Is It Worth It to Be a Pilot?

Pilots must spend time away from the family.
i Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

A recent "Forbes" article reports that the top dream job for women is teacher, while the top dream job for men is airline pilot. Women may need to start taking a page from the boys’ playbook. The difference in salaries between the two occupations is substantial. Although women have been flying the friendly skies for years, their numbers are still lower than men. Women may wonder if the financial and emotional rewards of becoming a pilot are worth pursuing flying as a career.

Higher Salary

Teachers can make between $30,150 and $81,230, depending on location, class size and education level. On the other hand, airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers make a median salary of $118,070 annually. Quite a difference between the two dreams. A pilot on a major carrier can earn an average of $76,050, with top experienced pilots bringing in close to $146,040. Being a pilot will not bring on a life of poverty. That is not to say you receive that salary up front. Pilots work their way up to the major carriers. The regional carriers pay considerably less, with some salaries starting as low as $20,000 annually for a first officer.

More Sexism

Up until 1993, women could not be fighter pilots in the military, which is a large provider of trained pilots. Removing the barrier did not create a huge rush to the front of the plane. Today only 4 percent of pilots are female, a statistic that remains constant over the years. Being the only woman among 3 or more men in a space essentially the size of a closet is not so appealing. Thankfully, some of the sexism toward women is dissipating as older male pilots are retiring and new attitudes are ushered in.

Ease of Entry

You cannot become a pilot overnight. However, you also do not need to spend multiple years in college studying for flight exams. The easiest path to becoming a commercial pilot is by starting in the military, which provides flight training and instruction. Upon exiting, you will have enough flight hours to become a commercial pilot. Even if you choose to skip the military route, becoming a pilot is as easy as going down to your local flight school and signing up for lessons. As you gain more confidence, you will eventually graduate to solo flights. After that, you can become licensed to fly smaller planes such as crop dusters and charter planes. As you accumulate more flight time and gain knowledge of the different instruments, you will work your way up to flying commercial. The private route is more expensive than military training, with total costs coming close to $100,000.

Time Away From Home

Many women cite long hours and time away from home as some of the reasons to avoid pilot careers. It’s true that a pilot’s life is filled with erratic schedules and long periods of time spent outside of the home. This can stress a relationship and make it difficult when it comes to having a family. Over 50 percent of male pilots have at least one divorce under their belt. Conversely, flight attendants who have essentially the same schedules tend to be female. Perhaps it’s time for women to move from the aisles to the cockpit.

the nest