Objectively, pilots are cool. They fly enormous machines through the air at incalculable* speeds, get to travel all over the world, and have an entire plane full of people’s lives in their hands. Also, Top Gun. As the wife of a pilot, people frequently ask me about the profession, what it’s like for my husband to travel so much, and how to get cheaper airfare. I enjoy it! Air travel is swathed in mystery and romance so people are naturally inclined to be curious about it. Pilots and flight attendants are especially rare, so when people meet one, they often want to talk about it.
The first thing to know about the people who are married to pilots is that there is no one singular version of that person. I enjoy telling Kyle’s wilder stories second-hand or emphasizing that pilots don’t have anything to do with the lines at TSA. Other spouses-o’-pilots are probably tired of talking about it. Much like being an Army Wife, there is a certain Brand association for pilots and their families. Heteronormativity is still strong in the profession, which leads for a lot of pilot-wifey marketing opportunities. A brief search in Etsy with the terms “pilot’s wife” will bring up an array of t-shirts and mugs in the “Mrs.” aesthetic some people love. Personally, that’s not for me. While I can’t speak for all partners-of-pilots, here are some frequently asked questions I can address:
How often is your husband gone?
Like, a lot dude. While I’m used to Kyle being away from home at least a few days a week and it’s very much my normal, I still miss him! For each pilot it depends on so many factors including the airline, seniority, and how much the pilot wants to fly. Kyle is gone on average two or three nights a week. Sometimes he’s home for an entire week in a row, sometimes he’s only at home from midnight to seven in the morning. Really, it’s fine. I’m often extremely grateful we don’t have kids, however, since I also work a full time job and that would be stressful.
Where is he flying today?
Time to play “guess this airport code!” Kyle shares his work schedule with me so my calendar populates with all the three-letter airport codes where he’ll be flying on each individual trip. When he first started flying for the airlines, I would look every morning and see where he’d be that day. This lasted for about a month. Now, I’m just fairly confident he’s flying somewhere east of the Mississippi. It’s pretty wild how many different airports crews will visit in just one day! HPN anyone?
He has a set schedule and route now, right?
Okay, you’ll have to ask the families of those elite mainline captains because rumor-has-it that eventually in very special circumstances it might be possible for pilots to have something similar to a predictable 9-to-5. Kyle is a First Officer (co-pilot) and works for a regional affiliate of American Airlines called PSA and does not have a set schedule or route. He learns his schedule for the month about two weeks in advance and is able to trade trips during the SAP (schedule adjustment period) to try to get the days off he wants. It’s pretty cool and has worked out well for us. I do feel bad when friends and family want to plan things more than a few weeks in advance but, since we don’t have young kids, this isn’t too much of a hassle.
Do you fly for free?
HELL YEAH WE DO BRUV #BLESSED. This is not something I like to brag about because I want to have friends but yes we fly for free. There are a few caveats but who even cares about them, honestly? PSA is affiliated with American Airlines so Kyle and his beloved spouse and parents can fly for free on any domestic American Airlines flight in a non-revenue seat. Basically, standby. If there is an empty seat on an American Airlines flight, in theory, I can fill that seat with my seat for free. We pay for taxes and fees on international flights, as our non-rev guests pay on both domestic and international flights. A jealous hag once said, “oh, but it’s standby so like, you’re not guaranteed a seat, so…” I leaned in close and whispered softly, bish neither are you, read the fine print. For real though guys, it’s a whole new world up in the international business class cabin.
Some final facts: The travel industry is wild and as far as I can tell there’s no easy way to fly on a budget. Pilots across the board are disappointingly all still almost exclusively male and white. Flight attendants are chronically undervalued, overworked, and underpaid. Your pilot wants to get there just as much as you do, and finally, it’s truly a miracle if your plane manages to get off the ground without a maintenance issue. I’m so grateful that Kyle put in years of training and dedication to become a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and then did it all over again to learn an entirely different airframe, all so I could fly for free.
*The speeds are, in fact, very calculable.