Hopefully this doesn’t come across as blowing smoke up my own ass when I say that becoming an Airline Captain is a great achievement for any individual. It’s a path that’s fraught with very unique challenges and hurdles to overcome, and even once you make it to Captain, your career and future still hinge on performing in the simulator checks every 6 months, along with many things totally outside of your control (Redundancies, Medical issues etc…)
It’s a very privileged position to be in and one that should never be taken for granted. However you’re in for a shock if you think it’s all sunshine & roses!
I’ve summed up what my career is really like below;
Views – It’s cliche, but it’s hard to find another office that regularly has such spectacular and dynamic views than that of a flight-deck. Watching the sunrise over the Alps never gets old!
Finances – Whilst moving through the ranks as a Second officer and First Officer can be financially tough, once you get Command, finances are one less thing to worry about. You’ll earn enough to comfortable support a family should you wish and still have some leftover to enjoy a few luxuries (as long as you don’t fall into the trap of huge mortgage, shiny new Porsche etc!)
Responsibility/Trust – It’s sometimes easy to forget that all 200 souls behind you are trusting you with their lives. The airline are also trusting you with the keys to the jet, and giving you full responsibility and autonomy to make the right calls on the day in order to keep everyone safe.
Manual Flying – We’re very lucky in my airline in that if the situation is appropriate, we can fly the aircraft without any automatics for departure and arrival if we wish. Flying an Airbus like a Cessna 172, from FL100 to a landing without the assistance of autopilot or auto-thrust not only keeps your skills sharp and challenges your brain, it’s also a hugely satisfying feeling!
Shiftwork – This is a certain type of shift-work that can not only wreak havoc with your body clock, but also with your general physical and mental health. A solid 8 hour sleep is hard to come by during a block of work. Even harder is finding time and energy for exercise or catching up with social groups, both of which are imperative to well-being.
Lack of work relationships – It’s very rare to fly with the same person twice in my airline, and usually if you do, by the time you cross paths again you barely recognise them. Building meaningful relationships is again a key pillar of human well being and happiness. It’s tough operating in such an impersonal environment.
Sedentary – There are so many studies into the importance of movement for the human body. Unfortunately this job requires you to be extremely sedentary for up-to 12 hours each day, only standing up for a toilet break. It’s really not good for your body so you need to ensure you keep very active outside of work.
Delays, Roster/stability & Lack of autonomy over life – Delays have become “the norm” during Summer season. We’ll often go multiple blocks of work where you won’t have flown a single flight that was on your original published roster, nor will you have arrived home anywhere near when you had planned to.
After 10 years in the industry I’ve learnt to not make any solid plans on a work day, which can often feel like the work/life balance is out of whack.
I’m not one to live with regrets, but if I could play my hand again, I’d have waited another year and joined the RAF. Being a very sociable person, the camaraderie and deep life-long connections you’d build in the military are something I can’t see myself ever getting at my current workplace.
Being an Airline Captain is a great job and one I’d recommend to anyone who reads the above and thinks it’s still something that would suit them.
For me, I’ve now done 10 years in the industry and would like to try my hand at something new, whilst keeping one foot in the door. I think the industry is mainly now mainly run by accountants, with staff being seen as an expense rather than an asset. and airline crews are really feeling this on the frontline. The rosters are getting less sustainable and the wheels seem to fall off the operation every Summer.
I’m opting for a part time contract which will hopefully mean I can still scratch the flying itch from time to time, but in a much more sustainable way for my health, as well as giving me the time I need to explore other interests and see how I can positively contribute to the world in other ways.