Are there any big notable differences between passenger and cargo airlines for pilots other than the salary difference?
First off the Major cargo carriers (FedEx and UPS) pay comparable salaries to other Major airlines in the country. Other than that you’re flying boxes other than people. On the plus side no passenger issues (disruptions, security, illness, intoxication) on the negative side there’s a lot of “back side of the clock” (ie, early am flying). Other than that the equipment and flying is very similar.
I would say there are some major differences. The cargo airlines, which are essentially UPS and FedEx, tend to fly mostly at night and have long overnights, which are actually during the day. I personally would find that nighttime schedule hard to maintain, but some people love it.
This sounds like a small thing, but it isn’t. We start and end our day in a terminal, with shops, restaurants and people around. Cargo pilots start and end their day at a cargo terminal, which can off be on the dingy side and not have any amenities available to them. I like the amenities that a terminal offers and not walking across a sorting dock to get to the weather room, but some people like just getting straight to work and not having to deal with security, people, etc.
People. Cargo pilots do not have issues with unruly or rude people. Now this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, dealing with that obnoxious passenger can be a huge pain, especially in the age of everything being recorded.
Flight attendants. We have a crew that gets us drinks, makes our meals, etc. Cargo pilots either bring their own food or eat some sort of prepared food. To be honest, I am not really sure how or what they eat on long flights.
Differences aside, the jobs are not really that far apart. The goal at both the cargo operators and the airlines is to run a safe, reliable and on time operation. Once the cockpit door closes, the flying is really the same.