An airline pilot’s job is demanding, not glamorous, filled with stress and long periods away from home. Pilots are responsible for everyone aboard their airplane and the people aboard any nearby aircraft. Most pilots work for small or mid-sized regional airlines, and earn considerably less than their major airline counterparts.
The Airline Industry
The airline industry is volatile, pilot layoffs are common and unpredictable. During the industry’s heyday from the early nineteen fifties until the mid-seventies, most pilots flew for the same company for years, then retired comfortably. Airline deregulation under the Carter Administration threw the airlines into a tumultuous bankruptcy and merger cycle. Today’s pilots have no job security and little or no pensions.
The Typical Day of an Airline Pilot
There is no typical day for an airline pilot. Weather, equipment failures, rescheduled flights, regulations, and piles of paper work can mean a day that started at 3:00AM in one time zone might not end until after midnight in another. If you fly a small turboprop for a commuter airline, you could spend fourteen to sixteen hours on duty and fly ten or more takeoffs and landings per day. If you work for a major airline, you could make a sixteen hour crossing of the Pacific Ocean in one flight. Some days you might sit at the airport for ten hours, get a last minute summons from crew scheduling to fly from Denver to Eugen, Oregon, spend a brief eight hours in a rundown motel and then get up at 4:00 AM to fly back. All that on the one overpriced airport sandwich you had at noon the day before, plus you only got paid for the time you operated the airplane.
Airline pilots must deal with many occupational hazards. Exposure to solar radiation from long hours in the upper atmosphere and contact with many carcinogenic chemicals raises their cancer risks. They have a high rate of Deep Vascular Thrombosis, blood clots that form in the lower legs and can travel to the heart or brain, because they must sit for long periods. The divorce rate is very high. A significant percentage suffer depression, alcoholism, and PTSD although the exact numbers are unknown. Pilots are reluctant to seek help because the FAA may revoke their license for any reports of such problems. Pilots have been assaulted by unruly passengers and the threat of terrorism adds significant stress to an already stressful job.
While the rewards are not what they once were and many leave the industry before retirement, pilots persevere despite the industry’s woes. They like the challenge, discipline and satisfaction of a difficult job done well. Besides, the view from the office can’t be beat.