AIDS part two

Someday, I might get around to writing AIDS part one (no, you didn’t miss it).
That would actually be about the AIDS you’re thinking about (the disease
related to / caused by the HIV virus). But this isn’t about Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome…

There are some serious drawbacks to working as an airline pilot for a living.
It’s not the most ‘stable’ career. Airlines go out of business on a pretty
regular basis. Even if you happen to work for one that is financially
‘healthy’, there’s always the opportunity to fail a checkride, be in the
wrong place at the wrong time, have to go on strike, etc etc.

Being a pilot is not particularly healthy, either. Long-haul international
flying is especially hard on the body. There is strong suspicion that the
exposure to UV causes higher cancer rates. It’s certainly not good for the
skin. The routine exposure to various ‘bugs’ from around the world doesn’t
help. Many pilots have back and other ‘structural’ problems. And the jet
lag, diet, and exercise difficulties are all detriments to good health.

Though it’s virtually impossible to consistently eat right, avoid jet-lag and
get regular exercise, most pilots go ‘above and beyond’ and choose either to
not proactively improve their health, or even to take active steps to make it
worse. I think it’s more the norm that we often don’t exercise even when we
have the opportunity to (I know I’m pretty lax in that area). Even worse,
some really enjoy the ‘party’ or drinking lifestyle beyond just a casual
drink or two. At my last job, I knew a pilot who smoked and drank all his
life. By the time he was 40, he looked well past retirement age. The
lifestyle just lends itself to self destructive behaviors.

And then there’s AIDS – Airline Induced Divorce Syndrome. This is really just
one part of a larger social problem that airline pilots routinely encounter.
Pilots are typically gone from home about half the time. In most scheduled
jobs, the trips are 2-4 days long. In the non-scheduled world (the kind of
work I do), they’re much longer, though the stretches at home also tend to be
longer. I try to go to work only once per month, for 2ish weeks at a time.

This being gone makes it difficult to integrate into a ‘home’ culture the way
‘normal’ people do. In addition to missing out on a lot of social activity,
pilots tend to miss out on a bunch of home life. This is very hard on
families and results in a lot of divorces.

I make a point of trying to figure out what tends to cause these ‘AIDS’ cases.
Overall, divorce rates are very high in America (around 50%), but I suspect
that rate is much higher for pilots (and flight attendants for that matter).
I’d break the causes down into three categories.

First, there are the couples that don’t survive simply because they wouldn’t
have no matter what career they were in. These people most likely would have
gotten divorced anyway and the reasons are all the ‘normal’ reasons that I
don’t really need to mention here.

Second, there are the couples that divorce due to the time away causing
problems for the husband. While the cat is away, the cat is playing.
Eventually, that winds up ruining the marriage in most cases. It’s not
necessarily infidelity in every case, either (though I suspect it is in most
cases). It could be the increased propensity for alcoholism, poor money
management, communication breakdown, or other problems. But there are many
of those cases of the ‘girl in every city’, or at least one or two here and

Third, there are the couples that divorce due to the time away causing
problems for the wife. While the cat is away, the mouse is playing. I’ve
heard plenty of stories of husbands coming home from trips early only to find
the boyfriend in the house (even in bed with the wife on some occasions).
And there are other non-infidelity problems that are common – financial
issues, social problems, outright missing the husband, communication issues,
and so on. Any of these can wreck a marriage if not dealt with, and they
often do.

(Note: The genders above could be reversed in the cases of female pilots, and
I’ve seen that happen, too)

Despite all this, I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of pilots who
have remained married to their first spouse for an entire career. For
starters, they’re not the ‘divorcing type’ (#1 above). But they’re also able
to deal with the issues in #2 and #3.

It’s important to note that they’re subjected to all the same conditions and
temptations as those who divorce. The question is not whether flying is hard
on families. That much is irrefutable. The question is how you deal with
it. The ones that make it are the ones who learn how to deal with financial
problems, communication issues, social disruption, health concerns, time
apart, and so on. They sometimes even successfully deal with issues presumed
to be insurmountable such as alcoholism and infidelity. And in order to
succeed, you have to do all that for an entire career.

The consequences of pilots getting divorced can be pretty severe, too. I’ve
known many who have divorced multiple times (my Captain is on wife #3 right
now). This causes huge problems for any kids that might have come along the
way, and it ruins a potentially rewarding financial situation. Some pilots
joke that they have to make the ‘big bucks’ just so they can afford all their
ex wives.

I sometimes wonder if people knew about all the drawbacks to a flying career
before they got into it, would they still pursue it? This is truly just a
summary (yes, there’s more). There’s plenty of information about the ‘good
life’ and I could certainly paint this to appear glamorous. But there are
definitely drawbacks, too. So call this my attempt at being ‘fair and
balanced’ 😉

V- (over Japan en route from Taipei to Anchorage with two AIDS victims on the

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