Airline jobs have a lot of advantages that don't show up on the balance sheet for pay and remuneration. Most of them involve free or deeply discounted travel, and getting hotels at discounted rates. If you want to travel, and are at an age where travel doesn’t' wreck your family life, airline jobs have a lot going for them. Most airline jobs are available through employment web sites, and are geared towards 'duty stations' tied to specific hub cities favored by a particular airline. For example, Northwest uses Minneapolis as its primary hub city, while ATA uses Indianapolis, and Delta uses Atlanta. American Airlines is based out of Chicago and Southwest is based out of Phoenix.
There are a number of broad profiles for airline jobs. We're going to cover them in greater detail for you.
Air Cabin Crew: This job is the public face of the airline while in the air; the primary job duties include taking care of passengers during flights, demonstrating all the features that ensure passenger safety on the aircraft, serving beverages, and on longer flights, meals. On international flights, air cabin crew will sell duty free items as well.
Air cabin personnel are the first line of response to an in flight emergency, and are the ones who are in charge of the cabin count (the number of passengers on the plane), and taking the roll after an emergency to track who did and did not make it off of the plane. Air cabin crew is tasked with some, but not all, security responsibilities while the plane is in the air.
People with the following backgrounds have a leg up in becoming effective air cabin crew: nursing, courier work, retail, hotel, and catering work. Any job that requires you to be positive and friendly with a large group of people is good preparatory work for an airline job as cabin crew. Extra skills that will help you in getting into this career include cooperation, good physical fitness, and speaking a foreign language or two.
Commercial Pilot: This job handles the technical aspect of flying the plane; the commercial pilot is primary responsibility for the security of the airplane from take off to landing. The task requires knowledge of how to fly a multi-engine jet (either as a passenger liner or for freight), planning fights factoring in aircraft loads, weather conditions and fuel levels, including routing to destinations, filing flight plans, and meeting a timely departure and arrival time.
Most commercial pilots either graduate from a commercial flight school, or have prior experience flying planes for the military. Related jobs include a stint as an air traffic controller. Commercial flight certification is roughly a 12 to 18 month process. The career path starts as the co-pilot, working short haul flights, then expanding to long haul flights, certifying on different makes of aircraft, then becoming captain of an aircraft. Pay is based primarily on seniority within the rank and file of those who fly that particular seat in the aircraft (pilot, copilot, or navigator).
This job is, in some ways, the glamour position among airline jobs. It has the perks of free or cheap air travel, the fun and enjoyment of flying an airplane, seeing the world, and being involved with aviation. Most commercial pilots got the bug flying for the military, and never quite lost the wonder of flying.
It has the downside of shift work, and really bad hours of employment for maintaining a social life. Airline pilots work in a fault free and zero tolerance environment for mistakes, and a commercial pilot has to keep a constant awareness of their own health and technical skills, especially eyesight and coordination. This is a very competitive field to enter into, and it requires knowledge above and beyond what's needed to fly the plane. You also have to demonstrate knowledge of how airlines operate as a business. Do your homework and stay on top of your technical qualifications.
Air Traffic Controller: The air traffic controller maintains radio and radar contact with all aircraft approaching or departing their airport; their job is to make sure that flights land and take off on time, are routed safely, and to warn pilots of hazards to their commands, including weather hazards, planes breaking their flight plans, and visibility hazards.
Technically, an air traffic controller isn't an airline job – it's a public service hire for major airports, and for a private airport, you'll be hired by the airport itself. The job pays well, and unlike flight crew or air cabin crew, allows you to work with aviation, while still being able to go home at night. It does have the hazards of tying you to shift work, and being stuck looking at a console with a lot of responsibility riding on your shoulders. Skills this job selects for include a willingness to make rapid decisions, attention to detail, and clear communication, both spoken and listening to all sources of data.
The career path from air traffic controller usually works towards air traffic planning and air management. The usual background for an air traffic controller is an engineering or science background, or training as a commercial or military pilot, or meteorological training.