Being Married to a Pilot: Luck or Suck?

When it comes up that I’m married to an airline pilot, I usually get told how lucky I am and how they’d love to be in my shoes. I usually just smile and nod, but I know all they see is that you can fly standby for free. Truth is, just like everyone else’s life, the life of a pilot’s wife really can suck.

Pilots Don’t Make as Much as You Think

It used to be that pilots were making bank. Now, long time pilots at major airlines make good money, but pilots just starting out make very little. Think: less than $20k a year. Now, that’s bad enough, but flight school is really expensive. So that $20k a year looks even worse when you have $85k in student loans. When I met my husband, he was renting a room and eating a lot of hot dogs. True story. 

Pilots are Gone a Lot

Pilots work the trips that they are given.  Trips can be one day or multiple days and they can be back to back. It’s not unheard of for there to be six days in a week where a pilot is gone from home. For us, the average is four.

Why this does this happen? A pilot bids for trips. He says, “Hey, I really want this day and this day off, and I don’t want to work Sundays.”  Then the company makes the schedules and sends them out to the pilots. Sometimes it works and the trips match up with what you requested. Sometimes you are pretty much screwed, and there’s not anything you can do about it. You just have to hope the next month is better.

My husband and I have been married eight years, and he’s been home for two Christmases. Halloween is hit or miss. He tries to get our kids’ birthdays off, but he’s working during my daughter’s birthday next month. My husband will never be able to coach a sports team.

And those cute family traditions like Taco Tuesday?

Yeah, not so much. No week is ever the same as the week before because we work around dad’s schedule. That’s one perk of being a pilot’s wife, because there’s a good amount of spontaneity in our lives, but it’s absolutely a drawback, too.

Forget Shared Parenting

Kid wakes up sick? Too bad—that’s all me. It’s not like I can ask him to help me while he’s off in Timbuktu—literally, he’s flying to Timbuktu! In that case, maybe he can help in three days when his trip is over, but by then you’ve probably passed the worst of it alone.

Pilot Marriages Fail Often

They have an acronym for the sheer number of pilots and their wives who can’t make it work: “AIDS” (Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome). There’s enough time away that a pilot and his wife can live a whole separate life, à la The Pilot’s Wife—a novel I highly recommend reading. I’ve also been told affairs abound. Regular marriage is hard enough—being married to a pilot can become simply ridiculous.

Standby Can Be Hard

How would you fly to Tucson from Dallas? One flight, right? Maybe two? Here’s how we did it last time we needed to make the trip:

  • Dallas to Detroit
  • Detroit to Allentown, PA
  • Allentown, PA to Atlanta
  • Atlanta to Phoenix
  • Drive from Phoenix to Tucson in a rental car

I am dead serious.

It isn’t always this bad, but coming back from Hawaii had us spend the night in the San Francisco airport. It is rarely glamorous, and almost always logistically difficult. Our kids are often subjected to some pretty tough 20-hour travel days.

On the upside? None of us would have visited nearly the number of places without this particularly perk of being married to a pilot. I’m not saying that flying standby for free it isn’t awesome, just that it can be difficult!

The Bottom Line: It’s Complicated & You Need Support Groups

Next time you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and start dreaming about someone else’s situation, remember: No one’s life is 100% perfect. The person whose life you envy may well be envying yours. If you’re just becoming a pilot’s wife, there are some great Pilot’s Wife support groups on Facebook where you can go and talk to women who are in the same situation. This is a great one, —it’s specifically for “professional pilot spouses to provide support in navigating the unique challenges associated with being an aviation family,” and there are a few others if you search “Pilot Wives” with the search bar. 

Other Recommended Resources and Readings: 

By Amy Moore