Being an airline pilot is a cool job. As a pilot, you get a view of the world that is unmatched in any other profession. You don’t go to an office—your place of business goes as far as the fuel in the tanks. As a pilot you don’t have to wait months for a project to come to fruition; you see the results of your work immediately. Being an airline pilot is also the ultimate in responsibility. Few professions require the faith that the public places in you every time they board your aircraft.
So being a pilot is pretty nice, but is “cool factor” enough to sustain you through the less known and less desirable aspects of the job? Are there other benefits to the airlines that will counterbalance the long hours, constant travel and missed holidays with the family? Thankfully, the answer is yes! Here are some hidden benefits of an airline career that you might not have considered:
A Part-Time, Full-Time Job
You read that right; an airline gig can be kind of like a part time job with full time pay and benefits. That isn’t to say that there will not be busy months or long days—there most certainly will be. But, even as a new First Officer at a regional airline, you are likely to have between 10 and 12 days per month off. That’s more than your cubicle warrior friends, for sure.
A word of caution, though: If you choose to commute to your base, you will likely eat up some of this time off getting to and from work. But, remember this: as a pilot, your time off is your time off. You’ll have time to travel, work on projects or just spend quality time with family. There isn’t really work to bring home, which brings us to…
Leaving Work at Work
Your job as an airline pilot is to do three things (in this order): Be an advocate for safety on the job, fly the airplane from point to point, and stay on time. That’s pretty much it. So, when your trip ends and it is time to go home, you just go home. You don’t have to answer emails. You don’t have to pick up the phone. You don’t have to think about your employer again until it is time to report for your next trip or go on reserve.
Think about it: overwork is epidemic in the United States, and email only makes it worse. Many employers expect their employees to work from home—off the clock—in order to stay ahead of the curve and competitive. While you friends are fretting over that email they just got from their boss on a Saturday, you are simply enjoying your weekend. You’ll have lots of weekdays off too, which means getting things done or going shopping is a breeze, because you’ll be doing it while everyone else is trapped at their jobs. Yes, you’ll spend plenty of time away, but the time you get at home is free to a degree unlike many other professional careers.
Money You Didn’t Expect
The money you make as an airline pilot might just end up being more than you expected to make. The compensation can go beyond the hourly rate and per diem. In an effort to attract more talent, many regional airlines (and nearly all legacy and major airlines) have put into place profit sharing agreements. This means that the employees get a share of the profits made by the company, usually in accordance with a contractually agreed upon formula.
There might be other sources of extra money too. Some airlines have operational performance bonuses that are paid to employees if certain monthly benchmarks are met (such as on-time performance rate). Also, regional airlines are currently offering large value cash bonuses for new hires; you can easily make more in your first year of employment with some airlines than you will in your second year.
You’ll be staying in hotels. Actually, you’ll be staying in a lot of hotels. Some of these hotels (if not many of them) will offer you points for your stays. So, once you are on the job, make sure you join every hotel loyalty program that you can. Sometimes, even purchasing meals in hotels (which are often deeply discounted for crew members) counts toward your hotel points. It won’t take very long and you will qualify for such perks as better rooms, access to better amenities and free stays for your own travels.
Here’s a pro tip: Get yourself a credit card tied to hotel points for your preferred chain (or the one you think you’ll be staying the most with) and use that for your expenses on the road. Not only will you be protecting your checking account—fraud from unscrupulous businesses on the road is an occupational hazard—but you’ll be racking up more points for that next vacation to someplace you’ve always dreamed of going.
Miles for Deadheading
You probably won’t find this perk at most regional and major airlines, but it is important to keep in mind that the part 121 passenger carriers aren’t the only game in town. If international travel and variety is more your cup of tea, you might find one of the several charter or cargo airlines to your liking. Companies like Omni Air International, Atlas and Air Transport International are hiring and they often position crews via paid airline tickets.
So if you work for one of these companies, you will find yourself in the position of accumulating an enormous amount of airline miles just going to work. These miles can be traded in for vacation travel or upgrades at a later date, making those long deadhead flights a little more endurable as you dream about traveling to far-flung exotic getaway locations.
Regardless of if you are planning on staying at your first airline forever or not, it is important to remember that you can—and should—start preparing for retirement now. Even as a new hire, you’ll be able to participate in the company’s 401k or “B” plan. These plans allow you to contribute a part of your salary to your retirement account pre-tax, where it is invested and can grow. It doesn’t go away if you change airlines; you can easily roll your retirement account into one at your new airline once you move on. Most companies match your contribution up to a certain value, although the amount of matching varies widely from airline to airline. Once you are at the majors, the matching is usually a very high value; it is not unusual for pilots to retire with seven figures in their retirement accounts.
Airline jobs have hardships to be sure, but the benefits are incredible and only get better with time. With the current data indicating a shortage of pilots both now and for the foreseeable future, there has never been a better time to go and get that airline job. It is truly a pilot’s market. Good luck!