Is Airline Flying For Me?
Flying|April 2018

A REALITY CHECK FOR THE ASPIRING PROFESSIONAL PILOT

Sam Weigel

The sun is shining and the fish are calling, but it’s online catch-up day on Windbird. We spent the past week at beautiful, isolated Conception Island, Bahamas: No people, no internet — it was heaven on earth. The news headlines that greeted Dawn and me upon our return made us wish we’d stayed a little longer, but at least my current task of responding to reader email is a pleasant one. This often includes correspondence from prospective professional pilots, and today there are two such inquiries in my inbox. One is from a 42-year-old private pilot and potential career-changer, and the other from a young woman in her junior year at my alma mater, the University of North Dakota. They both want my take on the regional airline industry today, and one’s chances of advancing to the major airlines in an expeditious manner.

Ask 10 airline pilots about such matters and you’ll likely get a dozen different responses. Mine is but one opinion, and not necessarily any more enlightened than anyone else’s; I get asked for it merely by dint of writing a column that often deals with aviation careers. Mind you, prospective pilots who reach out are doing the right thing by establishing contacts and asking questions early on, a practice that will serve them well throughout their careers. That said, my opinions are inevitably tinged with the biases inherent to my own career path and the post-9/11 era in which I built my time and paid my dues.

I sometimes wonder if we — meaning myself, other aviation writers and the flight-training industry — do prospective pilots a disfavor by focusing so much on the airlines. True, that’s where many of the best-paying flying jobs are, and it is retirements at the major airlines that are driving turnover and hiring throughout the entire industry. But airline flying and the airline lifestyle aren’t for everyone, and there are a lot of other great ways to make a living in and around airplanes. A square peg will never be happy in a round hole, and I suspect that basic incompatibility has been responsible for most of the unhappy co-workers I’ve encountered. Before committing to an airline career and heading down that particular path, I think the prospective pilot needs to take a really honest look at what is actually involved, as well as their own personality and preferences.

THE FLYING

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