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The hardest part of the job

I was asked recently by a prospective airline employee what the hardest part of the job might be for a pilot or a flight attendant. Answers to this question vary; what is hard for one may not be a big deal for another.
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However, I’d say that working on the holidays is probably at the top of the list for most. It’s one thing to work a job on Thanksgiving or Christmas where you can be home for part of the day, even if it’s just dinner. But it’s something else entirely to be in a hotel room in a city far from home.

The period of stagnation after September 11, 2001, meant that there were some crew members that never had a holiday off, and many missed being a parent on some of those most important days. Working on the holidays is hard, it’s lonely, it’s stressful because of the high load factors, and if the weather is bad, it can add new layers of miserable. Airlines do their best to make it palatable by offering free meals in certain airports, and perhaps vouchers for restaurants in others. Some also include a pay premium for working all or parts of holidays. Personally, I’ve never been the beneficiary of this, but I hear that it takes the sting out of it at least a little bit.

In truth, there are only a few holidays that you can’t move to celebrate in your own way. New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July come to mind, but the rest can be done on any given day. I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas well away from the actual calendar dates, and the experience was not much different. I may not have had a football game to watch, and the crowd might have been a bit smaller, but the spirit and sense of family were the same, and that’s all that matters. The fact that a working parent can watch on Skype or FaceTime as the kids open their presents on Christmas morning makes for a better experience than having to participate with just a phone receiver.

This business is a 24/7 year-round operation, and being gone on big days is a reminder of that. However, life is what you make it, and while you may feel the sting of being gone when you’d rather be home, take some pride in helping another family come together, some of whom may be seeing each other for the last time. When you do get home, soak it up and revel in the opportunity. You owe that much to yourself.

Chip Wright

Chip Wright is an airline pilot and frequent contributor to AOPA publications.

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