The charms and chores of travel work
Working in air travel has many advantages.
For starters, these careers come with perks, which may
include the chance to fly free after a specified length of
employment. Sometimes, these free flights extend to
friends and family, too.
For flight attendants and pilots, travel
is more than a perk: It’s the job itself. These workers
are paid to travel—and if they get the right
assignments, they can see the world. When pilots and
flight attendants must stay overnight to work their
flights, airlines cover the hotel lodging costs, and most
also pay for meals.
For times when they must pay the bill
themselves, some airline workers—especially pilots and
flight attendants—get discounts on hotels, car rentals,
and vacation packages, and they can often swap with other
airlines for free flights. Pilots and flight attendants in
particular have plenty of time to enjoy these perks, too,
since they may get between 10 and 21 days off per month.
Even for a veteran traveler, though,
wanderlust has drawbacks. Most flight attendants and
pilots work on small regional flights, not international
or even transcontinental trips. They see the same cities
every day. Earning the chance to work an international
route takes time, skill, and luck. And traveling requires
spending long stretches away from home. Moreover, because
passengers travel day and night, the schedules of air
travel workers are unusual and often involve extended
New flight attendants almost always start
on reserve status. Reserve status requires that, except
during their guaranteed days off per month, they must be
on call 24 hours a day and be ready to leave on a flight
with only a few hours of notice. Some employees dislike
the uncertainty of this arrangement, but it is generally
considered one of the job’s necessary drawbacks.
How often a pilot works depends on a
number of factors, including seniority and which airline
he or she works for. Many pilots are on call most of the
time and do not have a set schedule.
Some workers tire of being in the cramped quarters of
plane cabins for long periods of time. And as with many
jobs that involve public contact, flight attendants and
pilots are susceptible to frequent colds and minor
illnesses. Their susceptibility is exacerbated by jet lag,
long hours, and frequent moves.
Air traffic controllers do not receive
travel benefits. As employees of the Federal Government,
they are barred by law from accepting tickets or other
gifts related to their work. But controllers who enjoy
traveling can choose to relocate frequently; in many
cases, relocation is likely.
Mechanics and air traffic controllers have
flexible schedules. These workers are needed around the
clock, which allows some workers to choose weekend or
night shifts. Like other workers, mechanics and
controllers have more say in shaping their schedules as
they advance and gain seniority.
Whatever the occupation, working for an
airline or at an airport is not always easy. The air
travel industry depends heavily on customer satisfaction,
so airline and airport employees are expected at all times
to work quickly, efficiently, and cheerfully under
deadline pressure. The frustrations can lead to job
But these jobs are still in high demand.
As a result, many qualified people have difficulty finding
work. Some people first work outside of the airline
industry, gaining experience in other customer service
jobs or for air freight companies. Then, they highlight
their experience to help them land the position that they
It is not always easy to move out of
entry-level jobs in air travel work. Jobs are competitive,
and the demand for higher level positions is greater than
the number available. According to people in the industry,
promotions take time. New workers should consider, before
accepting an entry-level job, whether they will be
satisfied working in the position for a while.
To find more information about occupations
in the air transportation industry, visit a local library
or career center. Many books, periodicals, and other
resources describe air transportation occupations and how
to prepare for them.
One of the resources available at many
libraries and career centers is the Occupational
Outlook Handbook. The Handbook, which is
available and searchable online at www.bls.gov/oco,
describes the nature of work, working conditions,
earnings, employment, and training requirements of air
transportation occupations that are studied by BLS.
Airline companies, airports, and offices
of State employment services are another good resource for
finding out more about air transportation-related
As mentioned in the article, serving in
the U.S. Armed Forces is a good way to prepare for some
aviation-related occupations. For more information about
military job training, see "Military training for
civilian careers (Or: How to gain practical experience
while serving your country)," in the spring 2007 Quarterly.
The article is available online at
Many associations also provide
information. Each of the following offers career advice,
and most maintain lists of available jobs and
Air Line Pilots Association International
1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Washington, DC 20036
Air Transport Association of America, Inc.
Association of Flight Attendants
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20004
501 Third St. NW.
Washington, DC 20001
Helicopter Association International
1635 Prince St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
400 Commonwealth Dr.
Warrendale, PA 15906
Toll-free: 1 (866) 865-PAMA (7262)
Regional Airline Association
2025 M St. NW., Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
For more information about FAA certificate
requirements, Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative
schools, and mechanic training, contact:
800 Independence Ave. SW.
Washington, DC 20591
Toll-free: 1 (866) TELL-FAA (835-5322)
Information about obtaining a Federal Government
position as an air traffic controller or aircraft and
avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians is
available from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
through USAJOBS, the Government’s official employment
information system. To locate and apply for jobs, visit
online at www.usajobs.opm.gov or call an interactive
voice-response telephone system at (703) 724-1850; TDD:
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