Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Airline Pilot - Let's flip the coin

(Author unknown)

I think of flying as rather like being in a long-term relationship. There's the initial 'wow' factor of falling in love, followed by a honeymoon period where we regard our new passion with starry-eyed wonderment. This wears off as the costs and aggravations begin to mount, but the love - the reason we got into it in the first place - remains. For some people the downsides are simply too many and too great, and they end up walking away. For those who stick at it, the relationship tends to be permanent.

I got into flying because I had a very comfortable day job which paid the bills but bored me silly, coupled with three hours' commuting to and from London, which I found excruciating. The yen to do something new led me to a trial lesson and I promptly fell in love. Very early on I decided I wanted to fly as a career - the lure of being paid to do my hobby was irresistible.

The trials and tribulations were there from the outset, and are familiar to anyone with a PPL - weather cancellations, financial struggles, frustration at the sheer cost of it all, exams that seem like pointless hoop-jumping exercises. Later on came the stress of commercial training, and the pressure of knowing that simple mistakes could (and did) cost thousands of pounds. After the elation of passing the IR comes the realisation that you are just one of many, many 200hr CPLs, and the struggle to find your first job. It takes some people years - a few will never manage it.

Even when your dream comes true and you have made it to an airline, you'll find plenty of downsides to the job. Life is ruled by your roster, and weekends off are a rare treat. Social events and family gatherings are almost impossible unless arranged months in advance. Five days on and two off sounds alright until you realise that the last day finishes at 22:00 and the first day back starts at 06:00. Arriving at work you are subjected to petty and nonsensical 'security' - you'll be locked in a flightdeck with a crash axe and given control of a 500mph aeroplane, but you'll have to take your shoes off before you get there, and you won't be allowed a can of deodorant for your nightstop.

Every six months you'll be locked in the simulator and have every conceivable failure thrown at you. The man in the back is keeping score, and it's pot luck whether he's a great instructor or someone on an ego trip. The consequences of failure are serious. If you're really unlucky it will all happen at three in the morning, and you'll be expected to be just as sharp as you would be during the day. Get used to it, because it's every six months for the rest of your career.

Line flying is much more relaxed, but even then there's the unspoken and insidious pressure of knowing that a bad day in the office - a single mistake even - could lead to a career interruption or kill people. Potentially hundreds of people. You'll be flying in all kinds of horrible weather, trained and conditioned to do everything on the automatics, then expected to fly competently with a u/s autopilot. You might be flying four or even six sector days, with 25 minute turnrounds, struggling to find time to eat a sandwich or go to the loo. Talking of which, your 'office' is the size of a downstairs toilet, and you'll be locked in it with a colleague who may have nothing in common with you except for the uniform.

The job is unhealthy - sitting inactively for hours on end, eating poor quality food and with high stress levels. You'll get regular colds, and attempting to fly with one can lead to a perforated eardrum. You might be unfortunate enough to breathe in noxious fumes on a regular basis, but don't worry because the engineers wrote 'no fault found' and the airline industry says it's not a problem.

That's enough downsides - I'm starting to depress myself now. The obvious question - if the job is that bad, why do we all still do it? I fly with a couple of captain who are in their sixties and can't possibly need the money - why do they still put themselves through all the grief? For me (and them) it's a simple answer that goes back to the relationship theme. We're in love with flying. Hopelessly, head over heels in love. I love the challenge of a complex and technically demanding job that few others can do. I'm a perfectionist, but I'll never fly the perfect flight - how's that for a lifelong challenge? I've known the drudgery of commuting to a dull-as-dishwater nine to five job, and I hated it with a passion. Not anymore - I look forward to going to work. Hell, I even miss my job when I'm on holiday. No two days are the same, and the view from my office window is different each day, but unfailingly spectacular. Despite all the downsides (and there are many) I can't imagine doing anything else. Most of my colleagues feel the same way, and that includes those captains who got their PPLs while I was in nappies.

Recently I came home from a long and tiring day, switched on the TV and watched a documentary about flying, then fell asleep and dreamed of flying. Once it gets under your skin, you'll never get it out.


GC232 is a dick! said...

Fuck sake, I know you won't allow this to be posted but please read this: STOP POSTING AND QUIT YOUR CAREER IF YOU DO NOT ENJOY IT!!!
Are you thick?

Golfcharlie232 said...

You should pay attention to your reading (and writing) classes, you may benefit from them.

I love my job, I wouldn't be sharing photos, videos and stories from the flightdeck if I didn't.

This post is the best description of its pros and cons someone could make. It gives a clear idea of how much we love it despite the drawbacks. Of course there are drawbacks and this is definitely not for everyone.
I'd rather draw a real picture than have people disappointed when they reach their goal. It is an incredible job that most of us love but once again, it's not for everyone.

This post is as close to reality as it gets.

Please read to the end before jumping to conclusions.

plane fan said...

Hi there,
would you like to ever fly long haul and give up the 737 days? Also would you recommend a career in piloting to someone like me who likes to travel.
Do you ever get to enjoy the destinations you fly to?

Golfcharlie232 said...

Long haul can come quite far in a career.
On short and medium haul, you don't stop at destinations, you fly there and back. In some airlines including mine, you operate not from one base but from a few of them which might give you the opportunity to visit the place. But it is not like a proper family trip on a true vacation.

I wouldn't do it just because I like to travel.

If you're in for the love of Aviation, if you got a PPL already, if you like flying, if you like working as a team, then it may well be for you.

planefan said...

ok thanks.

im in my late teens and im considering entering the aviation field. Ive looked into being a pilot but the drawbacks seem to outweigh the benefits for me.
I think ill work for one of the plane manufacturers instead ;)
Can i ask what airline you work for if you're allowed? I guessed you fly for Ryanair or perhaps the few of BAs 737s?

Anonymous said...

I am currently 'jumping through hoops' as you put it, sitting the exams! Reading your posts, watching your videos and looking at the world through your eyes in the cockpit really is amazing and gives me great inspiration.

Sod the drawbacks!

sashakepoes said...

Wauw, really nice blog!
I'm 22 years old, from Belgium and I'm a student pilot myself.
I'm just got my PPL and about to start my commercial training.

So far i've struggled with stress, weather, money (since we're not rich and I had to loan money from the bank) and much more.
Sometimes I stress the hell out of myself when people start summing up the bad sides of the job, especially when it's a pilot.
If doubted myself for starting this training..
But when I enter that airplane, even though it's a small piper warrior at the moment, I always enter with a smile.
I have alot of challenges ahead of me but as long as I don't lose my medical, I will never give up!

Reading blogs like these boost my spirit.
Keep up the good work and don't feed the trolls.
I hope to see you in the skies sometime in the future :)


Ilya Burdo said...

Don't listen to that idiot!! :s
I'm always reading your posts, watching your movies and your pics! It's 100% clear that you enjoy every second of your job!

For some children, it's just very hard to imagine that the life isn't as easy as they thought. I have seen once someone saying to a pilot "Why are you telling bad things about your job? It looks like you want to keep places for your friends and family". Idiots..

I really appreciate the fact you don't show only the beautiful side of your job, but also telling the real situation.

But yeah, maybe I'm stupid, or the sky is just in my blood.. I still pray to god to let him become me a pilot :)

Greets, Ilya

Jevan Burchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Back off pal, if you dont like the show change the channel. Never saw anythin so rude! Feel sorry for some poor sod, that has to sit in the jump seat next to you for 8 hours. Keep it up GolfCharlie. Regards John

Anonymous said...


i am a student pilot studying with emirates aviation college and doing my training in portugal. Your blog relates to me and im sure thousands of other pilots.i am a South African national and really concerned about jobs. if i could get your email address to ask a few questions or if you could contact me on i would really appreciate it.
Happy landings and sunny skies


snapdragon said...

Having pent 20 years in the British Army, i completely get where you are coming from with this. Cant live with it, cant lve without it, its not what you do, its who you are. A good post IMHO.

APC said...

Oh my goodness...that first comment! Clearly the guy didn't read the whole post, which is actually a pretty good description of the job and accurately describes my feelings as well.

BTW...I've added a link to your blog at

Happy landings!

capnaux said...


One of the BEST descriptions of the REALITIES of both flight training, and life as an airline pilot. Definitely passing it on to my peeps!

LMAO at the LOSER from the #1 comment! Proud of you for not deleting it--as my fellow blogger friends keep telling me, if you're not making enemies, you're not doing it right! This 2-year old is obviously an obsessed fan...I have a nice Cap'n Aux-obsessed "anti-fan club" myself. I'm obviously getting my message across, LOL!

Definitely joining Brad, above, at APC, and adding a link to your excellent blog post ...

capnaux said...

Oops, shamelessly gonna add my blog url, LOL:

ana said...

I am not a pilot and nowhere near aviation but this almost brought me to tears, it's such a poetic writing about flying.

Shawn michel said...

I read many posts related aviation fields but this different to other after read this post i found my answers.

Stu Morton said...

i really like your writing, nice job

Anonymous said...

Nice post gc232. It is nice that you show the good and the bad of the job.

I have to say I totally identify myself with what you write, and so do many others. It is wonderful to get paid to do what you like, but yes, there are many drawbacks in this job, most of which you already mentioned. Anybody willing to start a career in aviation should consider them.

As a friend of mine once said: "If I would now get offered a Mon-Fri 8-to-14 job that pays the same and where I'm home everyday, I'd have no doubt". I do agree. However, on the other hand, I cannot imagine living without flying ;)

AAK said...

Nice post gc232. It is nice that you show the good and the bad of the job.

I have to say I totally identify myself with what you write, and so do many others. It is wonderful to get paid to do what you like, but yes, there are many drawbacks in this job, most of which you already mentioned. Anybody willing to start a career in aviation should consider them.

As a friend of mine once said: "If I would now get offered a Mon-Fri 8-to-14 job that pays the same and where I'm home everyday, I'd have no doubt". I do agree. However, on the other hand, I cannot imagine living without flying ;)