Like most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in between. I'd describe what I've been doing for two years now (that have flown by!) as the most fun you can have pushing buttons.
I've mentioned several times Bob Buck's book North Star Over My Shoulder. He started off flying DC-2s and retired as a 747 captain for TWA. He did lots of interesting things in between, and that he never lost his love for the job is evident throughout the book. I've had the chance to fly to the same places he went in his early career, see the same farm fields he wrote about, and experience the same bone-chilling winters and pop-up thunderstorm-ridden summers. What he did in a DC-2 I'm doing in a DHC-8, and although we're almost a century apart, the spirit of flying over those old air mail routes is eternal.
Honestly, the longer I do this job, the more I like it. Sure, there are some things that become routine, but the job still isn't. It seems like it would get monotonous, but not a trip goes by when I don't see something I haven't seen before or in a slightly different way, and I sit there for a second and think, "I am so lucky." I still find things to take pictures of, even though I've flown almost every route we have dozens of times already.
And there will always be something more to do or see. We're going to start flying to Memphis, Nashville, Palm Beach, and a few other places I've never been, and if the overnights are a decent length, I'll be able to spend time wandering around new cities that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to going to for a vacation.
I'm leaving on July 24th to spend two weeks in St. Louis: a city I've been dying to visit, and I'll have an entire weekend to myself to explore it. I'll be there doing something else new, too: ground school for the ERJ-145, which means I'll add yet another type rating to the certificate.
I wouldn't be surprised if we got the new Embraer E-Jets in a couple of years—yet another airplane I'd never otherwise have gotten a chance to fly! When I move on to a major, I'll have the chance to fly even more kinds of planes there. The only thing constant in this industry is change.
So there will always be somewhere new to go, something new to see, and something new to fly. But that's just one part of why I'm glad I switched careers. I would say that I regret not having done it sooner, but to be honest, if I hadn't spent all those years in a "normal" job, I wouldn't appreciate just how good I have it right now.
Like most regionals, we have a lot of pilots who are young and only a few years out of college. There are some who whine about the job, but that's because they never experienced just how soul-sucking the corporate life is. Here are some things I used to have to deal with that aren't part of my life anymore:
I never have to take work home with me. (I can't fit a 43,000 pound Dash-8 in the suitcase anyway).
I never have to worry about late-night emails, text messages, or calls about a new thishastobedoneRIGHTNOW problem. It's illegal for them to call you if you're on a required 10-hour rest period, and if you're scheduled off, you have absolutely no obligation to answer the phone.
I never have to worry about my boss' opinion about the quality of my work. We have simulator evaluations twice a year and annual recurrent ground school. You either pass or you don't, and the result is entirely dependent on your skills and professionalism, not whether you kissed the right rear ends.
When you're in the cockpit, you and the pilot you're flying with are the only annoying co-workers you ever have to deal with, and most of them aren't annoying anyway.
There's a lot of autonomy, which is something most cube dwellers will never experience. Just get the flights out on time and don't break anything and you're left alone, which is exactly how I like to work. I get to do my job instead of having my job done to me.
This isn't to say that the job is all sunshine and roses all the time. Now that reserve is a bad, distant memory, the hardest part of the job is all the time away from home, sitting alone in hotel rooms. I don't think you're a real airline pilot until you've woken up in the middle of the night, tried to remember what city you're in, and then realized you're home.
But for someone like me who is always keeping busy with one thing or another, the downtime is also a huge benefit, since it gives me time to work on a lot of projects without all the distractions of home. I've gotten a lot of work done on the books I'm slowly-but-surely writing, I've been able to catch up on books I've been wanting to read but never had the time, and I'm starting at Embry-Riddle to do something that has been a lifetime goal of mine: get a Ph.D. They have an online doctoral program in aviation, and I have plenty of time to work on it during trips. Although I already have a degree, it isn't in aviation, and with the transfer credit from my current degree plus the 35 hours of credit for having a multi-engine ATP certificate, I can have yet another degree to put on the wall in a year or so.
When I was in initial sim training in Seattle, there was a pilot I chatted with briefly as I waited for the shuttle to FlightSafety. He had been doing the job for 25 years, and he said he's never taken a vacation longer than two weeks because by then he misses the cockpit too much. Now I can see exactly what he's talking about.
I'm at the top of the First Officer seniority list now so my schedules are what would make every cube dweller say, "Bro, do you even work?" (I've been bypassing upgrade since last December so I can enjoy nice schedules for a while, and to avoid as much reserve as I can once I do upgrade.) I had a stretch of 11 days in a row off at the end of June/early July, and I had 9 days in a row off at the beginning of the month. The last couple of days of both of those stretches, I was itching to get back into the air.
I get to fly about 70 times a month, and I honestly don't think I could go back to being an office drone who was ecstatic to have a chance to fly twice a month now. Once you get used to the quirks of the job, you'll get ruined for anything else.
Next week, I say goodbye to an old friend. See you next Wednesday!
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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.
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