Learn about the responsibilities, compensation, and work schedule of a commercial airline pilot.
If you picture a commercial airline pilot, the image that comes to mind is likely of someone sitting in the cockpit of a large plane, flying people to destinations around the word. Yet not all commercial pilots work for large passenger airlines. They also fly small groups on tours and do quick commuter flights within their local region.
While commercial airline pilots must undergo thousands of hours of training to become skilled in operating an aircraft, knowledge of safety procedures and strong communication skills are also essential to this role. Commercial airline pilots are responsible for the safety of passengers, cargo, and their aircraft. They may be tasked with making difficult decisions in challenging weather conditions, thus good judgement and the ability to work well under pressure is key.
To ensure a safe flight, the pilot starts each trip by checking the maintenance log book of the aircraft, weather information, the flight plan, and the fuel plan. They also communicate with team members such as the ground crew and dispatcher; if flying for a passenger airline, they also communicate with the flight crew and passengers. Each flight may require them to work with a new team of people and adjust to different work styles and personalities.
The schedule of a commercial airline pilot is variable. Since airlines operate every day of the year, you might end of flying on holidays and weekends. A work day could involve multiple short flights (typically 2-4) or one long flight that could take you overseas. If you fly long-haul you may have multi-day layovers in another city, which can be an exciting opportunity to explore more of the world. The downside is that your body may experience jetlag from changing timezones.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a commercial airline pilot in 2015 was $102,520 per year. Other benefits may include 401K, medical, dental, life insurance, and flight benefits for the pilot and their family members. While commercial airline pilots rarely have standard weekends, they may have 9-14 days off each month.
When entering this field, a new pilot typically starts as a first officer flying small planes before moving up to captain. Once they gain experience they can move up to larger airlines, flying larger body planes to further destinations. As pilots gain seniority, they also have more control over their schedule and destinations.