Why did you decide to write this blog? I guess there are several reasons I decided to write this blog. First, I wanted to answer a lot of the questions I commonly get about what it’s like to be an airline pilot. Second, I love aviation and travel so much that I wanted to find a creative way to interactively share that passion with other people like you. And third, by creating a community of fellow aviation and travel lovers, I hope I’m able to learn from the stories and suggestions you share with me. This blog is definitely every bit as much about you as it is me, and that back-and-forth is what I really look forward to experiencing here.
How is this blog set up? Except for a few very rare exceptions, I will be posting new blogs every Monday and Thursday. New entries will be posted around 4AM Eastern time so you can enjoy reading this blog with your morning coffee, over your lunch hour, in the evening or anytime in between. I hope you will find my posts informative as well as entertaining, and if you have any questions or suggestions for me, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should also know that all the content on this website is mine and mine alone, that I am not sponsored or endorsed by any airline, and that my views do not represent the views of any airline with whom I either was or currently am associated.
Where can we send questions and comments? The best place to reach us is either on the blog itself or by emailing email@example.com. I am working on building a facebook page and would love to connect with you there in the very near future. I love hearing from you and I need your help in order to keep this blog fresh, easy to use, and engaging. So don’t be shy! Email away.
How do you become a pilot? The easy answer to this question is to take lessons! In the civilian world, almost anyone that is in relatively good health can take flying lessons and most likely earn their private pilot wings in a matter of only a few months. An additional instrument rating allows you to fly in the clouds. For most non-professional pilots, those are the only licenses needed. To become a commercial pilot, however, requires more extensive training, more licenses and, most of all, more flight experience. While corporate flight departments vary in their hiring minimums, when it comes to the airlines I’d say that most regional airlines require at least 1000-1500 flight hours or so for new pilots. To gain employment with a major airline, you most likely need quite a few years of experience as a regional pilot with at least one year or more of regional airline captain experience. I was the “lucky” guy who was in the right spot at the right time for almost every step of my flying career. From day one of my first flight lesson to the day I was hired by a major carrier was almost seven years. My gut says that most people take several years longer than me to do that, and there are also probably some other “lucky” people who can do it even quicker.
Do you need any particular type of education? To become an airline pilot, you don’t necessarily need a particular type of college degree; however, most airlines do require a college degree of some kind. Airlines seem to be most interested in the type of flying experience you have, so they often select candidates based on whether or not they have the required flight certificates (Commercial Pilot, Multi-Engine, Airline Transport Pilot, etc.), the total number of flying hours accumulated, and the types of previous flying experiences (flight instruction, charter, airline, and so on). That said, there are plenty of universities that offer aviation specific degrees such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of North Dakota, Purdue University, and Auburn University to name a few. In addition to an excellent aviation education, these schools generally have extensive networks within the industry and also offer competitive internships that can prove invaluable to gaining premier aviation jobs. As for me, I earned a BS in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an MBA from the Pennsylvania State University Smeal College of Business.
What type of airplanes do you fly? My first regional airliner was the Saab 340B turboprop. After about a year and a half, I moved to the Embraer Regional Jet. My first assignment at a major airline was to fly the Boeing 757 and 767. I spent almost five years flying the 757/767 primarily between the U.S. and Europe and I absolutely loved the airplane. Unfortunately, the schedule required me to fly at night and across a large number of time zones on a regular basis so I decided to try the Boeing 737 which flies mostly within North and Central America.
What is your schedule like? Airline schedules vary greatly. In general, airline pilots are limited by federal regulations as to the number of hours they can fly in a month. On average, I’d guess that most airline pilots fly between 70 and 90 hours per month. Junior pilots may do anywhere from 3-6 shorter flights per day while senior pilots on long-haul airplanes flying routes like New York City to Hong Kong may do only a handful of trips per month. Some trips are day trips, or “turns” (for example, a day trip could be Chicago – Orlando – Chicago), while others may be two, three, four or even five-day trips (or longer). The variety is really incredible and there are plusses and minuses to all types. Day trips can often bring long days, but you’re home every night. Longer trips may give you enough time to explore amazing cities and pack in more flying in fewer days, but you are away from home for days at a time. One thing is for certain: EVERYTHING in the airline business is dependent on a pilot’s seniority. From the quality of the schedules pilots fly to the specific times of the year they may take vacation, seniority rules. Look for many blogs in the future to cover aspects of a pilot’s schedule and life on the road.
What’s the coolest part about being an airline pilot? Hands down, the best part about being a pilot is having an office with an absolutely amazing view! I cannot even begin to count the number of unbelievably gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that I’ve seen or the spectacular aerial views of mountain ranges and city skylines. No two days are ever the same. Flying totally changes your perspective on the world…and on life. The world shrinks while opportunities grow. You meet new people and see new places. And for all of the differences that exist culturally or otherwise, you start to realize that the peoples of this world aren’t so different after all.
How much money can airline pilots make? This is probably one of the greatest myths of airline flying. The news media consistently cites statistics claiming that airline pilots earn $200,000 or more each year. While it may be true that senior major airline pilots can earn that much, a far greater number of airline pilots earn substantially lower wages. Regional airline pilots, who now represent a significant percentage of all airline pilot jobs, earn far lower wages. Most co-pilots at a regional airline will start off earning approximately $20,000 with the most senior regional airline captains topping out near $100,000. One of my favorite websites for researching and comparing pilot pay and benefits is Airline Pilot Central. I think you’ll find a lot of great info there, so check it and our other links out!
What’s the hardest part about being an airline pilot? Without question, the hardest part of being an airline pilot is dealing with the strange schedule and the constant changing of time zones. One morning you are up at 3AM for a 6AM departure. A day or two later you don’t even start your day until 11PM or later. And even when the flights occur at more “normal” hours, you may find yourself in a distant time zone which may mean that the “normal” time isn’t normal for your body at all. The key is developing an ability to basically sleep on command so that when you have time to sleep you can sleep and when you need to be awake you are awake and alert. Trust me, it is much harder than it may seem. With the lives of several hundred or even just a few people in your hands, you must take that responsibility very seriously. I do, and I know my colleagues do, too. Additionally, I’d say that being away from family for half the month or more is very tough, especially for those left at home. As a single person, it was great to travel and be on the road all the time. But now that I’m married, I love and miss my wife, Jen, when I’m gone and so I find that being home is more and more important every day.
Where’s your favorite city to visit? This a nearly impossible question to answer because the more you travel the more you realize that you love every city for its own unique characteristics. If I had to narrow down the list, I’d pick the following cities. Domestically, I’d say that first is Chicago. It is a city that always makes me feel alive. From the great food and friendly people to the beautiful skyline and Midwestern charm, Chicago seems to have it all. Second, San Francisco. There’s a reason this city on the bay has one of the highest costs of living in the country—because it’s worth it! No other U.S. city is as scenic in my opinion. Third, Washington, D.C. Our nation’s capital is filled with more parks, monuments and museums than you can probably ever visit in a lifetime…but it’s definitely worth a try! Internationally, my list of favorites would include London for its amazing mix of old and new, Berlin for its reminders about the power of freedom and opportunity, and Tokyo for its politeness, cleanliness and incredible culture. Truthfully, the list is far longer…but that’s the best I can do today to narrow it down.