Real Answers from Real Pilots

Is it possible to live a "nomadic" lifestyle as an airline pilot?

Hi all,

I’m currently three months into the 40 hour career pilot program at ATP and it’s going very smoothly and I’m super glad that I started down this path.

A little background before my question: I’m a bit of a nomad and my career before I started at ATP allowed me to move around the country pretty often. I would move around about once or twice a year or so and I even spent some time living out of a camper and was on the road constantly for around 6 months. I love that lifestyle and would like to continue it.

So my question: Is it possible to move around a lot (like every six months or so) when you are working at an airline? Would that change between airlines or major/regional carriers? I know a lot of people may live out of state and commute to their base. Does the airline expect you to always commute from the same location?

It seems like this should be totally possible but I don’t want to get my hopes up and have unreasonable expectations. I hope I explained myself clearly. I just want the freedom to live in one state for a few months and then go to another state then another state etc. (obviously, I’m single, no kids blah blah blah).

Thanks!

Hi Cory,

Glad the training is going well for you. I have a good friend Brian who flies for United and humorously calls himself “homeless”. Brian actually owns a few homes in IAH which he bought years ago in some questionable neighborhoods. Well the neighborhoods cleaned up and he realized he could collect some serious rent from them, including the home he was living in himself. He put all his stuff in storage and “lives” wherever he finds himself. He flies often so when he’s working United takes care of the hotel. He has a girlfriend in CA and other family elsewhere in the country and if all else fails he gets a hotel room for a night or 2. Now this doesn’t sound like what you’re talking about but I think it answers your question. I’ve known pilots who commute from Asia, Europe and Australia. Honestly the airline could care less where you’re commuting from or how you get to work so long as you do get to work. It’s your choice BUT more important it’s YOUR responsibility and that’s that. That said don’t expect them to pay for your commute, your moving expenses or listen to your excuses if you can’t figure out how to get to work from your new camp.

Adam

That is awesome! Exactly the kind of thing that I was hoping was possible. I was already really excited about a career flying planes but now I’m even more excited!

Cory,

I routinely commute out of both Norfolk, VA and South Bend, IN and sometimes Denver, CO. United doesn’t care where I come in from, as long as I am there in time for my trip they are happy.

Chris

@Adam,
Quick question about commuting- obviously, the pilot has a responsibility to get to work, wherever that may be, in plenty of time to fly the aircraft. When commuting from another state or part of the country, how can a pilot prepare for commuting without overcompensating for possible delays? Can pilots generally safely assume that he/she could catch a ride on the preferred outgoing flight to get them there right in time, or do pilots tend to commute on a flight that leaves a few hours earlier in case of weather, repairs, etc?

In short, I suppose what I am saying is how does a pilot make sure that he is not late, factoring in so many factors that could delay him? What if another pilot gets the jumpseat first?

Elaine,

Those are things that you just pick up with time. There are a lot of things that can cause problems with your commute, that is why a lot of people prefer not to commute. In the end it is no different than commuting in your car. You just estimate what could go wrong and plan accordingly.

For example, if your show time is 10am and your flight is scheduled to land at 9:45am, you’re taking a risk. It would be smart to take a flight that lands at 7am or 8am, to avoid the risk

Another example, if you have to show up at 10am and you have a flight that arrives at 8am but the weather is forecast to be bad, you would probably want to commute in the night before and spend the night in a hotel since you can bet on the morning flight being delayed.

Yarden

Elaine,

It would be very risky to arrive right in time for a flight assignment. Most of us that commute leave one or two flights prior than when we need to, even that means leaving the day before. In case of bad weather like winter storms it is sometimes necessary to commute in a whole 24 hours prior to beginning work. If another pilot gets the jumpseat first then you go find another ride to work.

Some airlines have “commuter clauses” to their contract that help pilots that aren’t able to make their flight assignments, but the pilot has to meet certain criteria and the trip is dropped without pay.

Chris

Elaine,

Like the others said you get better with practice but you start “assuming” your preferred route is fine that’s when you have problems AND getting there just in time is frankly irresponsible. I’ve never actually commuted I do travel alot to see family and friends. I’m not even trying to get to work and always have a few days and trust me even that’s stressful. I’ll always have at least 2 alternate plans and sometimes I have to get really creative.

Adam

Thanks for all the info! Very helpful to know.