Can you raise a family and have a successful relationship while being a pilot?

Hi there! I am interested in being an airline pilot but am curious about the lifestyle. I am a female, 24 years old, and love to be kept on my toes. I do well with change, I am very passionate about traveling, I want to be challenged in my work, and mostly I want to escape the 9-5.

My boyfriend is incredibly supportive of me pursuing this and I am excited too. But I am wondering what it’s like for female pilots (or if there are men with experience that’s fine). I want to start a family one day but have read that seniority is everything and if you leave, you lose it and have to start over.

What is it like to be a pilot and to be in a relationship with someone who works a normal work week during normal hours?

What is it like to be a female pilot starting a family? Is there such a thing as maternity leave? Or sabbaticals? Could I leave for a couple of years until my (future) kids are school age and then go back to work and pick up where I left off or will I have to start from the bottom again?

If you get the hours and become a captain with one airline, can that transfer to another if you choose to leave? Or, if you become a captain, leave for a couple of years to start a family and come back, will you still be a captain and have to start all over?

Are there any pilots out there who have experience being in a relationship with someone in another field of work and starting a family? I want to be a parent that’s at home with my kids and not having a nanny or someone else raise them. But I am also passionate about traveling and pursuing a career that can give me that. I don’t want to give up a potentially wonderful and fulfilling career but I’m not sure if I want to risk not being able to start my own family should I choose to because of seniority being lost if I temporarily leave.

  • Marley

Marley,

Hannah can give you her perspective as a female pilot but I’ll give you some thoughts I have. I was a union rep at my airline and actually created a committee just to deal with maternity and paternity issues (something we never had). As in most industries some airlines have better (more family friendly) policies than others, but thankfully the laws have gotten better which has forced even the most reluctant airlines to get onboard. Long/short most airlines have fairly liberal policies on taking leaves to have and even raise children. I know one pilot who got hired and the next year started her family and didn’t return for 6yrs and 3 kids later. Obviously she didn’t get paid the whole time but she did maintain her seniority and her benefits.

As for the rest, relationships etc there are good, supportive relationships and others that aren’t. Some have understanding partners, others don’t. Being a pilot means being away alot, going to sometimes exciting and exotic places and staying in hotels with many co-workers. For those who want to stray the opportunities are plentiful. If your partner is insecure it will be a problem. If however you’re devoted and make certain YOU make your partner secure there wont be. Relationships can often be challenging and I’ve seen many successful ones and many that aren’t. Just like every other career. It’s up to the individuals involved to make it work.

Adam

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Hi Adam,

This is very helpful, thank you! Most things are not a deal breaker to me, but if starting a family means losing seniority and hard work then it potentially could be a deal breaker so this is great news! I am looking forward to learning more on this topic. Do you think that I would be able to find information on this for each airline?

What about flying benefits for your partner? I’ve read that there are benefits such as cheaper flights and whatnot for yourself or loved ones. My boyfriend’s company is remote so he has ability to travel with me if we both wanted that. What does that look like?

Thank you so much!

Marley

Marley,

Getting airline specific contract info can be challenging. I suggest you consider joining the FAST (Female Aviators Sticking Together) group on Facebook. I know many “chick” pilots :wink: who are members and most are happy to share their experiences. Might be helpful.

As for travel bennies that’s one of the best perks of the job. While again things can vary airline to airline, most offer FREE unlimited travel for a spouse/companion, parents and children under 23. The rub is its always standby so flexibility is key but with some practice and creativity it’s a great benefit.

Adam

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Marley,

Absolutely, I’ve shared many of those same worries. Sounds like you have the right personality to pursue this career but you definitely should take an intro flight to make sure you love the flying. There are a lot of tough times, if you don’t have a passion for the flying you’re really find the journey up unbearable.

As for being a female pilot, each day is getting better. More women are pursuing the career and with each qualified female pilot, the stigma changes. I hope by the end of my career seeing a female pilot in the flight deck won’t be so novel. Percentage wise, we’ve got a ways to go.

Let me preface this next part by saying, 8 out 10 experiences are great. You are treated as an equal and fellow professional pilot. The other 2 out of 10 times, you’re met with a double standard. You have to be twice as good and you still may not be met with the same amount of respect. You just have to have a tough skin, confidence in your abilities and love flying.

As Adam said, each airline has better maternity leave, FMLA or long term leave options than others. You will be able to keep your seniority through most of those programs. I know of a lot of moms that took a year or two off to have kids. You will eventually have to go back full time to keep your seniority but a great way to be home more, move to base and bid reserve. I know a lot of women who did that through their kids primary years. Especially on the wide body fleets, they bid reserve and only get called to fly a few times. That way they are current employees and making great paychecks with the min reserve guarantee and home a lot.

Hope this helps!

Hannah

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Thank you so much! I will check out that Facebook group, it seems like it will be very beneficial!

That’s great news, I’ve heard of the standby before. Thank you, I appreciate it!

Marley

Hannah,

This is very helpful, thank you. It would be so great to see more female pilots. I think it’s super BA to be a female pilot and while I’m glad to hear that most people are accepting and treat you as equals, I welcome the opportunity to educate. Have you ever experienced a situation with a double standard, lack of respect, and such? If so, how did you handle it?

I have an admissions flight booked with ATP for this Sunday. I’ve flown before in small aircraft and helicopters but have never sat in the cockpit or gotten to actually fly the plane, I’m very excited to try it out!

This is great info, thank you!

Marley

Marley,

I’m going to suggest (in fact beg and implore you) to take this introductory flight for what it is, an Introduction. One of the biggest mistakes I see occur far too often is people put FAR TOO much weight on these flights. They think it’s some kind of admissions test or job interview the outcome of which will determine their future as an airline pilot it. I assure you it is not. It’s simply (again) an Introduction to your possible future training environment and an opportunity for you to meet ATP and ATP to meet you. You’re not a pilot and no one expects you to be. Listen to your instructor, ask questions and above all HAVE FUN! Do that and you’ll have a positive and successful experience. Try and dazzle your instructor or stay up all not wondering if your will be the end of your flying career and you will not. Cool?

Adam

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Hannah,

Does any of these policies apply to men? I’m a single father of a baby girl and honestly did not know the options mentioned were realistic options.

David

David,

Most airlines offer paternity leave and “baby bonding” to fathers or partners. As with most things they vary by airline. Also state laws sometimes come into effect as well.

Adam

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Adam,

Thank you for the information! I feel like I just won the lottery! Great news!

David

David,

Just to give a personal example, when my son was born I took 7 weeks off. It was all paid, although the pay came from my own sick, vacation and short term disability banks. I could have taken up to 12 weeks but we needed income so I went back to work after 7.

Tory

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Marley,

It’s not too often but yes, I have experienced it before. I learned very early on, I can’t control how others view me but I can control how I react to it. I like to think when I’m met with disrespect, it’s because of ignorance. They simply have not met a female pilot before or haven’t flown with one that proved their judgements wrong.

Instead of letting it get under my skin, I choose to think of it as an opportunity. They have low expectations regarding what I can bring to the flight deck so it provides an opportunity to not only meet but exceed standards. Hopefully by the time they are done with a 3 or 4 day trip with me, they leave thinking differently of the next female pilot they see in their flight deck.

Hannah

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David,

Honestly, I don’t know. I think it varies by airline but paternity leave is becoming more of a common benefit. That’s good to see.

Hannah

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Follow your dream. Everything will work out far better than you could ever imagine. My wife was a flight attendant for 37 years and I was a pilot for 39. Flying gave me more time with family and more opportunities to take my family and 2 kids all over the world. Our kids are grown working adults and loved the airline life we gave them.

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Britt

This is really great to hear about your kids. I have been wondering what it is like to have a parent(s) that work in the airline industry and if they are grateful or upset at all.

My dad was a retired fire captain so he wasn’t working by the time I was born and my mom didn’t have a normal job either (she was a freelance artist when I was a kid). I grew up with both parents home daily and that’s all I know, so it is hard to imagine not giving that to my own future kids. However, I want to still pursue and do something amazing with my life as far as a career is concerned.

Thank you for sharing this! It was helpful!

Marley

Hannah,

I really like your perspective, I share it too. I welcome the opportunity, but sometimes have a hard time with confrontation (it really just depends on the person and situation). I don’t want to be rude ever but I want to exercise my voice and use it because I have it.

Thank you!

Marley

Go for it. 30 years from now you will remember this conversation. Never look back when trying to move forward. Good luck. Keep me updated.

This will be you one day. That’s one of my best friends in the right seat. We flew together back in 1980 before going to Continental. Long time friend you will make along the way.

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