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I Want to Work for an Airline

General information

Graduate training programmes are quite rare in the air transport sector. Most graduates will join airlines as cabin crew or ground staff and work their way into management or, alternatively, gain experience in other businesses before moving into airline work. There are very many ways to work in an airport environment including airline, airport and retail management; security, customs and immigration; despatch and customer service.

Airline Pilot

Becoming an airline pilot requires a lot of hard work, and quite a lot of money.
Even then, there is no guarantee that a newly qualified pilot will walk straight into the cockpit of a major carrier: competition for positions with the top airlines is fierce. 
(Richard Taylor, CAA)


No specific degree is required and it is possible to go into flight training straight from A-levels. Most airlines will look for at least five GCSEs at grades A-C, including Maths, Science and English, and science A-levels are beneficial.
There are no formal age limits and many people begin training in their late 20s or 30s.

I studied history in college and graduate school, but I left the academic world in order to become a management consultant — I had heard they get to fly a lot! I left that career in 2001 to try to fulfil my childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot. I now fly the Boeing 747 for British Airways, from Heathrow to destinations around the world. (Mark Vanhoenacker, author of Skyfaring

You will also need to meet the medical and fitness requirements and gain a medical certificate. Commercial air pilots can wear glasses or contact lenses, as long as their vision is correctable to 20/20.

What makes a good pilot?aeroplane

Flying skills and technical knowledge alone are not enough to be a successful airline pilot: attitude, personality traits, teamwork abilities, and social skills are all significant factors in aptitude testing. The vast majority of incidents in civil aviation have been due to “ineffective interpersonal interactions and cockpit crew teamwork.” Breakdowns in team performance were found by Cooper, White and Laber (1979) to be the primary cause of air transport accidents.
Chidester et al. (1991) found that the personality of the captain significantly correlated with flight crew performance, which is measured in terms of the number and severity of crew members’ errors. Those crews with captains scoring high in agreeableness and emotional stability – i.e. warm, friendly, self-confident, and performing well under pressure – made the fewest errors. Captains that were arrogant, hostile, boastful, egotistical, passive-aggressive, or dictatorial made the most errors.

Interviews and assessment centres for trainee pilots therefore aim to assess the candidates’ personality, teamworking and cooperation skills, self-awareness and social skills. Being able to build relationships quickly is also important:
“It’s often assumed that air crews work together as a fixed set of colleagues … the reality could not be more different. The total number of cabin and flight crew on a 747 flight may be sixteen, occasionally as many as twenty. When I arrive [for the pre-flight briefing] it’s likely that I have never before met any of the people with whom I am about to cross the world” (Mark Vanhoenacker)

See below for examples of how airlines and flying schools carry out these assessments.


A few airlines sponsor cadet (trainee) pilots, but you may still need to pay for your training up front. Typically, successful candidates will need to deposit a training security bond of around £60,000 to £100,000. After successfully completing training, this will be repaid to the cadet by the airline employing them over a period of several years. UK-based airlines which have sponsored cadet pilots in the past:

Training providers


 Air Cabin Crew

 Air Traffic Control

True Stories from Flight Attendants

Occasionally, airline attendants make an effort to make the "in-flight safety lecture", and their other announcements, a bit more entertaining. Here are some real examples that have been heard or reported:

"There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane..."

"Your seat cushions can be used for flotation, and in the event of an emergency water landing, please take them with our compliments."

"Smoking in the toilets is prohibited. Any person caught smoking in the toilets will be asked to leave the plane immediately."

As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at Washington National, a lone voice comes over the loudspeaker: "Whoa, big fella...WHOA..!"

"As you exit the plane, please be sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses. Last one off the plane must clean it."

And from the pilot during his welcome message: "We are pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry...Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight..."

Heard on Southwest Airlines just after a very hard landing in Salt Lake City: The flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "That was quite a bump and I know what ya'll are thinking. I'm here to tell you it wasn't the airline's fault, it wasn't the pilot's fault, it wasn't the flight attendants' was the asphalt!"

Another flight attendant's comment on a less than perfect landing: "We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal."

An aircraft landing is simply a controlled collision with a planet.

Definition of the jet age: breakfast in Rome, lunch in Paris, dinner in London, bags in Singapore.

What do Air Traffic Controllers do?
Air Traffic Controllers use radar and other technology to track planes between airports and keep in touch with pilots. They also liaise with pilots on approach to airports, guiding planes and making sure that they are organised in the safest and most efficient way.
What makes a good Controller?
People come to this career from all kinds of backgrounds and knowledge or experience of aviation is by no means essential. It’s the kind of job in which your attitude and aptitude is far more important than your specific background.
National Air Traffic Services has developed a series of games to help you assess your skills and decide if this is the right career for you.

Ground crew and airport management

Airlines offer many ground crew roles, including engineers, technicians, customer service agents and flight dispatchers. Airports also employ people in a wide variety of job roles, from security to financial management. Other people who work at airports, but are not employed by them directly, work in immigration, customs, retail and hospitality.

British Airways Operations

Useful resources

Airlines – general careers and recruitment sites



All available in the Careers Resources Room – see for details

Interview advice

Questions asked at interviews for pilot training

Competency questions. See also our pages on how to answer competency-based questions

Questions to test your knowledge of the job. See our commercial awareness page for help with these

Hypothetical Questions. See our section on hypothetical questions for help.

This is the kind of situation in which they will put you. In my case the senior captain interviewing me was in the skin of this captain. “Check your speed!” “Speed is good young pilot!”. “Go around!” “I flew 1000 hours on this aircraft and you tell me to go around?”. I took over the controls when the situation was not safe anymore and that is what they wanted!
You don’t have enough fuel? Check out your calculations a few times and, if you’re right, explain it to your colleague. If you’re right, don’t go without enough fuel! Be CRM (crew resource management) minded!

Group Exercises

A cleaner at a small airfield came early one morning to clean a plane and saw a book “How to Fly an Aeroplane for Beginners: Part I” on the pilot’s seat.

He opened the book and started reading, “First press the green button on the right to start the engine.”

Well he did this and was surprised to hear the engine start.

He flipped to page 2 where he read "Press the blue button to start the aeroplane moving along the runway."

He did this and lo and behold the aeroplane started moving.

He turned to page 3 where it said "Now press the red button to take off."

Tentatively he did this and amazingly the plane took to the air. He gently moved the joystick and the plane started circling. He was having a great time but decided to land the plane before anyone noticed.

He turned to the next page and read "To find out about how to land aeroplanes, go to your nearest bookshop and buy part 2.

Questions asked at cabin crew interviews


Last fully updated 2017


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