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Summer 2007 Vol. 51, Number 2

Sky-high careers:
Jobs related to airlines

Tamara Dillon


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 hours.

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 burnout.

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 want.

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.

Learning more

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, 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 occupations.

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 scholarships.

Air Line Pilots Association International
1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Washington, DC 20036
(703) 689-2270

Air Transport Association of America, Inc.
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 626-4000

Association of Flight Attendants
501 Third St. NW.
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 434-1300

Helicopter Association International
1635 Prince St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 683-4646

Professional Aviation
Maintenance Association
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
(202) 367-1170


For more information about FAA certificate requirements, Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative schools, and mechanic training, contact:

Federal Aviation
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 or call an interactive voice-response telephone system at (703) 724-1850; TDD: (978) 461-8404).

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Last Updated: February 15, 2007