Partner of a Pilot
The Candid Diary of an Airline Pilot’s Girlfriend

The Pilot Personality


I was chatting to a friend earlier who is quite new to the pilot Gf thing… She is feeling a bit hacked off about her Bf’s self indulgence towards his career. I used to feel exactly the same way, but over time, have come to realise that it is not about a short-coming in me, but rather it is just the way he is, and will always be.  She said that he appeared to have no concept of his making compromises concerning his career, when it came to the future of their relationship (the way she has to).  It reminded me of a personality profile I have seen many times before; and I thought I would share it with you.

Some time ago, I saw this same profile on a blog I enjoy reading called The Pilot’s Wife in an entry she called ‘Meet my husband’. At the time I was amazed at the accuracy of a generic personality profile to capture the essence of my pilot’s personality. I kid you not, this is so close to who he is, that even he agreed!

It is a personality profile published by ALPA (Air Line Pilots Association Int, the American Union for airline pilots).

Pilots are a distinct segment of the general population. In addition to flying skills, pilots are selected for their personalities and for a distinct “pilot persona.” These characteristics make them safer pilots.

Pilots tend to be physically and mentally healthy. Pilots tend to be “reality based,” because by the very nature of their work they are constantly testing reality. There are those, however who would dispute this claim.

Pilots tend to be self-sufficient and may have difficulty functioning in team situations without CRM and other training. They have difficulty trusting anyone to do the job as well as they can. Pilots tend to be suspicious, even a little paranoid. In moderation, this quality serves them well within their environment and is, in fact, a quality that managements look for in the pilot personality. Outside the cockpit, this quality shows up in the tendency of many pilots to set two or three alarm clocks– even though he or she may generally wake up before any of these go off. The suspicious/paranoid tendency also affects the way pilots function in their private lives, as well.

Pilots tend to be intelligent but are typically not intellectually oriented. They like “toys”– boats, cars, motorcycles, big watches, etc. They are good at taking things apart, if not putting them back together. Pilots are concrete, practical, linear thinkers rather than abstract, philosophical, or theoretical. On a scale that ranges from analytically oriented to emotionally oriented, pilots tend to be toward the analytical end. They are extremely reality- and goal-oriented. They like lists showing concrete problems, not talking about them. This goal orientation tends towards the short term as opposed to the long term. Pilots are bimodal: on/off, black/white, good/bad, safe/unsafe, regulations/non-regulations.

Pilots are inclined to modify their environment rather than their own behavior. Pilots need excitement; a 9-to-5 job would drive most pilots to distraction. Pilots are competitive, being driven by a need to achieve, and don’t handle failure particularly well. Pilots have a low tolerance for personal imperfection, and long memories of perceived injustices.

Pilots tend to be scanners, drawing conclusions rapidly about situational facts. Pilots scan people as if they were instruments; they draw conclusions at a glance rather than relying on long and emotion-laden converstaions.

Pilots avoid introspection and have difficulty revealing, expressing, or even recognizing their feelings. When they do experience unwanted feelings, they tend to mask them, sometimes with humor or even anger. Being unemotional helps pilots deal with crises, but can make them insensitive toward the feelings of others. The spouses and children of pilots frequently complain that the pilot has difficulty expressing complex human emotions toward them.

This emotional “block” can create difficulty communicating. How many incidents or accidents have occurred due to poor communications? The vast majority of Professional Standards cases will be caused by poor communication.

Courtesy of ALPA

In fact, reading through it again, I can identify with EVERY single part of it!

“Pilots tend to be physically and mentally healthy”CHECK! - Bf is a complete health nut, if either of us eats too unhealthily, or doesn’t get enough exercise, it totally bugs the hell out of him.

“Pilots tend to be reality based”CHECK! To the point that it bugs the hell out of me sometimes. Open your mind for crying out loud!

“Pilots tend to be self-sufficient and may have difficulty functioning in team situations without CRM and other training.”CHECK! - He is SO insular, that I get quite frustrated, he is such a control freak! AND I have known him to set more than one alarm clock!

“Pilots tend to be intelligent but are typically not intellectually oriented. They like “toys”– boats, cars, motorcycles, big watches, etc.”CHECK CHECK CHECK!!! – Hello?! Radio controlled planes and helicopters, classic car that he tinkers with, and yes, the obligatory Breitling Watch!

“Pilots are concrete, practical, linear thinkers rather than abstract, philosophical, or theoretical.”CHECK!

“They like lists showing concrete problems, not talking about them. This goal orientation tends towards the short term as opposed to the long term. Pilots are bimodal: on/off, black/white, good/bad, safe/unsafe, regulations/non-regulations.”CHECK! – Another one that frustrates me at times, because I am (obviously) a talker!

“Pilots are inclined to modify their environment rather than their own behavior.”CHECK! – I think most pilot wives and girlfriends could vouch for this one with enthusiasm! Haha! 

“Pilots need excitement; a 9-to-5 job would drive most pilots to distraction.”CHECK! - Bf’s old 9-5 job did drive him to distraction, even though it was a great job by most accounts! 

“Pilots are competitive, being driven by a need to achieve, and don’t handle failure particularly well.”CHECK! - He is HIGHLY comprtetive, and will always take the assumption that if someone else can do something-then, he’ll be able to do it better, with the right practice… I don’t think failure even exists in his mindset-to him it’s something that only other people do!

“Pilots have a low tolerance for personal imperfection, and long memories of perceived injustices.”CHECK! - I don’t even think I need to elaborate on that one after some of my recent posts! ;)

“Pilots avoid introspection and have difficulty revealing, expressing, or even recognizing their feelings.”CHECK! - Again, no clarification needed!

I guess I shouldn’t take his inability to communicate or be as emotional as such an insult-I think it just takes a lot more to uncork his emotional side than most; but if he were any other way-it seems he might not be as great at what he does for a living?!

It doesn’t go a long way to talking about the things that make them/him great, but I guess those are more personal to the individual, and therefore less generic. I am not the only one who has recognised the similarities though; I found this thread on Airline Pilot Forums that shows that pretty much all the pilots who responded, thought that the profile was spot on too!

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18 Responses to “The Pilot Personality”

  1. Dude I have just e-mailed that to sooo many people! I love it!xx

  2. OMG I have just read this out to my OH and laughed all the way through – this is SO TRUE!!! The alarm thing – that drives me nuts, why is one alarm not enough!!!

  3. I agree with all of the above! I’ve been married to an airline pilot for almost 18 years and I’ve come to recognize all of the traits most airline pilots have in common.

    The hardest thing for me in the beginning was his inability to express emotion. He has two moods, great and not so great. There is usually no explanation for a not so great mood and trying to get one is harder than pulling teeth. I often felt shut out but have come to understand this part of his personality.

    I’ve also noticed they have little patience for someone not understanding something and they don’t like to explain things. I suppose all professional men have their different traits that lead them to their careers and drive their success but sometimes I think the pilots got an extra dose when it comes to being excentric!

    • I know this is an old post but it is hilarious how many of these things I do and I only very recently came back to the idea of learning to be a pilot again.

      Also annoys me when my mum and others use that phrase ‘pulling teeth’ but also funny that she always says it about me :S :

  4. Wow – Granted, I’ve only been dating my pilot for about 6 months, and we haven’t spent a long extended period of time together, but I hardly see ANY of these qualities in him. How odd! He fully admits to not being perfect, he’s quite open-minded, only uses one alarm clock (I actually use two), he’s not big into toys (is actually considering selling his personal plane)…off the checklist that you wrote, I’m only checking off two examples: mentally and physically fit, and not being able to handle 9-5.

    I’m going to have to check with him and see how much he thinks he resembles this!

  5. all these things discrabe how pilot should be , not those pilots who learned and just practise what they got at shcool , flying an airplane is an ART …

  6. Thats the most ridiculous thing I have ever read!

  7. Oh my. I dated, and loved a pilot all of 2008. I wish I had read this before! He is so much of this. Help me understand, are Pilots often “players” when it comes to dating? Mine was, but that seems to support his need for excitment and fear of committment. Other pilot personality profiles I have read indicate a real emotional detachment…… Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts or experiences in relation to this. Thanks for the article!

  8. [...] time away from home. Trust issues can rear their ugly heads, too, torpedoing still more unions. And this article, by the girl friend of one pilot,  discusses the Airline Pilots’ Union pilot per…. Interestingly, it seems to apply to many pilots, not just the jet jockeys. Hmm. Can you see how an [...]

  9. God I wish I had read this one year ago, I might have saved myself some heart ache and walked sooner than I had. My recent ex BF has most of these traits and perfects them to PhD level. Unbelievable traits, not really condusive to a loving relationship?
    Obsession with work, tiredness, nobody works as hard as him, inability to show emotion and then the opposite, anger, then the coverup laughter. Treating him self all the time, the best of everything, yes he has the watch. Addiction to excitement, last minute.com, inability to plan. I could go on and on and on,but I won’t you get the drift! Am very sad cause he is a nice guy if he would leave his pilots persona on the airplane!

  10. These traits seem to exist in different but similar vocations. My family has a history of railroad engine-men. I was the deviation in that I never caught the train bug. Instead it was planes that got me going. At any rate, my engineer grandfather had a rep for showing up ’15 minutes early for a ten minute call.’ On three separate occasions during WWII, he worked an entire month with no more time off than was required by federal law for rest purposes. And while he was known to be very laid back and somewhat unflappable, an incident involving my father and a book of matches nearly brought my 40yr old grandfather and another ‘hoghead’ to fisticuffs over an ill-fated chicken coup. A 58yr old road foreman’s attempts at separating the two almost got him a black eye as he moaned that, ‘damn hogheads are worse than my wife.’
    ‘Zero to kill’ reactions to seemingly minor misunderstandings often baffle bystanders who’ve previously marveled at saintly patience in situations perceived to be far more inflammatory. And while they aren’t known for sharing feelings or making gratuitous professions of love, their frustratingly subtle actions give them away, especially when they think no one is watching.

  11. Every word written in this atricle was true- i somehow thought that i was reading about my husband (pilot). I think its nothing to do with thier personalities- its the attitude they develop- due to thinking that the job they are doing is so important- that most of them reach to a point of looking down at other people’s jobs. my husband think that he is always right! his listening skills are bery poor when we come to discuss about any family issues, he very quick to judge me negatively! and this hurts a lot.
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. -Hunaida

  12. Interesting comments. As a mother of a pilot I would agree with most things. But my husband is an engineer and he has similar traits. I believe it is more oriented towards the ISTP Myer Briggs personality type which reads similar in sensitibilities (or ahem, lack thereof !)

  13. [...] another rather funny one from the partner of a pilot and some possibly useful [...]

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