How do cabin crew become pilots?

Can cabin crew become pilots?

Do you dream of becoming a pilot? Or perhaps you are currently working as cabin crew and are wondering if it is possible to make the switch to become an airline pilot. Can ex-cabin crew members make good pilots? Are there easily transferable skills?

In this blog post, with help from our resident cabin crew manager Alissa, alongside Captain Josh, we will take a look at how to make the transition from cabin crew to pilot.

We will also explore how frequently people switch careers, whether there are any airline schemes designed to help with the transition, and what are the benefits of being cabin crew before becoming a pilot?

So, if you are thinking of making the switch from cabin crew to pilot, read on for everything you need to know!

Do many people make the switch from Cabin Crew to Pilot?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. There are hardly any people who make the switch from cabin crew to pilot.

It’s usually the opposite. In my experience, more pilots end up working as cabin crew, when they have finished their training and are between jobs, than the other way around. Every so often this is actually encouraged by the airlines — BA Cityflyer made headlines after suffering a severe flight attendant shortage after Covid-19, and asking pilots to temporarily retrain to become cabin crew!

Flight attendants switching to become pilots mid-career is such a rare occurrence, crew members making the switch are highly publicised!

However, that doesn’t mean that making the switch is impossible. Cabin crew have successfully switched to become pilots, and there are arguably some advantages to having started your pilot career as a flight attendant first.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages…

Crew to pilot: Pros and Cons

Familiarity with the working patterns

One advantage of being a cabin crew member before becoming a pilot is that you are already familiar with the unusual work patterns.

  • As a pilot, you will be required to work shifts which can include early starts, late finishes, and multiple overnight stays.
  • Unlike many jobs, the nature of the aviation industry means that there are no guarantees on arriving home on time.
  • Your “quick flight, home for dinner” might end up diverted to another continent!
A320 neo engine pilot technical skills

If you are already used to this type of shift work from your time as cabin crew, it will make the transition to pilot much easier. Flying as international cabin crew will subject you to jet lag and timezone changes that even the most well-travelled holidaymaker is unlikely to have experienced.

Becoming a pilot is a massive commitment, and many pilots often start out their careers on smaller aircraft with dreams of aspiring to fly longhaul. This can take years.

It’s much better to find out that your dream job as that 747 Captain doesn’t fit in with your body, before spending tens of thousands and several decades working towards it!

Great CRM

One of the most important skills that you need as a pilot is CRM (Crew Resource Management). This is the ability to manage and communicate with your crew effectively, getting the best results from the skilled staff onboard.

Chatty personality and excellent team skills

As a cabin crew member, you will already have developed great CRM skills. You will be used to working as a part of the onboard team, and dealing with difficult situations. These skills will be essential when you are a pilot, as you will need to be able to work closely with your co-pilot and flight attendants.

Cabin crew that become pilots have an intimate understanding of both job roles, helping to empathise and work closely with both sides of the cockpit door!

Airline insight

Working as cabin crew is a great way to get your foot in the door of the aviation industry. It gives you an opportunity to see if you would actually enjoy working as a pilot before making the commitment to undertake training.

But more importantly for future job applications, it gives you an insight into how an airline operates. Knowledge of profitable routes, the types of qualifications required, and industry-specific procedures can be very useful when you are interviewing for a pilot position.

Equally, there have been rare occasions where airlines have reached out to existing cabin crew, providing a pathway to train to become pilots:

  • One previous example was the Whizz Air crew transition scheme, a 40-month internal opportunity.
  • With the huge cost of flying training, sponsored pilot training schemes are both rare, and oversubscribed.
  • Having shown a real interest in the industry by previously working as cabin crew can give you the edge applying to these competitive places.
Wizz air are one of the few airlines with a cabin crew to pilot transition scheme

So, there are some advantages of being cabin crew before becoming a pilot. But what are the disadvantages?

Expensive training

Let’s cut to the chase. Pilot training is exceptionally expensive. And, the cost is only increasing.

From 2007 to 2017, the training cost average in the Czech Republic and the UK increased by 55.5% and 85.8%, respectively. This is a significantly steeper rise than the inflation rate over the same time period: EU Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices published by Eurostat is showing a 13.8% increase.

Effects of Airline Industry Growth on Pilot Training

On the other hand, cabin crew are not known for their rockstar wages. There are some (dubious) things flight attendants do to increase their wages — and some crew money saving tips too — but at the end of the day, the job is associated with the lifestyle and perks, and not the earning potential.

Because of the huge cost associated with flying training, if you already have a career with a higher earning potential, my advice would be to save for flying training rather than switching to become cabin crew.

Undergoing initial pilot training in light aircraft

Few industry-specific schemes

Interestingly, there are very few airlines that offer schemes or programmes specifically for cabin crew who want to become pilots. Without the support of their employer, many aspiring pilots have to try to fit in their flying training around their job as cabin crew.

  • As a cabin crew member, you will already have a demanding job which involves working shift patterns and being away from home for long periods of time.
  • It can be difficult to get the time off work to complete your flying training, or commit to a regular training schedule.
  • Once you have completed pilot training, the transfer from cabin crew to pilot isn’t any easier for those still employed by an airline.

Because there aren’t many internal schemes to switch job roles, once qualified you will receive limited advantage to applying as an airline pilot. There are no internal transfers, so cabin crew with flying licences will still have to resign from their current airline to apply to rejoin as a pilot at a later date.

Little transferable skills

Employed by the same company, working on the same aircraft, similar legal duty restrictions, uniform standards — some airlines even give their cabin crew pilot stripes! The switch should be easy, right?

In reality, similarities between the two roles are superficial. While cabin crew and pilots work together closely, their individual roles on the aircraft differ hugely, so do their respective transferable skills.

Day-to-day, Pilots are focused on the safety of their passengers and crew, by complying with air traffic control instructions, strictly following checklists, and operating the aircraft in a way that minimises risk.

Cabin crew also play a critical safety-related role, but on most days are primarily focused on the comfort and customer service of the passengers. As a result, personality types, interview questions, and the best subjects to study, differ significantly.

This means that the skillsets required for the two jobs are considerably different, with few transferable skills.

Pilot skills

  • A passion for aviation
  • Technical aptitude
  • Spatial awareness
  • Aptitude for numbers and data analysis

UK Airline pilot job profile

Cabin Crew skills

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Exceptional customer service
  • Confidence in dealing with a range of people
  • Good co-operation skills as you’ll work with different teams day-to-day

UK Cabin crew job profile

Summary

We hope this overview has given you a better understanding about making the switch from cabin crew to pilot.

The bottom line: Can cabin crew become pilots? It is certainly possible, but it is not easy. There are a few advantages that those who have formerly worked as cabin crew have when applying for pilot jobs, but there are equally many pitfalls.

While the two job roles involve working on the same aircraft, for the same company, very few airlines offer managed pathways, or discounted training schemes to transition from cabin crew to pilot. So, if you are thinking of making the switch, make sure you do your research and understand what is involved before taking the plunge!

This limited pathway between the careers may change in the future. There is a renewed focus on improving the aviation industries gender imbalance, where in 2020 less than 5% of global pilots were female. To address this imbalance, encouraging more cabin crew — where the gender imbalance is completely reversed, and male cabin crew are in the minority — makes sense.

Making it easier for cabin crew to become pilots also makes sense from an airline perspective in general. Flight attendants are motivated: familiar with the industry and lifestyle, aware of aircraft procedures, CRM, and the crew dynamic onboard, and also are a known quantity. Airlines already have an HR file, alongside sickness and training records.

Despite this, the large differences in skill set, alongside the enormous training costs, means that making the switch is not currently a well-established path. It is possible, but it is unusual. However, if you are up for a challenge and have your heart set on becoming a pilot, then go for it!

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Josh
Josh

Flyingbynumber’s Resident Airline Captain — Josh

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