Don’t Let Aviation Make you Blow your Cork


It certainly has been trending lately in the news about flight crews, both pilots and flight attendants, having a melt down and then have to be removed from the flight. How does this happen and why is it happening so much lately? I have been saying quite a lot over the years that working in aviation is really about managing your mental health. It would appear that I may be more right than I ever thought.

Now I am not a psychologist and neither do I have any formal training in this field, but I do believe there is some correlation between expectations, planning and reality. Lets use the pilot example.

A guy decides he wants to become a commercial pilot and sets out on his chosen career path.

  • He/She goes to college and gets a 4 year degree and become competitive in the marketplace
  • He/She spends great amounts of time and money in addition to college to get all the flight ratings needed to move on in the career.
  • After graduating the pilot then enters the job pool, usually at poverty level wages.  All the while knowing that the goal is coming together and soon this will turn out with a good paying job and good benefits.
  • Depending on the landscape of the hiring market, this pilot could spend considerable time (greater than 8 years) building time and applying to major airlines.
  • This extra time is in addition to the time spent in college and still the goal is not attained.
  • When they finally do make it, upgrading to Captain is the last stop on the goal sheet.  This again could take some time.
  • Along the way, you may have to choose a different airline and start over in the seniority ranks if the airline chosen struggles in the economy.
  • The constant threat of high fuel prices, competing airlines, downsizing and corporate foul play are always on your mind.  Pay overall has been decreased and soon your career is just about managing a monthly schedule.  There are no good layovers and the thrill and glamor of flying is replaced with productivity and the parent company showing a profit at anyone’s expense.

So is this typical?  Most of the time it is, life is getting dismal in the airline business.  People get divorced over these kinds of things everyday.  Working your entire life to attain a goal and then having that goal turn out to be a major disappointment can certainly mess with your mind.  The question is how much?  That answer I do not know.  But I can say this, the disappointment can govern your life if you let it.  Some people have different coping mechanisms, some are more emotional than others.  Some people flip out, blow the slide, grab some beers and give up there careers.  Can you blame them if you were in there situation?  Some say yes, some say no.  I think the real untrained answer is “I don’t know”  People react in different ways to deep emotional issues and the average lay person cannot possibly say they understand it all or pretend to pass judgement on something they have no idea about.

So whats the answer?

Again, I am not sure.  It could be to find an avenue of aviation that is fun and passionate.  General aviation certainly fits that bill.  Military  aviation in the beginning I have been told is very fulfilling as well.  I think the most important takeaway is this:

Aviation careers are not like they seem on TV, the glamor and glory are gone.  Think about it, evaluate yourself constantly throughout your career to maintain your mental health.  Its not pleasant to think about, but it is better than watching your story on tv.

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