When thinking about a career in aviation a question you should ask yourself is, what is the aviation lifestyle? Finding out as much as you can can help you determine if this is right for you and your family. The quality of life or aviation lifestyle is as important as money or maybe even a bit more important.
Do you hate being away from home?
Sounds like a dumb question, but there are some pilots that would rather be home every night. This is always a subject of seniority. The more senior you are at a company, the better odds you have of controlling your schedule. I also know a lot of pilots who say they want to get away from home once in a while as a little break to themselves. This is not ordinary but I am sure there are some out there who think this way.
The question is important to ask because as you get older, things change. For example, perhaps you got into aviation when you were young, single and not really caring when or where you worked. Perhaps later on you get married and start a family. But lets say your wife has to live in a specific city due to personal preferences and that preference causes you to commute.
When you were young, maybe you did not see that coming, but these are the kind of scenarios if you know about them in advance can help you better prepare. If you plan on having children, the traveling lifestyle can be a tough one. It is tough on the kids and it can be tough on you because you cannot see your kids as much. Granted if you start your career and you then have kids, the chances are good that your kids will be little while you are building up seniority, which they probably will not remember much. When they are a bit older is when it is super important to be around as much as possible.
Will your spouse work?
I am sure you are wondering why I asked this question. The reason is because the aviation industry is subject to a lot of hiccups and is very volatile. What happens if you are stuck in a low paying position because the larger companies are not hiring? If your spouse is working, it gives your more flexibility and can relieve some of the stress of making ends meet. Understand this, the aviation lifestyle can be stressful to a marriage, it is very important to think and talk through these kinds of things if an aviation career is something you are contemplating together.
Is there a time of day you prefer to fly?
Some people want to fly and maintain bankers hours. That is the only acceptable lifestyle they want. As you may have figured out, aviation generally does not work out that way. If you are building up time and experience it can be especially challenging since you have to be able to pretty much drop everything or work weird hours to get the experience you are looking for.
Probably the more challenging aviation lifestyle would be military aviation. Not because it is harder or the assignments are difficult, but because you have to do what the government says and in their time frame. This removes every bit of flexibility in your life. Granted the military is a great way to go as far as flying airplanes is concerned, but you do not have much say in the matter. Lots of travel, international bases and living abroad are all part of the military experience. Of course most know this before going in, but the closer it becomes to enlisting or being commissioned, the larger the reality comes. Choosing to go in the military or not was one of my harder decisions in life based on only “what I heard”
I once had a fellow classmate that got into airline flying only because of the image. At the time he was married and it was very important to his wife that she be the wife of an airline pilot. Being a cargo pilot did not sound good to her. This is pretty shallow but a lot of people put a huge weight on image. They picture themselves in some glamorous type of position and will not be satisfied with anything less even though the aviation lifestyle does not match their expectations or desires. Having the image goal can also be disappointing if the economy tanks and you end up taking a flying job that you did not really see yourself in. The “image” is not everything, the key is contentment and finding out what your ideal working conditions are like and then tailoring your plan to that.
You may think that talking about retirement is not part of the aviation lifestyle discussion. But it actually is. We will cover some thoughts on retirement in a dedicated article, but it is important to mention here too. How you set yourself up lifestyle wise, will bleed over and apply in retirement. If you buy into the expensive lifestyle of an airline pilot, buying the big house and the fancy cars, you may not be able to maintain that in retirement. When the paychecks stop coming in, its harder to make ends meet if you have a lot of expenses now. Developing the lifestyle you want to live now will help you to make better decisions later on when they are more important. Here is a good example. Can you bite the bullet and live poor for the first 10 to 15 years in aviation? If you are willing to resist the urge of not increasing your spending, take a big portion of the money you earn and invest it, you will be in much better shape in retirement. Most pilots are used to living poor, if you can resist the urge to have the nicer things for a few years and save that money, you will be in fantastic shape in your prime years.