Myths, Stereotypes and Reality

The longtime stereotype of airline pilots is that they are male, fearless, perfectly fit, good at math, trained in the military, blessed with perfect vision, all paid like super senior 747 captains (regardless of what they really fly) and only at work three days every other month.

In the 1950s, some of these notions were accurate. The average professional pilot was a white man with a military background who didn't wear glasses (at least when he was hired). With a little career luck, he became a senior pilot flying the largest planes and, as such, made the big bucks.

Today, women and minorities are in all positions within the aviation job spectrum, roughly half of professional pilots never flew in the military, and, as long as his or her vision is correctable to 20/20, a pilot can have glasses the thickness of Coke bottle bottoms. Work commitments vary greatly between airlines, but being away from home roughly half of the month is a good average. While not every pilot has the body and health of an aerobics instructor, all must be fit enough to pass a medical exam at regular intervals.

Only a relative few senior 747 captains at major airlines make legendary 747 captain's pay (upwards of $250,000 a year). At the low end of the pay scale, some pilots for small airlines make little enough to qualify for food stamps. Most salaries are somewhere in between. It all depends on your position, aircraft, airline size and time at that airline.