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A day in the life of a flying father

by Simon Williams BALPA Member

Juggling home life and a flying career can be tricky. For Father’s Day, BALPA member and pilot, Simon Williams, takes a look at what life as a dad and a pilot really looks like: 

It’s Day 5 of 5. The usual roster shenanigans have occurred during this block of work resulting in me finishing Day 4 at 2am, crawling in to bed a broken husk of a man an hour later. I may or may not have still been wearing parts of my uniform doing so, including one shoe. No idea what happened to the other. It’s now 8.30am and I’m standing in the school playground about to accompany a child who bears a passing resemblance to me (minus the two-day old facial hair and sunken eyes) to Father’s Day Stay and Play at his school. Joy is going to have to work hard to overwhelm me. 

There’s normally free coffee for parents at these things. But not today. It’s already hot outside so water is available instead. My face rumples for two reasons: one, because like most modern pilots, in the morning I need coffee to get me going; two, because said Child has just thrashed a ball straight into my Crown Jewels. Part of me is proud that he’s finally discovered such laser-like aim which surely means a Premier League contract is merely a few years away. The other part of me wonders what exactly I’ve done in a previous life to deserve such pain. 

Another Dad wanders over. “I hear you’re a pilot – sounds pretty cool”. “Umm. Sure. Why not” comes the reply. He’s caught me in a vulnerable position. I’m in no mind to espouse the virtues of my apparently cool profession, the endlessly varied view from the office, the responsibility on my shoulders every day, or the massive salary many imagine I’m being paid. We start talking anyway. He’s called Johnny, sharp as a bowling ball, and works for Deloitte. He’s part-time but complains that working from home is no longer encouraged and has to go into the office most days. It sounds like the local Deloitte office has a decent restaurant inside too. Having told me about the excellent sourdough wraps they now provide he asks me about crew food on board the aeroplane. I reply, “you know you’re going to get it, but it’ll be rough”. 

I’m tired and need to rest before this afternoon’s jolly, consisting of an already heavily delayed Balearic Islands trip where I’ll find myself saying “sorry for the lateness of this departure” for the umpteenth time this week. Nonetheless, like the hero I am, I’m in the playground chasing my child around, kicking around the now deflated football (revenge had to be dealt somehow; the football doesn’t have feelings, or a lawyer), and genuinely trying my hardest to involve myself in the little guy’s life.  

‘like ships passing in the night with one’s family’

He’s clearly loving the experience – showing me all the things he gets up to during the day, his favourite areas of the playground, all his friends, and the part of the climbing frame his friend landed on face-first last week which was apparently very amusing. Despite myself, I’m actually having fun – the problem with our job is that you can feel like ships passing in the night with one’s family. It’s not uncommon for a pilot’s other half to periodically remind them that the children generally need more than simply watering twice a day to grow up. Whilst it’s honestly nice to operate almost entirely autonomously from the rest of the family, it’s a fleeting feeling of contentment; after a while I miss being part of the team. 

If you work on a shift pattern, or are unable to bid for work, or work for a company whose leave system runs on hot air and wishful thinking, special family days like Father’s Day or children’s birthdays are easy to miss. Whilst our profession has plenty of upsides (Johnny’s desk is in a cubicle on the 3rd floor of a fairly nondescript office block; mine changes every day), the downsides can be fairly significant too. Birthday celebrations on FaceTime lack a certain je ne sais quoi especially if you’re in the Crown Plaza in Crawley at the time. Despite all of this, my kids seem to miss me when I’m not around, even if it’s because they can’t easily ask me whether I’ll buy more toys for them.  

Avoiding the 9 to 5

That all being said, I get three or four days off between duty blocks and will try hard to do school runs and other activities when and where I can. Not being bound to the 9-5 Monday to Friday office rat race is definitely an advantage and like all things in life, being a flying father definitely has its ups and downs. Especially when you’ve been hit in the maharajahs by a rocket-propelled football from five feet. 

Boy sits on the shoulders of his dad. Both have arms out as if they are aircraft.


This is part of the a blog series by BALPA pilots about their jobs. Read the others by clicking below:

A day in the life of a Holiday Airline pilot

A day in the life of a North Sea helicopter pilot

A day in the life of a cargo airline pilot

A day in the life: short-haul pilot part 1

A day in the life: short-haul pilot part 2