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Daddy Cool: What it means to be a father and a pilot

by Captain James O'Brien BALPA NEC

My little girl has just turned one. Already I am understanding the reality of a pilot’s life and its impact on family. I was away on her first birthday. As Father’s Day approaches we are reminded that pilots are not always able to be there on family occasions.

The role of a father has evolved over the years. Long gone are the days where the ’man of the house‘ was the ’worker‘ with the mother staying at home. Nowadays it’s much more of a team effort. Many families today are reliant on two wages, so both parents need to work. At the same time both need to be versed in the expertise required to run the home and keep family life running smoothly. In many ways the roles of mother and father have combined and crossed over so that today we are all simply ‘parents‘.

Father’s Day means more to me now baby has arrived. Whilst I may not do anything overly special, it’s nice to have a day that brings family together. But with family in Ireland, in Hungary and some in Edinburgh it can be difficult.

I know my schedule means I won’t be around on Father’s Day this year. Who knows next year. It just shows how difficulty planning as a pilot with a family is. It’s something very few people understand. It also explains why so many of us relate with colleagues so well. Only this week I had assistance from a new anonymous (almost) colleague who helped with my schedule to ensure a fleeting visit home from the big city.

Smaller airlines are generally expected to have a real community feel. Sadly, managers are the architect of their own schedules and can forget those that make the airline work. While those smaller airlines should be able to assist at a community level, it rarely happens.

Bigger airlines are usually expected to be less flexible when it comes to facilitating an individual touch towards their employees. So, I was amazed when my new big airline managed just that. It makes a huge difference when the business you work for invests in people.

When it comes to family, lifestyle and work-life balance, if your airline isn’t investing in you, then it is time to consider who will. Yes, pilots are commodities, but fathers and mothers are priceless to their kids. Find an airline that invests in you having time with your family.

I will miss Father’s Day, I will miss birthdays, I will miss any number of family events. Yes, family comes first, but as a parent who is a pilot, I know the sacrifices we make. The job is unique. It’s generally well paid by reputable employers. It builds a lifestyle that provides well for my family. I am mindful that time flies and already with a one year old, like all dads, there is a fear I will miss everything.

Being a pilot on Father’s Day reminds me there is a purpose to the night stops or time working away from home. Flexibility in aviation day to day usually means a good break from work in between times. So, whilst some days I will miss, others I won’t, and as the gear goes up I know there will be a short time away before getting valuable time off to make up for the days labelled as Father’s Day or any other.

James O’Brien – new dad.
British Airways