Being a Pilot is Ruining Me



I’m not gonna go into all the obvious hazards of flying likes skin cancer, alcoholism, divorce and controlled flight into terrain. Those have been covered before. It’s the day to day stuff that is killing me. It’s not the job… it’s the lifestyle.

Although I may only fly a few hours a day, if I am away from home, I am working. I am working even when I am sitting in a hotel bed flipping through the channels with an ice bucket bag over the remote so my fingers don’t have to touch it. I am working when I am wandering around an airport not getting paid looking for a place to hide from passengers so I can read without getting hassled about where to buy a neck pillow or pick up luggage. I am also working when I’m risking life and limb in the back of a hotel van with a driver too old to operate a toaster oven – especially when the kitchen floor is iced over.

Since the career I have chosen for myself is a lifestyle and so much a part of my life, it has affected me in ways that I’m certain most other careers don’t affect their human resources. In many ways, it is ruining me. Our monthly schedules are produced a few weeks in advance and will tell me when I work and where I am to go. Our “trips” can be between one and four days long depending on your preference and how senior you are. These trips all start and finish at various times throughout the month as well as during the trip itself. For example, during a month period I may work 3 four day trips with two starting at sunrise each day and one with the first departure during Wheel of Fortune.

The last time I had an alarm clock set for the same time every day of the week was high school. The last time I ate with any regularity was college. Think about what that does to your body. Coffee breaks happen on all sides of the clock and I have a white noise generator on my phone that is supposed to help me fall asleep at sunset. Ever hear the one about the insomniac dyslexic atheist? He spent all night disproving the existence of dog.

There is one basic rule in flying. Always have a plan B. For a variety of reasons, plan A doesn’t always work out and it’s nice to know ahead of time what your options are going to be before you need to make that decision. A pretty big one revolves around fuel and where to find it when you need it and how to save it just case you can’t get to more. After two decades of training… my mind starts to race a little when my fuel gauge gets close to empty – in my car! I can’t focus on anything else other than what’s my long range fuel plan, where is the nearest gas station and is said gas station downhill in case I need to coast in?

I take the job pretty seriously and don’t consider being late to work an option. Although I often joke to the humans in the TSA line, “Don’t worry, the plane waits for me”, I get a little anxious when I’m running behind. My only other jobs have been in radio and television where the show has to go on and tardiness isn’t an option either. Therefor, I’m a pretty punctual individual. Not only that, our schedules in the airlines are predetermined down to the minute and seconds count. Outside of work, I’m a down to the second kind of guy. If I call with an E.T.A, I may be seven and a half minutes away. When your work is time based – your life becomes time based.

Although the idea of travel sounds glamorous and romantic… most of the time our accommodations on the road are in hotel-ville near the airport. These modern wagon trail towns are all the same and have about as much personality as a spaghetti strainer. There will be an Applebee’s. There will be a T.G.I.Fridays. There will be a big box store. “Oh you’re gonna be in (insert any town – anywhere)? You must go eat at (insert any restaurant – anywhere).”

A good trip has a home depot nearby where I can wander around and read the books in their ‘library’. Also, nice if the hotel has good shower pressure. There was a time when I wanted a good bar nearby. These days I like fast internet and strong shower pressure. Ruining me!

Now that being said, I’m not sure I could put up with any other professions. I’m sure each has their hazards just as troubling. I’ll update my resume to say I’m a well bathed, punctual insomniac who is paranoid about running out of gas.

  • Robin Lenz

    That was awesome! I think every pilot in our industry feels about the same.