Negatives of being an airline pilot

I know every job has its pros and cons but before I dive into something like this I would like to know everything about it, including the negatives.

What are the cons of this job. In other words, what are the worst parts for you guys? Also is there high burnout rate?

The reason I ask this is because I remember being very excited about my current job when I started and 8 years later here we are. I’m burned out and ready for something else.

I just would like some honest feed back from someone whose been there and done this. Thanks

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You are right and every job does have it’s pros and cons but I gotta tell you I LOVE MY JOB! Most of the negatives if any come at the beginning of the career. Being on reserve and having a bad schedule comes to mind. I know commuting has it’s issues although I’ve never had to. Occasionally you’ll be paired with another pilot who you don’t particularly get along with and that can make for a long day. When I was in EWR we suffered a lot of delays and that definitely gets old but in HNL there’s virtually none. Training can also be stressful. Think that’s all I got?

I’ve been criticized in the past for saying having a passion for flying should be a requirement and I stand by that. See the thing is when I look at my list it’s all pretty minor stuff and at the end of the day I’m getting paid fairly well to do something I truly love AND I’d be paying for if it wasn’t my job. Oh yea, they only change the First Class menu and movies every 2 months! :slight_smile:



Ok, thanks. I figured being gone from family would be at the top of the list.

Maybe if my kids were small? Actually a little separation I found to be healthy, but everybody’s different.


I would say that being gone is certainly at the top of most lists, but that isn’t really a fair evaluation of the situation. If you think about it, I have 12-16 days off per month. Those are days that I am completely free from obligation and that I can spend with my children. A typical businessman might be home every night, but if he/she is getting home at 7 or 8pm and then leaving early in the morning what is that really worth? You won’t find many jobs that offer as much time off as this does.

I have been pleased with my career choice. It is fairly lucrative, offers me a lot of time off, has the best view possible and I like the traveling. I would do it all again without question.



Ok, thanks.

I, too have been wanting to learn more about the cons of the job. I was reading some blogs and came across some interesting negatives of the job and wanted everyone’s opinion of the validity of it all.

Here’s the list:

  • Always traveling…can be tiring & difficult to maintain your personal life
  • Job on the line every flight/check-ride/line-check/etc.
  • Irregular working hours and days off…can be tough to have a “normal” life
  • Radiation, fatigue and other health concerns
  • No retirement funds other than 401K
  • Contracts getting worse
  • One accidental slip up with the law could be career ending
  • Lower salary than other jobs that require similar education levels
  • Lose your job at one airline and you have to start over
  • Recurrent training
  • Lose your medical & you’re done
  • Being a pilot is a lifestyle choice; not a job (could be a pro depending how you look at it)
  • There are much easier ways to make more money & be home every night

Now, personally I feel like many of these points are strongly subjective.

What say you?

Thanks for your input,

Austin B.

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Austin, I’ll address some of these and I’m sure others will chime in too.

  • You do travel a lot, and it can be an adjustment for family. On the other hand you will have more blocks (3,4,5,7) days off in a row to take trips or adventures with the family. It’s a trade off for sure but not a con in my book.
  • Not really true. Pilots that have been at the airlines for years still sometimes have a bad checkride. It’s not really job ending. Patterns of these issues could be a problem but great pilots have failed checkrides.
  • It’s an adjustment,
  • yeah… I don’t know. Your health as a pilot is more closely watched than almost everyone you know,
  • Most private jobs these days are 401k
  • Not true. They are getting much better, not sure who told you that.
  • Slip ups with the law that can end an aviation career tend not to be accidental.
  • Not true, Not many careers with a Bachelors degree pay $200-$300k with the amount of time off pilots get. I have friends in finance that make that much but they work 60+ hour weeks.
  • Sort of, yeah. Furloughed isn’t the same as being laid off. If the airline comes back they should hire you at your old seniority and pay.
  • Not sure how this is a con. It’s just part of the deal. I never really had a problem with recurrent.
  • Done flying , yes. That is a con. There are still jobs to be had (training, safety, etc) but flying requires the medical.
  • Definitely a lifestyle choice.
  • I don’t really agree. A entry level pilot is at worst 5 years from $100,000 and should be making $175,000 or more in 10 years. Combine that with the amount of time off and it’s pretty hard to beat.

It’s a choice. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty hard to beat if you like making money and like time off from work.



I have to say that Zac hit most of the nails right on the head, so I will not just repeat his words.

The biggest con is the amount of time that is spent away from home, but a lot of jobs have this. My step father is the Executive VP of a very large construction company, he travels more than I do and makes the same money. Our airplanes are full of business men and women traveling for work, they might not travel as much as I do, but they certainly travel a whole lot. I always keep in mind that my time at home is real time off. I have roughly 15 days off per month to do whatever I please with, not many people have that. It can be difficult to have a “normal life” but I don’t think I want that. I see people every day getting on a 7am train into NYC to go sit at a desk all day, then take the same train home and get there at 7pm. No thanks, you can have that.

Your job is not on the line every checkride. Checkrides are train to proficiency, if there is an issue they will work to fix it with you. Plus, by the time you get to the airlines and then go through their training you should know what you are doing. I have heard of very, very few failed checkrides

Yes, I only have a 401k, but as Zac said, that is standard now. What isn’t standard is the 16% of my pay that the airline puts into it without me having to put in a single cent. That is almost unheard of in other jobs.

Contracts are getting dramatically better, this is the best that I have ever seen them and it looks like the trend will continue.

I don’t really understand how somebody can have an accidental slip up with the law. When you commit a crime or drive drunk you know exactly what you are doing. You are right here, one crime and you are going to have some serious issues at work.

I disagree with your numbers on salary. I have a bachelor’s degree and flight school, which all together cost me about what a master’s degree would. I make more than most people I know and I work a lot less.

If you lose a job at one airline you do have to start over at another, that is the nature of the seniority system which is designed to protect pilots from management favoritism and works really well.

Recurrent training is a good thing. It keeps us safe and up to date on the latest changes.

If you lose your medical you are done flying, but not done getting paid. All contracts that I know of have disability insurance included in them and most are pretty darn good. At my airline if a pilots loses their medical they will get paid fairly well until age 65, plus they can work another job if they are able to with no offset to the disability insurance.

I am not sure what those much easier jobs that pay more are, I am sure there are some out there, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than what I am doing right now.

There are negatives to any job, but you need to see past those negatives and see the positives. If you are looking for a job that is easy, stress free and you are home every night than this isn’t it. But if you are looking for something that pays well, allows you to travel the world, have a large amount of time off and is really interesting than aviation might be for you. I appreciate you doing your research, but I suggest researching the positives as well.


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You’re 100% right, much of that is VERY subjective. One of the things that has amazed me from day one is you’ll fly with different pilots every trip and we’re all doing the same job. Some will swear it’s the greatest job on Earth, other that’s it’s one step above slavery. The biggest problem I see in your list is it makes some sweeping declarations which just aren’t true.

  1. This is actually one of the main reasons many become pilots, to travel! I’m thinking if you don’t enjoy traveling this isn’t a great career choice. There are airlines like Hawaiian btw where we have Interisland flying that has you home every night. There are many different operations out there.

  2. Completely false. The majority of airlines are now operating under AQP which as Chris says is trained to proficiency.

  3. Once you gain some seniority you can lock your schedule in pretty tight. Irregular by who’s standards? Not 9-5? Been there done that, not a fan and more times then not I work considerably less.

  4. There have been reports on radiation levels being slightly higher but again depends on the flying your doing. Sitting at a desk eating donuts all day is more toxic.

  5. I’m not aware of any career offering pensions these days and your pension can magically disappear with the swipe of a judges pen. I’ll take my 401K with 15% company match.

  6. Again completely false. Contracts are the best they’ve been in decades.

  7. Problems with the law are seldom slip-ups. There’s something called “personal responsibility”. Not even a thought in my head let alone a concern.

  8. Really? I don’t know to many gigs paying up to $300k a year with the 4 yr degree and 6 mos training where you can work half the month.

  9. True but it’s almost impossible to get fired. Now furloughed is another story.

  10. Not sure why training would be viewed as a con? I enjoy recurrent and look forward to it but even if you don’t many careers require work to be done at home or after hours. When we park the plane we’re done.

  11. Great motivation to stay healthy.

  12. It definitely is a lifestyle, why would that be bad?

  13. Definitely true. So do that.

Austin I apologize if I have any “tone” but honestly I think this is a silly list. While I do believe it’s a good thing to research a prospective career you can literally pick ANY job, career, life choice etc apart if you want to. People are different and what works for me might not work for you and that’s fine. I guess it comes down to perspective and attitude and if you’re looking for cons you’ll always find them. Personally I LOVE MY JOB and wouldn’t want to do anything else. There was a guy who came on here a few months back asking us to “convince him” to become a pilot. I’m not here to convince or talk anyone into anything. What I can tell you is there is nothing better than getting paid to do something you enjoy. Figure out what that is and you’ll be happy. I did and I am :slight_smile:



Zac, Chris, and Adam,
Thank you all for your responses! Great things to think about and consider.
I always value your honesty.

Thanks again,
-Austin B.

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No problem, come back with any more questions that you think of.


Do you always start as a reserved? For major and for regional? If so for how long are you a reserved?


Not always but usually. As we’ve said seniority is everything and since most pilots don’t like reserve most new pilots end up with it. How long you’re on it can vary dependent of how well the airline is staffed AND how fat the airline likes to be with reserves. When was first hired at ExpressJet I was only on reserve my first month and never after that. Conversely now I’m at Hawaiian and actually couldn’t get reserve until recently because the reserve lines often go very senior. Why? Because our airline is staffed pretty well and most of our pilots don’t call in sick so you often get paid for flying very little (something I like) which is why I bid reserve the last few months. Reserve is not always a bad thing. Just as a fun fact Emirates doesn’t operate solely on seniority, they have seniority groups which rotate throughout the year so EVERY pilot (junior or senior) is on reserve at some point during the year.


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Forgive my ignorance, but what does “reserved” mean? I know there are some days that a pilot will have a reserve day where they will need to be on call. But I have not heard of a whole month of reserve. If someone could explain that would be awesome. Thanks

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The correct term is Reserve, not reserved. It’s just as you say but despite what you’ haven’t heard, you’re either a “line holder” or on “reserve” for any given month (and that’s for the entire month). If you’re a “line holder” you will know exactly where you’re going and when. If you’re on Reserve on the days you “work” you’ll be on call and if called will go where you’re sent.


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To add on also, reserve is also a bit of a perk because if you don’t fly the alot, you still receive the 75hours of pay wether you have completed it or not.

That is true in some cases, but don’t get the wrong impression of reserve. Especially at the regional level, reserve can sometimes be a nightmare.

I am lucky enough to only have sat reserve for 2 months, but those months were not fun to say the least. A lot of 4am wakeup calls for 6am shows, only to fly a quick turn and sit at the airport for ready reserve another 4-5 hours. So you are basically waking up really early in the morning, taking the bus to the train to the airport (about an hour), flying a total of an hour and a half (both ways), sitting in the crew lounge another 4 hours, not getting called (obviously), then taking the train to the bus home. Totals up to about 3.5 hours of credit, when you are already being paid 4.2 hours for the day (meaning not breaking guarantee), for a 10 hour day (4am wakeup until you’re back home around 2pm).

I don’t want to sound whiney because in the end I was still doing the best job in the world, even if it was just for minimum monthly pay. I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea about reserve.



I love love reading all the comments. I work as a Specialist Nurse but I love flying more. I am considering to start my training ( in my mind :slight_smile: for now).
My biggest problem is: I can’t convince my husband. Our kids are 14 and 10 ( not babies anymore).I am 41 and I feel like NOW or NEVER. We live in the UK, very close to major airports. Just dreaming…


Dreams are great but real life is better (or at least can be). I have to be honest, at 41 it really is getting close to now or never.