When I answer the question, “what do you do?,” I am often surprised by the reaction and interest. Many folks have immediate questions, so I though it could be an interesting AMA.
I have flown a variety of business jets for many years, transporting many high net worth and celebrity clients, CEOs, and families. While I will not disclose any personal information about certain individuals, I will speak to the training, lifestyle, and interactions of private jet pilots and their clients. So, AMA.
What are some things you’ve seen that you are required to keep a secret?
Security procedures mostly. That and client personal information. For example, it would be bad to greet a client and say, “Nice to see you again, sir. Is your daughter going to be joining us again for the return trip?” All the while, his wife is standing there, he does not have a daughter, and now he has to explain who the young lady was on his last flight! Oops.
How common is drug use among your passengers while you’re flying?
Not common at all. Most who would use it would keep it discreet. I have not had to intervene, but I know those who have, even to the point of landing and asking clients to leave. Drugs can be dangerous because they may cause erratic passenger behavior. We have no cockpit bulletproof door to separate us. We all need to be civil up there.
How common is it for passengers to engage in sexual activity mid-flight?
Very rare, but hey, just clean up back there please.
Is there any aspect of your job you just can’t stand?
I can’t stand the inconsiderate mess some people leave behind. What they may not realize (or don’t care about) is that we two pilots are stuck cleaning up their papers strewn about and kids’ cookie crumbs ground into the carpet. Doggie diarrhea is especially heinous, although we get professional help. I have had to carry a “honey bucket” of “waste” out of the aircraft many times to be emptied.
What famous people have you flown?
I have flown NBA/NFL/PGA/etc. athletes, news anchors, government officials, and the like. Many folks you have seen on TV, but they are, for the most part, people like everyone else. I cannot reveal identities, unfortunately, nor would I answer specifics about them. I respect their right to privacy, and that is a big part of why they travel this way.
Ever rubbed one out midflight?
Yes. I dribbled some mustard on my tie and had to rub it out with a wet nap. How did you know?
How much money do you make?
Low six figures. Salaries vary widely.
What’s the fastest plane you’ve flown?
A “Citation X” that flies as fast at Mach .92, or 92% the speed of sound.
What’s your visual acuity?
My vision is great, but you do not need perfect vision, only correctable.
Favorite airport? Least favorite airport?
Have you ever been in a bad storm or something and you really didnt know whether you would make it through?
Yes, I have been in a microburst and thought we would end up hitting the ground. The downdrafts were unbelievably high speed. Fortunately, we flew out of it and climbed again, but I sucked up a bit of seat cushion that day!
What percentage of the time are you actually manually flying the plane?
Maybe 5%. Autopilot is a great tool. You can concentrate on so much more if the autopilot is taking care of the finer details of maintaining altitude and course.
How did you become interested in aviation? And once interested, what steps did you take to make it your career?
I loved aviation as a kid. Who wouldn’t? To look at the earth from above gives one an entirely new perspective on life. I took lessons in high school, working jobs to support my dream. Eventually, I got certified as an FAA instructor to build experience teaching others the basics and build time to get more skilled positions.
How do you get hired for a job?
I spent years teaching others to fly and built flight time. Then, I applied to an airline, and was successful at the interview. After that, I applied to a company that has private jets and switched pilot career paths.
What is the craziest thing that had happened during a flight?
Emergencies, such as the gear not coming down. We are trained for this, though. We just use the checklists and stay calm and work the problem. Most pilots are very cool under pressure.
How is it being able to be flying around people who are very famous, knowing that if you are late or something goes wrong, you could disappoint many people?
It is an unfortunate reality that there are many things that can delay air travel. We are not immune to the pressures of that reality, but we practice dealing with it regularly. We are paid to be safety-conscious professionals that cannot make critical mistakes. At times, the two pilots will have a chat about intentionally slowing down and not getting caught in a “hurry-up” mode where we are more likely to make a mistake. The most important service we offer is making safe decisions, even if it means we cannot go.
What’s your favourite private jet to fly?
A Bombardier Challenger
How accurate are flight simulator apps on an iPad?
Not accurate at all. Computer sims are surprisingly accurate, though. At least compared to the one I had on the Commodore many years ago!
Have you ever had any close calls while transporting a client?
I have had to evade another aircraft using an automated collision warning system. The issue was due to another pilot not under air traffic control flying too close to our flight path. Sometimes airspace congestion around large, busy airports creates a bottleneck effect, and there are lots of us there at once.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
Being able to leave it behind and not think about “getting ahead” or politicking to climb the corporate ladder. There is some of that if you want to engage, but I just want to do my job and do it well.
While flying, my favorite is seeing the Northern Lights in the far northern latitudes and skimming just above a cloud deck at Vmo/Mmo (max speed).
Do you ever create turbulence just to mess with your clients?
I despise turbulence. Many fliers are nervous, so we try to find the smoothest ride possible. Sometimes, it cannot be avoided, though. We always try to stay out of the worst of it; I try to keep hot coffee off my lap!
Do some corporations keep pilots on staff whose job it is to fly exclusively for that company? Or is it more freelance-like?
Yes, that is the most common arrangement. Some keep 2 pilots for a jet (required to fly it), and some keep more to cover for vacations, sick, etc. Occasionally, there may only be one pilot as full time and the 2nd pilot is a regular freelancer. I’ve done that as well.
What is the most realistic flight simulator you’ve used that is accesible to the public? What about the funnest?
X-Plane. MSFS paired with live ATC.
Why did you decide on flying Corporate vs. Commercial?
Corporate provides opportunity to shop your experience around for increasing wages and responsibility. At an airline, unless you are very fortunate, you will be subject to seniority based furlough. When you lose a job like that and have to start over, you can go from making 150k to 30k in a week. It is a ridiculous system. That said, if you get in at a fast growing airline with good long-term career prospects, it is still worth it at a place like Delta/United/American/SWA/UPS/FedEx, etc.
What has the craziest request been about?
Flying execs from a certain company and having them ask for all competitors products to be removed from the aircraft (snacks, etc.). Really? That is just beyond weird. Do you ignore your competition in the marketplace too?
Other than taking off and landing, how much work does the pilot auctally do?
Those are the easiest parts. Well, autopilot in cruise is easier, I guess.
We plan the flight, to include fuel required. Services at the destination, car rentals, hotels, oil and oxygen service, stock and clean the airplane, obtain and verify the catering, check and verify visas, check weather, check FAA notices to airmen, plan alternate airports, analyze the jetstream, find altitudes and routes that reduce turbulence, sometimes serve drinks and catering, clean lavatories, load baggage, brief the passengers, assist in loading and unloading passengers, arrange hangar for bad weather, check on insurance requirements, etc.
We also have to train in the simulator for most emergencies conceived by the FAA. We have to take a FAA “driving” test twice a year and a medical exam at least once a year, any of which can end your career on the spot.
In the air, we navigate, plan, reroute, avoid weather, calculate fuel burn, provide meteorology report, comply with thousands of pages of FAA regulations and, ultimately, ensure the safety of flight.
If your pilot is good, he has A LOT on his plate. If not, he just “wings it,” and hopes for the best with most of these items. Most of the time, it works out okay.
Whats a good place to start if someone wants to be a commercial or private jet pilot?
I think the military is the best and most cost-effective route. That said, civilian training is achievable and can be done without resorting to exorbitant costs at 4 yr universities. Even so, it is quite expensive, and most new pilots end up with 50k+ in debt in order to get a 20k/yr job at a regional airline. Being young and willing to adapt helps a bunch. For career-switchers, it is a much tougher sell.
How many passengers did you recognize the first time they flew with you, in rough percentages?
Probably only 2% did I recognize. Most of the time, I would have to Google them to find out how they made money. Lots and Lots of wealthy people that are relatively unknown on TV.
How many miles and hours have you flown in your life?
I’ve never counted the miles, but it would be in the millions. As a pilot, I have flown under 10,000, but I have several years until retirement. In the military, you do not fly as much hours as in civilian business jet flying. The airline pilots fly the most hours, around 800-1000 per year.
Who is the most interesting person you have flown?
I flew the Secretary of the Treasury once. Some of my friends have flown presidential candidates. I find those folks more interesting than celebs.
Do you work standard hours week to week, are on call for blocks of time, or some other way of working?
I have “work days.” During my time at work, I am pretty much on call. Sometimes my schedule is determined, sometimes it is fluid and I have to wait at the airport and be available when the passengers want to show up.
The only flights planned well in advance are international flights requiring VISAs. We have to have TWO passports to allow for one to be at an embassy getting a VISA while we carry the other. There are a few last minute trips, but a work day is a work day.
Do you have any good/funny stories about passengers you can share that don’t involve specifically identifying them?
I had a famous actor ask me to push a turd down into the toilet because he could not get it to flush. Seriously.
Any scary mid-flight story you can share?
One thing most don’t realize is that we often travel to our work location on commercial airlines. When we wear a uniform, we look like an airline pilot, but are not. I sat next to a lady once who decided she’d like to accost a pilot that day. Honestly, she was scary!
What is the worst behavior you’ve encountered by a client?
Just general shouting, swearing, and being an ass. You’ve probably seen similar on reality TV shows. Thankfully, it is not that common.