Parenting and relationships can be tough for families in many industries.
But those who travel for a living (or have a spouse who does so) have an extra set of challenges to overcome.
In business aviation, it’s obvious that pilots and flight attendants travel, but so do maintenance technicians and many service professionals who work in the industry.
Relating to Parents
At API, my role is to talk one-on-one with potential candidates and learn about their backgrounds, and why each person might be looking for new work. Thankfully, I can easily relate to those who are parenting in business aviation, because we do face special challenges.
After all, I’m a full-time working mom of two boys (ages 10 and 14) and I recently married a corporate pilot. I’m also grateful to have grown up in and worked for my family’s FBO business, which provided me with a passion for aviation and a deep understanding of aircraft operations.
For me, my background in this industry affords me a broad understanding of many of its personal and professional challenges. It helps to validate my conversations with our API candidates. When they discuss their struggles, I can empathize with them, as I’ve likely had a similar experience.
So, the real question is, how do we make parenting in business aviation work?
As I’ve discovered, a lot of our pilot candidates have kids in school and about half of their spouses also work outside the home.
What I often hear is that the support from their spouses is what enables them to do their jobs effectively, and travel without the constant worry about how things are at home.
It’s a “win-win” for these aviation families.
During my conversations with candidates, I listen to them describe their unique situations. In doing so, I try to help them determine the best professional path for them, while also considering the needs of their families.
As you might imagine, I ask a lot of questions.
How many children are at home and where are they in their school careers? This is an important question, because I know that as children get further on into middle and high school, many parents feel greater reluctance to move them away from their routines and friends.
Are you ready for a leadership position and the number of hours that it entails? We already know that aviation is a 24/7/365 business, but when you’re the boss, you are always on call. It’s important to be sure that your family will be okay with interrupted meals and last-minute changes to plans.
Where do you want to fly to, and how long can you be away from home? Perhaps you love long-haul international travel where, as my husband suggests, you might be “scoping locations for future family trips or romantic vacations with your spouse.” Or, maybe you desire to be home most nights, preferring a more domestic flying profile.
Is relocation a viable option for your family? You may have an existing support structure where you live that you cannot afford to leave. Conversely, perhaps a relocation nearer to aging parents or helpful relatives would be desirable. Relocation is often a perfect way to bridge into “empty nester” life.
These days, the “working family” is in a high state of flux. Roles and responsibilities are changing at warp speed. And those changes affect how we can build a career, do our jobs and, at the same time, create a successful home life.
That said, there’s an added layer of difficulty for those who happen to be female pilot parents.
By nature of a mother’s relationship with her children and her traditional role in the family, it adds complexity to keeping a family running smoothly. It can take even more effort to create solutions that help keep things on an even keel. It means having an even more supportive, flexible system at home to make that work.
One thing that I absolutely relate to is the idea that a pilot’s spouse needs to be independent. A pilot or traveling professional cannot tend to a leaky sink when they’re half way around the world. They need to have the confidence that their partner has a handle on things back at home.
Since I work in our home, I can flex and bend as necessary to make our lives run smoothly. My job is to be the consistent person in our marriage, and be present for our kids. My husband, Matt, is gone up to 175 nights a year.
There definitely are months that are busy, busy, busy! But, on the other hand, we also enjoy (and very much treasure) periods of downtime.
When it comes to birthdays and holidays, I figured out a long time ago that our lives were not always going to include celebrating an event on the day that it’s traditionally celebrated.
Being in this business, we have to remain flexible and honor and celebrate important events when we have the time. Funnily, one of our bizav colleagues, Jamie Stember, refers to holidays away as “AHA Days.” The acronym is short for “Another Holiday Away.”
From “Work/Life Balance” to “Life Integration”
Putting aside my own opinions for a moment, I asked Jamie (who’s an aviation director), about his experiences regarding this topic, and I sought his advice for couples and families.
He made a great point in saying that “expectations are key.”
Jamie also advised me that people in our industry should “have the hard conversations and set the expectations early in their relationship. This is not a one-size-fits-all industry. Some fly a shuttle and are home every night, and some do tours of 20-25 days at a time.”
Following are a few questions I asked Jamie, and his responses.
How did your work life change when you became a parent?
“It was very hard to stem the tide at first, because the nature of business aviation has long been ‘asset-centric.’ The plane always trumped everything. Family, holidays, social engagements . . . they all played second fiddle. But kids have a way of naturally grounding you because they are the only canvas God gives you to love, mold, teach, coach and parent with no conditions.”
What are ways you manage “re-entry” into your family life?
“When I come home from a long trip and they [my family] have things on autopilot, I want to contribute. But many times, I actually upset the status quo by undoing lots of things because I don’t have the whole picture. We’ve found it easier for me to play a supporting role in the daily activities.”
And how about your staff? How do you manage parenting for them?
“We do the best we can within what is an exceptionally dynamic environment. We have no hard-and-fast rules. We roll with the punches and pick each other up where we can and augment where needed.
“Transparency and setting the expectations early on are essential. If we need time off, our culture allows for it. But if you’re the type of person who needs to be at every soccer game and recital, this may not be the department for you. However, there may in fact be a place in business aviation that can guarantee you that arrangement.
“The secret is doing your absolute best to hire the best people for your culture. The end game is to blur the work/life line so that the word ‘work’ is out the equation, and it becomes, simply, ‘life balance.’ If I take an honest, 41,000-ft. view of my career in business aviation, I have not gone to work yet. I hope that is the case for the rest of my life.”
Has parenting changed you as a leader?
“Yes, in some ways. It’s about having had the same life experiences as those in your charge are experiencing, and knowing the pitfalls. When you, yourself, know the desired outcomes, you can help your team navigate through those experiences to enhance themselves.”
The good news on this important topic is that, after all, it is possible to have a terrific career in aviation and also enjoy a very positive and successful family life as a husband, wife and parent.
All in all, pilots and other high-performing aviation leaders live amazing lives, and have incredible jobs for which they’re well-compensated. And, in the greater percentage of cases, it becomes possible because, at home, they’ve worked hard to create a family “team effort” to support their passion for aviation.