It’s really important that you fully grasp what the role and lifestyle of being an airline pilot involves. A typical airline pilots’ job isn’t what it used to be like thirty years ago, in terms of what the job actually involves, the lifestyle and the terms and conditions. That’s not to say it’s not still a very privileged and rewarding job, but one must understand the current realities of the industry and how the role of pilot has evolved over the last few decades and it’s not always as glamorous as the media or films would have you believe.
As a pilot you may well spend a significant time away from home. This means missing special occasions like Birthdays, Christmas and Anniversaries as well as not always being around for family or parental activities like going to parents evening or watching a school play. This lifestyle can take its toll and requires flexibility and an optimistic attitude.
Be prepared to be up and working at any hour of the day (how does 5 days in a row of 4am starts sound?) or fly throughout the night crossing multiple time zones. You get more time off, but it can be a tiring and draining job.
Do I actually fly?
Well yes and no. These days you don’t actually do that much manual flying during a typical day. As aircraft design has evolved, and technology developed, the role of pilot has followed suit. The modern fly-by-wire aircraft are now highly automated, and as result, the role of airline pilot has become much more comparable to that of a “systems manager”. On a typical day operating in and out of busy airports, the autopilot will be engaged at around 1000 feet after take-off, and disconnected about 500 feet before landing. Whilst the pilots are still providing the inputs to navigate and fly the aircraft in-between these points, the amount of manual handling has certainly decreased as advances in aircraft design have progressed.
Whilst the pay and remuneration can be very good in the long run, it doesn’t always start off that way. If you work for a small regional airline you might only be earning a relatively slow salary despite having paid over £/€ 50,000 for your training. The pay tends to improve as you fly bigger aircraft with larger airlines but the ideal career progression timeline doesn’t always work out as people had hoped.