I'm a Frontier pilot who's flown for 17 years. Getting paid to travel is amazing, but the commute and unruly passengers can be challenging.
- Ron Fishman is a commercial
pilotfor Frontier Airlineswith more than 17 years of experience.
- He gets tested regularly on
flyingand says getting to travel is the best part of the job.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ron Fishman, a 42-year-old commercial pilot from Toronto, Ontario, who's been flying for more than 17 years. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was growing up in Toronto, I didn't know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. At one point, I decided I was done partying and wanted to get into the Canadian military, and I joined as a grunt, nothing fancy. I was an infantry soldier, but I realized it wasn't the life for me.
When I was 26 and four years out of the military, a friend handed me a brochure for Durham Flight Centre in Ontario, and I enrolled right away. It just felt like the right thing to do.
This one-year certificate gave me my private pilot license (PPL), commercial pilot license (CPL), instrument rating (IR), and other things like night ratings
A private pilot license allows you to fly for fun, meaning you aren't allowed to profit from piloting. A commercial license allows you to make money as a pilot, with limitations. For example, to fly for an airline, you need an airline-type pilot certificate, which has more requirements like 1,500 hours of flight time instead of the basic 250 for the commercial license.
An instrument rating allows you to fly in poor weather conditions, like clouds. The flying is done with reference to the instruments inside the aircraft rather than with visual references outside. My night rating allows me to fly after sundown.
After I earned my licenses, I headed to Las Vegas, where half of my family is from, and decided to enroll in the College of Southern Nevada, where I earned my associate degree in
At the time, I was a high school dropout with just a GED. I wanted to prove to myself I could accomplish more. Also, some airlines require you to have experience, certificates (licenses), and a degree, so it made me more competitive.
My first pilot job was at Elite Flight Training out of North Las Vegas Airport
I was hired in 2008. It was for traffic watch, which meant I flew a reporter who would broadcast traffic status of the Las Vegas Valley. I was also teaching students to earn their own certificates and/or ratings.
In 2017, I began flying for where I now work, Frontier Airlines, one of the greenest airlines in the US. Even though oil prices have increased so much in the past few weeks due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, it hasn't affected us as much as other airlines. We're very fuel-efficient, and we use less gallons per seat per mile compared to other airlines, so we can continue to keep costs lower.
These past few years, I've seen a lot of unruly passengers cause trouble for our flight attendants
I'd say I've seen around a 50% increase in incidents, usually from passengers who refuse to wear their mask or get too drunk.
I feel so bad for flight attendants who have to deal with these passengers because that's something I don't see first-hand, but I'll make a call or text our dispatch — an SOS of sorts — so they can help us determine the next steps. I have no problem grounding the flight and calling police to escort someone off my flight. I had to do it on a flight out of Cincinnati this year when I heard about two passengers beginning to fight over something related to the Super Bowl.
Then there was COVID-19's effect on our flights. Attendants, copilots, the ground crew, and the handlers all got hit with COVID-19, and that meant so many delays. It's hard to foresee how long some delays might be, and it can be tough on both
In regards to the recent lifting of the mask mandate, I trust in the professionals and each airline to do what's best
I'm not an expert on communicable diseases.
We can go to stadiums with tens of thousands of people maskless, so I think a few hundred people on an airplane that's cycling fresh air throughout the cabin every two minutes with HEPA filters must be safer than that. I'm not anxious and I support United, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and each airline's decisions, regardless of their stance on masks.
You always have to stay on your toes as a pilot
Sure, you have a license to fly, but pilots get tested regularly to ensure they know every procedure. Every six months I go through a "check ride" in a simulation program that tests everything from emergency protocol to how I approach landing.
There's a lot of pressure here because if you fail that test twice, you could be fired from your job and go back to the bottom of the ladder in a way. You'll be less likely to get hired again, even if you have 40 years of experience at a major airline. Thankfully, I've never failed a check ride.
I study constantly, and about a month before my recurrent check ride, I dive in harder. I study all the memory items, bold items, panels, and hot topics. I review all my procedures and chair fly, which is kind of like a visualization of the check ride. The ride is basically the same, but they like to concentrate on different maneuvers or events. Last year we had to do high-altitude stalls, while this year I was doing more 5G interference.
Some passengers may think pilots are actively flying the whole flight, but the flight is mostly on autopilot
I fly up to 18,000 feet and then turn on autopilot to concentrate on other things, like ensuring I can make this the smoothest flight possible for passengers. I haven't had any issues with dangerous flying or major emergencies in my 17 years of being a pilot.
The biggest thing I like to do to create a great experience for the passengers is to communicate. Often, we don't know any more information than they do. I won't know why we're delayed or what the timeline looks like. But as long as you communicate that we're aware and are trying to find out more details, passengers are mostly happy.
When we have extended delays, I go on the PA and ask if anyone wants to come check out the flight deck. I'm available to answer their questions and concerns, and I also try to update them every 15 minutes.
There's a lot to love about being a pilot, but I always cherish those layovers
Anytime I can spend a few hours or a day at the beach, that's the best. My favorite layover was in Turks and Caicos, where I ran along some beautiful beaches and snorkeled in clear-blue waters.
I've also been to 25 of the 32 MLB ballparks. And I really like laying over in Portland, Maine, where I take the ferry to the island for different music festivals.
When I worked a bit as a private-jet pilot, I usually interacted with athletes who hired me to fly their planes, and I really love athletes like Miami Heat star Kyle Lowry, who regularly tipped me $100 when he was on the Toronto Raptors. He chatted with me as if I were a friend.
Then there are other athletes, such as an Ottawa Senators player I won't name who ordered me to open his bottle of champagne like I was just there to serve him.
The biggest downside of being a pilot is how often I'm away from my wife and 6-year-old daughter in Toronto
It's tough to be a full-time pilot and father, so I really love the time I can get off, or when I'm on call but can still see my family.
The commute to and from where I need to fly out of can be brutal, too. If I need to fly out of Tampa one day, I have to hop on a flight with any airline to get from wherever I am to Tampa. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes it doesn't if a flight doesn't have an extra seat for me. That means finding a roundabout way to get to Tampa, and that can get really frustrating if I'm desperate to get there by a certain time to make my own flight.
I'm very appreciative for the ride, and I like to bring the flight attendants some kind of treat, like a box of chocolates or something fun. I don't have a need for control, so I'm just as happy letting someone else fly. I've never felt I could do a better job.
In the end, though, it truly is an amazing profession. I get paid to travel the world, and I can't imagine doing anything else.
Want to share what your job is like? Email Lauryn Haas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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