I wish I was an airline pilot

This is just my own thoughts. Please don't hate on me; my mental health can't take it right now.

Growing up, I always wanted to be an airline pilot. I remember flying on 747s to Asia, and I was so enamored by them. I have always loved planes. I spend a lot of time on the MSFT flight simulator. I have also spent much of my free time trying to fly, but its hard being in IB. I love flying so much. My parents didn't want me to be a pilot because it's "impractical." I guess 2020 is a bad year to want to be a pilot, but before COVID, there was a shortage. My parents were both lawyers, so they made 500k+ per year while I was growing up. I guess I also just got addicted to the lifestyle and was too scared about losing it so I chose to go into IB vs being a pilot.  

At the end of the day, this was my choice. I could have forgone my parents financial support and have went to flight school, but I choose money and became an iBanker. I was just promoted to VP at my BB, and I honestly think I can one day I will make MD, but i just feel sad and empty when I go on road shows. The clients fly us on private, but I always prefer flying commercial because of how much I love aviation. Flying is an experience to me. 

I'm somewhat religious, so I understand that no matter how wealthy I am, it won't matter in 100 years to me. I could be in Heaven/Hell, or I could just be blank, dependent on your beliefs, so I just want to say, if you're a high school or early college student reading this, please please please just follow what you love.

One of my MDs actually has a pilots license, so he's really supportive of me flying, but this is just pure luck. I could have just as easily been under an MD who doesn't give a shit. 

I fantisize about a world where I could be an airline pilot and not care about money.

Sorry for typos; It's a rare 3 day weekend for me, and I'm drunk af.

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Comments (57)

Nov 30, 2020 - 9:56am

My sister and her husband are both Captains for United Airlines. I don't think being a commercial airline pilot is as glamorous as you think. Maybe in the 80s or 90s. The pay was cut significantly for most pilots in the 2000s and they earn a respectable wage, but nothing huge. Also, with Covid right now it is not the best time to be flying around and just has a lot of protocols making it a pain in the ass right now in airports as well as the airlines letting a lot of people go. 

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

  • 2
  • VP in IB-M&A
Nov 30, 2020 - 10:09am

What I mean is, I wish I didn't care about the pay/glamor. I wish I could just have been a pilot, no matter what. Like sure, I couldn't live in my NYC high end 1BDRM as a pilot, but I would still survive. And regarding covid, if all my potential originations can have covid adjusted EBITDAs when considering their M&As, then I can have a covid adjusted life fantasy.  

Nov 30, 2020 - 10:00am

It is great to be passionate about something, follow your dreams!

(BTW, I have two commercial pilots in my circle of friends - they are both unemployed now).

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Nov 30, 2020 - 12:08pm

thought this was very well written and some great advice. honestly almost any other job that pays a decent salary looks greener on the other side compared to banking

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Nov 30, 2020 - 12:16pm

Oh man, throw-back to FSX. Like you, I love planes, too. Played the flight simulator all my childhood and only stopped cuz I moved to college. Wanted to be a pilot too but also was discouraged by my parents. the dream is to one day get rich enough so that I can have my own little plane that I fly. 

  • VP in IB-M&A
Nov 30, 2020 - 4:57pm

Haha yeah. I have memories of my dad buying me FSX. When MSFT announced their new simulator, I felt happier than I have felt in a long time.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Nov 30, 2020 - 8:43pm

Oh yes, same here. Waiting to complete my IB SA this summer and then build a new rig haha. 

Dec 1, 2020 - 8:12pm

My best to your brother, a big part of me has always wanted to be a fighter pilot. Too bad I go to the completely wrong school and have begun the IB route for undergrad. Hopefully I can get a private license someday.

Dec 1, 2020 - 9:44pm

You could always go:

Military Pilot > MBA > IB


Military Pilot > Major Commercial Airline

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Dec 3, 2020 - 12:53am

In undergrad right now on the IB path but always have dreamed of serving and flying since a kid (what better way to do it than navy fighter). With that being said, I've always kept it as a dream pushed aside. Not sure why, but maybe fear of missing out on my 20s, or not getting the best possible job to set myself up later, etc. I'm at that point right now where this is really my last opportunity to decide and go for it, especially coming off my summer stint and starting FT. I don't know if I will regret not going Military Pilot > MBA > IB 10 years down the line. Would appreciate some insight from graduated folks who experienced similar thoughts and their opinion on it now after being in the workforce for a bit. I think either way you go there will always be the "grass is always greener" mentality to an extent, but like I said, curious to hear from others 

Dec 3, 2020 - 11:51am

I'm in the exact same situation as you right now. For me, I think I've put the idea aside because I feel there's potentially less financial stability in the long run. You also nailed it when you said you don't want to miss out on your 20s, I feel a lot of that as well. Would definitely welcome anyone's opinions or advice on the matter since the goal is to minimize regrets down the road. Having already started the IB route in undergrad it would definitely make the trade off more difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Nov 30, 2020 - 3:11pm

I've heard the 777 is nice to fly as well. 

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Nov 30, 2020 - 3:32pm

Totally get this man.

maybe keep that grind up, make MD, get your private pilots license and a little SR22(its got a parachute) and take your family around in it... Bahamas, cross country, upstate for a long weekend. Out to the hamptons etc. 

All the pleasure of flying, none of the working for $12 an hour on a regional for a decade... 

Nov 30, 2020 - 4:09pm

Some people in my family were aeronautical engineers. Weren't rich but made good money and designed planes. 

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Nov 30, 2020 - 4:18pm

Solid post, I can definitely relate to the appeals of aviation; something about the idea of mankind's achievement of flight is so ethereal and deeply fascinating.

I would definitely echo the recommendations to pursue recreational aviation. My Uncle is a name partner at a law firm but flies in his free time (and also flies himself to semi-local meetings) and spends more than my aunt would like on his plane. Just goes to show you can find time to pursue passions while following a demanding, traditional career path.

If you're ever looking to revel in the joys of aviation, I'd HIGHLY recommend watching the films Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises by Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki. Something about their work just cures my depression for a few hours; those two focus on the art of flying, so I thought you might enjoy them.

Nov 30, 2020 - 4:28pm

Any reason why you still can't fulfill this dream? You probably have some good money saved up, if not grind it for a couple of years, save aggressively and do some moderate lifestyle deflation. Tons of people have different careers/make massive changes.

Nov 30, 2020 - 5:11pm

My best friend is trying to be an airline pilot. He has his license and more certifications than I can name. It's fun as hell flying with him in various planes. It's a tough time right now. He said he found 3 job openings that he qualified for, none of which he got. There's a lot of even more qualified people getting those roles. 

But like all things, this too shall pass. Why not start building up some hours? You can get your private license and other certifications (multi engine etc). Then see if you really want to go the airline route. 

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” - Nassim Taleb
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  • Intern in IB - DCM
Nov 30, 2020 - 6:25pm

Looked into an aviation career when I was in high school. Realized that for the money you have to spend (college + flight school), the pay frankly isn't enough since you have to spend a good amount of time in the regionals. Still think it would be an awesome job though and definitely want to get my private license eventually. 

Nov 30, 2020 - 8:15pm

You can typically avoid the regional airlines if you're coming from a military aviation career.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Nov 30, 2020 - 7:39pm

It's a good career if ur tenacious.

Costs around 50k to get all ur licenses and ratings. Most ppl then flight instruct for a year or two before getting a job at a small regional airline and then work there for a few years(earn around 40k starting as a FO). After the regionals, if u got thr hours and made captain, u get a chance to go to the majors (United, Delta, American,etc) where the pay can go up to 300k as a senior captain.

Wanted to pursue this after uni but would rather invest 50k into an index fund lol. I built a monster PC and got every addons possible(spent around 3k) on P3D and fly on a network where they simulate real world procedures (vatsim).

  • Associate Consultant in CorpStrat
Dec 3, 2020 - 11:21pm

The question you should be asking yourself is: "How many years am I willing to sacrifice to the military before leaving and getting an MBA?". If that answer is less than 10, good luck bub, cuz you aren't flying. 

There are many more 'pilot hopefuls' than there are pilot jobs, and you can absolutely forget about fighter pilot positions without committing to a significant length of service. Every single person who was in the navy in my MBA wanted to fly, zero actually ended up in a cockpit.  

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  • Associate Consultant in CorpStrat
Dec 3, 2020 - 9:02pm

This is interesting to read. Straight out of undergrad, I pursued a career as an airline pilot. I got my PPL, CPL, CFII, and got hired as a diver driver then a survey pilot.  I did this for a year and a half, then quit straight away to work at Boeing in their flight deck design group. I'm now just finishing recruiting for banking out of my MBA.

Here's a reality check - in a perfect market for airline pilot jobs (2012 - March 2020), it took 15 years to get anywhere close to making "good money" in this career. You need 1,200 PIC hours just to make it past the first screen at a regional airline. After 5 years of making $36K at the regionals, you got upgraded to a mainline FO job, and 10 years later you made captain. It is a cushy job once you get there, but that's a long time to get to $150k/year. 

None of my pilot friends have jobs right now. In fact, at United, in order to NOT get laid off due to COVID, you would've had to been hired in 2004 or earlier. So there are 16 years worth of pilots with actual experience ahead of you waiting for their jobs back. 

To be a successful pilot, you really REALLY need to love it, and pilots these days have learned how important it is to have at least some transferrable job skills so they can do something other than flip burgers during COVID-22. 

EDIT: Compiling some thoughts here about pros and cons of military and commercial pilot jobs as heard from my experience with pilots of all types.
Pros: Thrill of operating the machine, knowing your work makes a real impact, travel for free, very high pay per hour at mainline Captain levels with world class WLB (talking $250k+/year to work 6 days a month)
Cons: Uncomfortable work environment (imagine flying a fighter plane for 5 hours nonstop), boring long haul flights, dirty/old/poorly maintained equipment, sitting in long lines waiting to takeoff (ORD, JFK, LAX..et al), very long meritocratic career trajectory that involves years making terrible pay while being based in shitty domiciles, away from home a lot in early career, cyclical industry that is seeing increased automation 

Dec 3, 2020 - 9:08pm

This 100 percent.

The grass may seem greener on the other side but you need to be tenacious to last as an airline pilot. Pilots at the majors are taking 30 hours per month when they used to work 77.5 pre-covid just to not be furloughed. If ur going into to training right now there are many CFIs and low-timers waiting do their shot at the regionals so it will be a few years at least before you get your chance.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Dec 3, 2020 - 11:44pm

Awesome to hear your story/input. Like all major industries, the airlines will rebound - may not be for some years, but the demand for pilots will return. On a separate note, I've heard some horror stories of young regional guys making the jump abroad at the allure of operating wide-bodies (Emirates, Cathay, etc.), in hopes of getting big boy time to transfer back to US majors but getting absolutely screwed over on contracts. Obviously this was more popular in the early 2000s when things were booming abroad in the UAE / Asia with the rapid expansion of Emirates / Cathay, big hiring push from hundreds of new aircraft, and no one knew better. And the funny thing is if I was a regional FO then, I probably would have jumped at the opportunity to fly 777s for Emirates around the world at 25 years old. Who wouldn't? It's such a crazy industry that really really requires patience and the love for aviation to get to that cushy point you're talking about. 

  • Associate Consultant in CorpStrat
Dec 6, 2020 - 12:52pm

I haven't flown for a while so I'm no longer current, but I could probably get current again with some book study and 5-10hrs with a CFI. I'll probably pick it up again after I finish up this MBA and get a year of work done.

You are right, it is an expensive hobby, but there are definitely ways to do it on the cheap. Flying clubs offer members to buy-in to a membership and pay a lower per hour rate on your standard Cessna. Purchasing a small 2 seat taildragging bush plane is also relatively inexpensive - A piper cub or equivalent can be bought for less than 80k used, but with a cruise speed of 75mph, you better not be in a hurry to get anywhere.   

You may also consider paragliding. You get the same sensation of soaring but without the recurring expense of an aircraft.  

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Dec 6, 2020 - 1:28pm

Really interesting to hear. I'm a student pilot about to complete his PPL and will be joining IB this coming summer FT. Similar story to you grew up dreaming of planes but parents while supportive really wanted me to focus more on something more intellectual. Didn't help growing up in a very competitive area and going to a competitive high school. Felt like being a pilot would be looked down upon so I pursued banking to "prove myself". I went gung ho in IB after watching the movies and was driven/motivated and actually do enjoy what I've done in the financial sector via internships but know full-time can be a different story. Halfway through my college career during a networking trip to NYC I met with a bunch of bankers and the CFO of a major company. All very accomplished careers but none of them seemed happy with their lives. It was then I decided after my analyst years I would pursue a fighter pilot slot with a reservist squadron. I've been actively recruiting for that and talking to the pilots is amazing, those guys are in love with their jobs. Talked to many MDs who are former fighter pilots and they tell me that they wouldn't give up the 10 years they flew for the world.

That being said sometimes I talk to my parents about this dream and they are supportive but are somewhat disappointed that I would give up on such a successful career. Plus looking at all the hard work I've put in to get onto the street from a non-target I also do feel like I'm letting myself, my family, and my school down. But in the end of the day I don't want to be on my deathbed looking back at life and regretting not doing what I love. I'd rather be Robin Olds than Jamie Dimon any fucking day. We'll see what happens.

  • Associate Consultant in CorpStrat
Dec 6, 2020 - 4:01pm

I think you should be confident in your decision. While you may have met MDs who are former fighter pilots that loved it, I can guarantee there are just as many former fighter pilots who got sick of the life really quickly. Hard to imagine, but it's true. The hours spent in briefings (2hrs in a briefing per 1hr flying is a good rule of thumb), working in an uncomfortable cockpit (no bathroom, strapped tight to an Aluminum chair), while living an otherwise minimalist lifestyle (rarely get nights out, living in places like Oklahoma, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida Panhandle) can absolutely outweigh the thrill of flying. Grass is always greener I guess.   

Not to sound patronizing, but I had the same dilemma when I was younger. I learned that I was more comfortable with flying being a hobby to enjoy rather than an obsession to slave over. While I'm no longer current (see my other comments on this thread), flying is still a major part of my life and will absolutely continue to be...and I'll continue to fund this hobby with income generated by a skill that is generally more transferrable. 

Dec 6, 2020 - 6:53pm

Interesting thread for me. I'm an airline pilot who is trying to get into Finance. I love flying the planes, but as another poster mentioned, I think many successful people look down upon professional pilots. I'd like to work in a field with much higher earning potential and upward mobility.  

Dec 8, 2020 - 8:38am


Interesting thread for me. I'm an airline pilot who is trying to get into Finance. I love flying the planes, but as another poster mentioned, I think many successful people look down upon professional pilots. I'd like to work in a field with much higher earning potential and upward mobility.  

What's your general schedule look like as an airplane pilot? 

Dec 9, 2020 - 6:31am

Usually 3 on, 3 off. Sometimes I'll have a 3-4 day trip flying around, and then find myself with 5 days off after returning home. There's a lot of variety and flexibility with the schedule. 

Dec 8, 2020 - 8:55pm

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"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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