It seems to me that many people are under the false impression that pilots lead a life of luxury. While that is certainly true in some circumstances – I’m talking about you, Travolta! – in most cases, it is sadly, not.
There are many different types of pilots, but a majority fall into one of four general categories: limo driver (corporate), taxi driver (charter), bus driver (airline), and truck driver (cargo). Now, don’t get me wrong, there are also a plethora of other occupations available for qualified aviators: air ambulance, sightseeing tours, flight instructor, stunt pilots, aerial photography, and the list goes on. But, be honest, when you conjure up an image in your mind of a generic “pilot,” the older, white-haired, Caucasian male, dressed in airline blues with four stripes on each shoulder that you spotted checking into the same 4-star hotel in which you were lucky to score a room eight months ago, is what you imagine.
I have only had experience in two of the four major categories: cargo and charter. The only thing remotely hedonistic about freight operations is the opportunity to sit in the gorgeous, yellow and black, ’67 Shelby Cobra that one of the mechanics is restoring and brought in to show off – and only after a lot of begging on my part, I might add.
Charter is a whole different story. I have taken clients to some amazing places – Nassau, Bahamas; Veracruz, Mexico; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Marco Island, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada – and enjoyed every second of the spectacular accommodations afforded us lowly pilots on those trips by spending a majority of my time lounging by the pool with a cocktail. Oh, fine, several cocktails.
But those trips were few and far between. Most of our clients traveled for business, which meant I spent more time ensconced at Signature Flight Support at Teterboro Airport twiddling my thumbs than on any beach ever. I had a 13 on /5 off schedule, and I was on call for those 13 days – I could be sent anywhere, at any time of day or night, for any length of time – and had to be able to arrive at the airport for duty in an hour. Once I arrived, I had the potential to be on duty for the next 14 hours, which could pose a problem if I were called in at 10:00 at night. It rarely happened, but it was not outside the realm of possibility. All in all, not a schedule that is conducive a healthy lifestyle, let alone one of luxury. Stable family life? What’s that?
So, don’t envy those “hedonistic pilots” enjoying a Porterhouse and a glass of Chianti at the Baleen Restaurant in the Naples LaPlaya Beach Resort. Tomorrow, they will most likely be at Teterboro Airport scavenging the smelly cheese left over from the catering they picked up for the passengers five hours ago. Yep, they’ll be living the dream, all right.