Why I Quit My Dream Job as a Pilot

In 2022, I quit my dream pilot job for several reasons. This is an interview-turned-article, where I discuss why I quit, what I moved on to, and what was behind my decisions.

In 2022, I quit my dream job as a pilot. There were several contributing reasons, but the single most important reason was so I could take care of my dying mother, as time was running out.

I recently was interviewed about why I quit my dream pilot job and what I moved to. This is my reasoning, turned into an article.

CaptainFI is not a Financial Advisor and the information below is factual review information, not financial advice. This website is reader-supported, which means we may be paid by advertising on the site, or when you visit links to partner or featured sites. For more information please read my Privacy PolicyTerms of Use, and Financial Disclaimer.

What made you decide to change?

I was becoming increasingly frustrated and stressed at work, working incredibly long hours (80+ hour weeks and long flight hours), feeling taken advantage of by the company and burnt out by poor management, and in my personal life I had significant family health emergencies going on (two parents with terminal cancer) as well as some niggling injuries of my own (back and neck pain, and sleeping poorly from the stress). 

I had started writing and podcasting many years ago and it was a passion I loved, but didn’t really have a lot of time to do because I was so busy working so I could advance my career and build up my savings and investments.

Ultimately, it was my parents both having terminal cancer that really drove me to breaking point. I ended up taking paid leave and using all my balance, then taking unpaid leave, and finally, changing careers. Between “careers” I took about a year off in which I cared for my late mother. After mum’s passing in late 2022, my partner and I slow travelled for a few months to get away from it all and then returned to Australia. I am now writing and podcasting more regularly.

What was happening in your pilot job that made you unhappy/discontent?

I was away from home most of the time, increasingly spending time away from base (middle east, western Australia, around New South wales, USA) with only short turnovers (minimum crew rest turns), and I felt a bit of a disconnect between my personal values and the values of the company and attitude of my colleagues. 

For example, there was a big drinking culture, as well as a ‘smoke em if you got ‘em’ attitude which usually meant a lot of excessive spending – some of my workmates would often run up large credit card bills despite our fairly high wages, and it was the norm for people to borrow money to purchase a car, go on vacation etc. This was quite at odds with my values of frugality, paying cash, and desire to invest and be on the path to financial independence.

Probably one of the biggest things that didn’t align with my values was the toxic ‘push on’ and elitist attitude which can actually be quite dangerous in aviation – the culture of you have to get the job done, you have to work unpaid overtime, you have to be the best. There was little room for sustainably prioritizing physical and mental health, including your family.

There was a lot of virtue signaling and hypocritical campaigns by HR and management such as ‘R U OK day’ which was all for image and “expectation management” and there was no genuine commitment to people and wellbeing.

Training time in the simulator was strictly limited due to costs and staffing issues, so you were just expected to maintain a very high standard of flying and CRM skills through your own unpaid personal reading and study in your downtime. 

plane at sunset, aircraft in sky
Being a financial educator and promoting financial literacy really combined two of my passions – finance and teaching, and I think I can really help make a difference in people’s lives. 

Just prior to the pandemic we actually had a lot of pilots leave (it is natural to have a regular turnover as they moved onto more senior pilot jobs with other airlines) so we became understaffed, and since freight operations were still required we actually didn’t see the slow down that passenger services had, so we were short staffed and really under the pump to get flights completed. 

Due to the fact that passenger airlines were laying off airline pilots and other staff, we got a glut of really highly experienced pilots coming back to the company to work, so we kind of had this mismatch of crewing – some flights would be crewed by three captains! The more senior and experienced and connected/networked pilots tended to ‘get the bids for good trips’ and first officers got the scraps. 

In addition to a high workload, we were also expected to perform highly in frequent simulator checks with little to no practice, when flying it was mostly as ‘Pilot Not Flying duties’ (think: Flight logs, Radios, working the FMS etc) and then even doing a lot of the ‘non flying’ ground-based work such as flight planning, administration, cleaning and at one point I was even told to move furniture around the office and set up desks and computers.

As a brand new commercial pilot flying in General Aviation, I happily jumped at the opportunity to sweep hangars and clean aircraft for even a chance to fly and build up that first thousand precious hours, but as an ATPL pilot flying multi-crew operations internationally and being expected to perform highly, that was not in my job description anymore.

When I needed time off to care for my dying mother, I was able to take some time off but I wasn’t popular with my manager or colleagues who then had to pick up the slack, and of course when I needed to take more time for her palliative care it basically came down to the crunch where I had to decide my family vs my career.

Were you unhappy in your pilot job?

Yes and No. I loved the job and the position, however towards the end, I felt like I couldn’t sustainably manage it. My mental health began to suffer and I started to feel anxious and depressed and ultimately, I refused to fly because I just didn’t feel safe as my mind was totally distracted from the job.

I needed to get home to be with my family interstate. So it’s complicated – I absolutely loved my job as first officer and for the most part, the benefits outweighed the sacrifices, until one day it just didn’t anymore.

How did you go about finding a new role?

Initially, I just took the time off. I had this blog and podcast that I had started and worked on intermittently during my spare time but as I mentioned I was really worked off my feet so I couldn’t give it the attention it deserved. 

Caring for Mum was the same level of work, although once she was settled, say on the couch with meds given, a cup of tea and a movie on, I could usually sneak open my laptop for a bit.

When her health really deteriorated, I wasn’t really able to work on the business at all and as a result, the business really suffered, I lost a few advertising contracts and had to let staff go. After my Mum had passed, my partner and I traveled to just get away from everything for a few months and again, I pretty much completely ignored the business. Once I got back to Australia it was kind of a given I would continue working on it and trying to build it up again.

What made you decide on the new role?

I think being able to work on something I was passionate about, and that I could do from home and still be able to connect socially with things like podcast recordings, online seminars and conferences really appealed to me. 

I love teaching, I am a flying instructor and educating people is kind of in my blood as my mum was a teacher. Being a financial educator and promoting financial literacy really combined two of my passions – finance and teaching, and I think I can really help make a difference in people’s lives. 

What advice could you give to others looking to career change?

Do a job search, do your research, and know your worth. Look into something you love doing, and set strong boundaries so it doesn’t destroy your passion.

For example, I loved flying, but working overtime and basically exceeding crew duty limits regularly actually began to make me loathe it. Really consider your workload and hours, plus any expected overtime or deliverables due in your personal time.

Perhaps consider working part-time permanent positions, personal finance situation dependent. Be aware that moving interstate away from your family or support network can have negative effects on your social and mental well-being, especially if something goes wrong like a close friend or family member gets sick or dies. 

pilot job, captain fi
I’m lucky because I reached financial independence before leaving my flying job so I have investment income to back me up.

Not everyone is going to contemplate switching from a traditional employee position into entrepreneurship or running a business, and sometimes, I feel like I work much harder now for no pay – I actually don’t take a salary or anything at the moment because I want to try and build this business and I have to pay my staff first (I know not everyone in business will agree with this way of doing things) but in a few years as it grows, this will hopefully change.

I’m lucky because I reached financial independence before leaving my flying job so I have investment income to back me up- running the business now is a passion project and it doesn’t have to make money, whereas if you’re not FI then it can be much more stressful. 

What do you get most from your new role in comparison with your last career?

Time, choice, flexibility and creativity. I really have autonomy and freedom which I didn’t get before, I was always quite restricted to the flying schedule and whatever my supervisor and HR wanted me to do. 

Whilst no two days are the same in aviation services, you really are just using the same skills applied to one particular role and it does get monotonous – especially after 8 hours on autopilot in the cruise.

Now I have this unique opportunity to be creative, producing content in cool new ways, writing about whatever interests me, producing videos and infographics for the website and social media, and making a difference in people’s lives.

I get to connect with a diverse variety of people and cultures from all over the world and come together to talk about financial literacy and education, and how it can improve your life – as it turns out – money and financial literacy is something that universally impacts us all, and we can all benefit from improving our personal knowledge on the topic. 

Moomoo banner
eBusiness institute banner thin

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *