Plane Answers: Are pilots more likely to divorce?

When we first started the Plane Answers column at Gadling, the very first question that came in had to do with pilots and divorces.

I thought about it for a few months, did some research and so far I’ve only been able to come up with an opinion based entirely on anecdotal evidence. There’s surprisingly little online about the divorce rate among certain professions, so I had to rely on the ‘statistics’ I’ve gained from the pilots I fly with.

Here’s that question:

I’ve struggled with it for months, and As a divorced wife of a major airline captain I would sincerely appreciate it if you could explain why most pilots are divorced.

I have been divorced for 20 years and my ex has been divorced two times after me. I also knew 11 couples that were in the Navy with us who all went on to airlines of which 9 are divorced.

In my case we became two separate people; being apart so much we had nothing in common. Is cheating just too tempting to refuse? Every time I hear that pilots have so much down time to spend with family I have to laugh because our children and those of our friends really don’t have truly close relationships with their fathers because of moving and commuting.

When you live somewhere different (moving around to improve your seniority) and commute to work, it really takes a toll one everyone. If you had to explain from your point of view: where does being a pilot have its pit falls. A lot of women would be grateful to know and maybe understand. Thank you.

I’ve brought this subject up with other pilots recently, and most haven’t noticed an exceptionally high number of divorces in our industry compared with other jobs. I’ve read the national divorce rate in the U.S. is at 50%. But is the rate among pilots higher?

There seem to be a number of pilots, including former military aviators, who get married young and then perhaps grow apart from their spouses. I usually meet them when they’re happily married with their second wife and are now flying for the airline.

I asked one former Navy pilot about this. He mentioned the challenges that Naval Aviators face with being away for many months at a time and coming home to a household that’s running relatively smoothly without him. It can be hard to for them to transition back into the head of a household when your wife has become used to not having you around so much.

But this is less of a problem in the airline industry, with trips of one to five days in length. Typically an airline pilot will fly for 3 days at a time but a freight pilot for UPS or FedEx will usually fly for 5 days in a row.

In my case, absence usually makes the heart grow fonder. I can’t wait to get home after a three-day trip to see my wife and catch up with what’s happened.

Also, for the first two years of our relationship, we were away more than together since I was living in Anchorage while my wife was in Germany, so we were accustomed to having these periods apart. We’ve been married now for almost sixteen years.

On the positive side of this job, I prefer to have a few days off during the week. I’m fortunate to get the chance to walk my daughter to school, volunteer to drive a car for field trips and all of the other things that moms do during the week. I’m generally one of the only dads participating in these events during the day.

That said, there are many weekends and holidays away from home and that can be frustrating. You have to be creative when explaining that Santa comes on a different date to your house when you’re flying on Christmas. Of course, my daughter is thrilled if that just means Christmas comes earlier.

I’m very fortunate that my wife went to work as a flight attendant for about five years after we got married. I think this has helped her understand the job, especially the interaction between flight attendants and pilots.

It’s probably easy for a spouse to let their imaginations run away with thoughts of wild layovers in exotic cities while they’re left behind. It’s not really like that, as you might have gathered from my Cockpit Chronicles blog.

Most layovers are rather short, and if we do have more than 10 hours in a city we might go out as a group for dinner, but I’ve never witnessed first hand any relationships develop. I’m not saying it never happens, but certainly no more than an office worker having an affair with their secretary.

I suspect the reasons for divorces among crew members may be related to events outside of the job in many cases. But again, all I can go on are my experiences with the pilots I know and work with.

And shortly after that question came in, I received this:

This may seem odd in this context, but I am very curious what the divorce rate is among pilots? I’ve been dating a pilot for a major commercial airline and I really have to wonder how people are capable of actually creating and sustaining relationships when their schedules are so scattered and demanding.

Do most people date or marry within the industry, as it feels like a way of life that is hard to understand if you are not in it. The pay structure you’ve mentioned, i.e. being paid for only the hours you are flying, and the limit on hours over all, yet the struggle to get in enough flights here and there to make your full hours is so problematic.

We don’t live in the same state so that doesn’t help, but I just wondered how people navigate these issues. Is this unique to have a schedule that changes from week to week, or am I just being bamboozled. Any thoughts?

Commuting to work tends to increase the number of days away and if you’re in a position where you need to fly the maximum number of hours possible, family life might indeed suffer.

If you need someone home every night, maybe a pilot or flight attendant won’t be right for you. But I suppose you’ll be able to get a sense of how the time away might affect your relationship since you’re dating this pilot from another state.

I’m sure your boyfriend does in fact have a wild schedule. I’ve been ‘re-assigned’ from my trips to a different trip twice in the last two months and I do tend to trade around occasionally to improve my schedule.

Good luck, thanks for the thought provoking question and I really hope it works out for you.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers feature.