Should You Leave the Military for the Airlines?
Erik Sabiston
October 23, 2020

The airlines have crashed and burned. The economy has taken a huge hit. Most American’s savings are dwindling fast. Health care’s future is uncertain. Now is NOT the time to go off on some fool idealistic crusade in a civilian job market fraught with career IEDs and financial ambushes seemingly at every turn. Is this really the time to go chase your dreams?

If you’re reading this you probably should answer yes.

Let’s look at some of the factors that support this.

The industry has changed. For six years we’ve watched the airlines shift from a post recessionary slog in hiring and pay rates, to a meteoric frenzy in growth. The entire planet has experienced an increase in their standard of living. Once dormant regions of the globe saw a burgeoning middle class ready to travel. Now a rapidly aging pilot and mechanic workforce threatens to limit that growth. Early retirements may have saved some airline’s bottom dollar, but those measures only kicked the can over, not down the road. The infrastructure that supports the industry is also not going away. Economies rely on air travel to survive just like they rely on computers.

People want to fly. Air travel has now become accepted by the public as a normal occurrence, not a rare luxury for the rich and famous. The rise of low cost carriers has given way to a new market reality. You can travel to Cancun for less than the cost of a nice dinner date. With this shift in passenger makeup has come the realization that the destination is the journey, not the other way around. Business travel may wane, but the first time a company loses a big deal because their competitor met a potential customer in person (instead of by Zoom) then you can count on business travel to roar back. Hong Kong Express, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and many more have flown sold out “flights to nowhere”, with passengers even clapping on take-off. Never has a worldwide crisis prevented everyone from traveling in the air all at once. This hasn’t happened before. Add in the widespread lockdowns, now condemned by the WHO, and one can see that post-vaccine, people will pour into airline terminals. Daily traveler numbers from the TSA alone have already crossed 1,000,000 and are still rising.

Airlines will hire again, and they will hire much earlier than expected. It’s simple math. If you’re an airline executive you need to beat your competition. Already they are smelling blood in the water. Gate spaces and routes are up for grabs as the legacy carrier’s networks shrink temporarily. Airlines fighting to capitalize on this will invariably require larger pilot groups to support their gambles. Those pilots and mechanics must be trained beforehand. Picture the 3 Velociraptors attacking the Tyrannosaurs at the end of Jurassic Park. Now imagine 12 or more of them attacking it.

Let’s look at some reasons why you shouldn’t go to the airlines though.

Stability. If you’re “past the hump” in the military, have significant debt, have no savings, have a loved one with a health issue, don’t have much training or education lined up for your chosen career field or you just plain don’t like risk, stay. Stay where you’re at. Don’t make the jump. This industry is a gamble and requires a different kind of courage. It is not a matter of “if” but “when” another downturn could happen. You could not get promoted in the military, perish in an accident, have your career field wiped out (OH-58D folks know what I’m talking about) or just plain get shipped out on a medical, but you’re going to get a paycheck in the meantime. Military health care is cheap. Benefits are solid. Time off is decent. By and large, it’s a safe, stable gig. The blended retirement system has nullified some of this but admittedly it’s not much different than the airline’s retirement systems.

Excitement. Pulling standard at Flight Level 180 is easy work. Four star hotels are great. Flight benefits are amazing. However, there’s nothing in the airlines like the camaraderie of working as a team in combat, supporting Soldiers or Marines by suppressing the enemy or flying a wounded service member to the hospital. You’re a part of a higher calling. Your job has real meaning in comparison. Every day you will go to sleep knowing you did more than just provide “excellent customer service”. Time at home is similar in some ways. Airline pilots are gone a lot in the beginning of their careers until they build seniority, but by and large, they do go home every week. You may be in Afghanistan for one year or underway on a Med Cruise for 200+ days, but you do get larger stretches at home when you’re not deployed or in a training exercise. You and your family need to decide which is worse.

I have never regretted my service one bit and I am grateful for what the military gave to me. Without them I would never have had these opportunities, or these friends. When it’s time to leave though, hold your head high and never burn your bridges.

If you’re reading this you’ve likely made up your mind already. The airlines are already planning their return. Yep, in the midst of a pandemic they are acting like “businesses”, lol. If you want to go into the airlines, and you’re not scared off by the risk-versus-the-reward, then educate yourself now and train for this career so that you’re ready when hiring resumes. If you’re still on the fence then do not ask vague questions like, “Do you like your job?”. Conversely, don’t accept everything as gospel truth. Ask direct questions. What was the training? Which company work rules do you like or dislike?

Either path is fraught with danger really, just different kinds. Equal those out and here’s a final analogy of what you are left with.

“The military is like a red hot sports car. Powerful engine, great acceleration, sleek lines. Exciting.

The airlines are like a luxury sedan. Smooth, quiet, plenty of speed still but comfortable.

I loved driving a Porsche once when I was young, but these days I wouldn’t trade one for a Bentley.”

Drive on RTAGers!


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