While it’s true that most airline pilots don’t live in the domicile (city) in which they are based, pilots in other types of careers can be limited based on what job they want. In addition, before getting that dream pilot job, pilots have to be flexible enough to move to where the jobs are. When you’re younger this may not be such a big deal, especially if you’re single. However, as you get older and if you have a family, this can take a toll.
Airline pilots and where they live
For airline pilots, commuting can be stressful and cause you to be away from home even more than if you lived in your domicile city. This is because it’s so difficult to commute these days. With the airlines struggling to survive, airplanes are jam-packed with passengers and commuting pilots sometimes can’t find empty seats to commute to their base where their flight will originate. Many pilots commute the day before just to make sure they are in place at their domicile the next day.
When starting out, you might be on reserve and not able to have the schedule of your choice. In cases like this, pilots sometimes stay in “crash pads.” A crash pad is a house or apartment with several rooms, beds, futons, or other sleeping accommodations that flight crews use for a night or a few nights while they are working out of a domicile away from home. For less money, some crash pads even employ the custom of “hot bunking.” This is when a weary pilot gets to his/her crash pad and finds the bed sheets still warm from the previous traveler. These crash pads are cheaper than staying in hotels and since flight crews choose to commute, airlines don’t pay for accommodations. Until you accrue enough seniority, it’s likely you won’t have a choice of where you live.
Non Airline Pilots
Unfortunately, aviation is not like other fields. For example, if you work in the medical field, hospitals are everywhere so you can pretty much live anywhere. By contrast, companies that employ pilots are sometimes, very strategically placed. For pilots that don’t work for airlines, their choice of where to live depends on where they find work. If you’re a corporate pilot, for instance, and get hired by a company in Chicago, then Chicago is where you’ll be living.
I happen to live in Seattle, not because I would choose to live here, but because this is where my dream job is. There are only a handful of other cities around the world where I could have a similar job. Luckily, I love the scenery around here, especially from the air. The summers are awesome and there are a lot of outdoors activities to do. The winters, however, are dreadfully grey.
The job is unlike any other, however, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone else. So, if your dream is to fly, don’t let locations scare you away. You’ll be more fulfilled in life if you follow your passion, no matter where you live.
Pilot Trick: Be prepared to move to unexpected places
I don’t want to scare you away from wanting to be a professional pilot, but I think you will be better prepared if you know what you’re in for. I know of several pilots who started out with a dream of flying for the majors, but found that while they were working as flight instructors or for a small cargo company, they settled down and just moved up the chain to be managers or even owning their own flight school.
In order to get to this point in my career, I have had to move to 5 different parts of the country in the past 10 years and while in each of those parts, I’ve had to move a handful of times to different towns/cities to go where the work was.
So, if you want to live in a specific city or part of the country, your opportunities as a pilot will be very limited, but your best bet will be to focus on a company that’s based in that city and try to get hired by them. Alternatively, if you want to fly for an airline and are able to commute, try to make it so that your commutes are not too exhausting. For instance, living in California and commuting to Phoenix is not bad. Some flight crews, however, live in Tokyo and commute to New York. Personally, I don’t know that I could do this, but if you love flying as a passenger, this might not be too bad.
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- FAA’s Student Pilot Guide: Explains the role of the Student, Instructor, and FAA. Overall view of the Private Pilot process.
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