BALPA is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots
Nancy Jackson
Media and Communications Officer
As the daughter of a pilot, I have first-hand experience of how a pilot’s job has knock on effects for the whole family. That’s why I was particularly interested to be involved in BALPA’s week looking at work life balance. Our pilot case studies have shared their experiences and pilots and their families have given feedback on social media all week. In a poll on Twitter this week, 70% of pilots told us they felt that they had not achieved a good work life balance.
Reading the comments, it is reassuring and disappointing at the same time, to realise that the challenges my father faced during his career are still there for the pilots of today.

I have many good memories of the perks of growing up as a pilot’s daughter. Amazing trips abroad and time with dad when he was off in between flights being some of the better ones. I remember being about 15 years-old when I realised that when most people fly, it’s not their dad at the controls!

Of course, there were always downsides, and it seems some of those downsides are becoming increasingly prevalent and problematic in the life of a pilot. BALPA’s blog has touched on some of these downsides before. The ups and downs of life with Captain Dad are discussed in a previous blog by Emma Chisholm.

Every pilot and every pilot’s family will relate to Emma’s story. I remember my dad inevitably missed birthdays, Christmases, school events and even funerals because of his job. Travelling around the world means pilots today still miss out on important events at home. All our case studies and several commenters have highlighted the problem and pointed out that drives within companies to become more efficient have led to pilots working longer and harder. As one commenter of Facebook put it: “Work life Balance. What’s That?”

Our case studies also told us that families of pilots still have to cope with huge stresses and strains thanks to the pilot lifestyle. I remember how when dad was working, the balance of power shifted in our household and mum had to be both mum and dad to my brother and me. Now I am grown-up and have kids of my own, I realise just how stressful and difficult that must have been for my mum.

In his account of achieving work life balance, our case study Andrew* says “... it was not just me that suffered, but my wife too. She was struggling the constant strain began to affect her mental health. My work was pushing us to the limits and it was putting my marriage in jeopardy."

Andrew* explained that for him part time work was the only way to achieve a good work life balance.

As a child of a pilot, the stories of coping with fatigue in all our case studies resonated with me hugely. All spoke of working antisocial hours and trying to rest when the world around them was carrying on with day to day life. I remember having to creep around in the day time when dad was resting, trying not to be noisy. I am not the quietest person so I was often told off and my dad was often disturbed.

What BALPA’s work life balance case studies have made clear to me is that pilots face some unique challenges when reaching for a good work life balance. Crossing time zones, staying in hotels, shift work, changes to rosters and flying with people you’ve never met before are just some of the things pilots have to overcome. And it’s not just the pilot. It’s their family as a whole that has to deal with the effect of a pilot’s lifestyle.

For all these reasons BALPA continues to highlight the importance of valuing a good work life balance. BALPA is consistently in negotiations with airlines and regulators to ensure it’s not all sacrifice and to fight for the very best pay and employment benefits for pilots.

We are also at the fore front of campaigning to ensure the industry understands the importance and prevalence of pilot fatigue. BALPA is running projects to identify rosters that put the most pressure on pilots and is challenging airlines to make changes where needed. We have been successful in this and have seen changes made to roster patterns and routes at several airlines.

Employees with a good sense of balance in their lives perform better at their jobs. While the nature of flying may pose unique challenges for pilots when it comes to a good work life balance,  at BALPA we continue to strive to make those challenges fewer an make the equilibrium easier to achieve. 

Posted on 20 October 2017

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