Well, the Flying Careers series has stretched considerably longer than I originally meant it to, and I've covered more than I meant to. There's only a few more things I want to say.
I've been thinking more about what I wrote the other day regarding the fact that the flying is the only thing this career has going for it. I argued that these days, a love of flying is almost a prerequisite for an aviation career. That said: a passion for aviation alone isn't enough. Look at the sometimes poor pay and schedules, the impact on family life and health, and the lack of job stability; if your need to fly doesn't overpower those considerations, rethink your career. You can make more money in another profession and fly your Bonanza to the beach on weekends.
In a few weeks, I'm going to write about how the regionals made the jump from flying 19-seat turboprops to 70 seat jets, and how ALPA failed to recognize what a threat it posed to the profession until it was too late. The last few years, the growth of cut-rate regionals has accounted for much of the destruction of good jobs at mainline carriers. If there's one message I would want the reader to take away from this series, here it is: the piloting profession is in trouble. If you choose to jump in anyways, make a positive contribution by considering the effect that your choices have on the profession. Think beyond the quick upgrade. Think long-term.
You'll enjoy airline flying more if you're a bit of a geek. The new technology in our aircraft is stuff they didn't dream of 20 years ago, and it's continually evolving. Old-timers complain that airlins have turned aviators into button-pushers, and to an extent they're right. You'll do well if you enjoy learning all about those buttons.
Networking starts long before you're ready to apply for the airlines. Consider that a friendly attitude will do more for your career than the ability to nail an ILS to minimums in blowing snow and a 30 knot crosswind. Go out of your way to meet other pilots. Help them in any way you can. When it comes time to ask a favor, don't be shy. Everyone else is eager to do one so you can help them out someday. It's kinda like "The Godfather."
Along the same lines, treat your first flying job like the most important one you'll ever have. People will notice and it will help you later in your career. Conversely, burned bridges have a way of coming back to haunt you. Karma is strong in aviation.
When starting out, the temptation is to make aviation your whole life. Those who do so are known as pilot dorks, and you don't want to be that person. Maintain other hobbies and interests. Of course, this is coming from somebody who flies for a living and maintains an aviation blog. Heh. But seriously, the best aviation interview you'll ever have is the one where you and the chief pilot talk flyfishing.
Speaking of chief pilots, they're usually the ones with the most pull for hiring. If you have a buddy at an airline you'd like to fly for, get the chief pilot's contact info and give him or her a call. Even if you're far below the company's hiring minimums, demonstrating interest early on is the best way to get a call for an interview when your resume is on their desk in a year or two.
The more you talk to pilots at major airlines, the more you'll hear the following: "You know, I miss flight instructing/freight flying/regional flying. I sure had a lot of fun back then!" So don't be in such a hurry to get to the majors that you forget to enjoy the journey.
Whether you have a union background or not, they are a fact of aviation. Get used to it. Don't be the idiot who refuses to pay dues and talks nonstop smack against the union. Warts and all, unions can be a force for positive change. Pitch in to help your union become better.
Consider bringing chocolates for the crew when jumpseating on another airline. They'll love you for it!
When shopping around for flight training, be a critical listener. They'll try to sell you on a lifestyle that doesn't exist to separate you from your money. If anybody mentioned Kit Darby or the Tarver Report, quit listening immediately, they're full of crap.
At some point in your life, fly a glider or a seaplane. They're a ton of fun!
Consider that the majority of commercial pilots who die on the job are at between 500 and 2000 hours. This is when you'll start really feeling comfortable with the airplane, and there's a temptation to cut corners and let your discipline slide. Steel yourself against that. Fly by the book whether somebody is looking or not, even when it causes extra inconvenience. Don't let anyone pressure you into something stupid to "get the job done." Many pilots look back on their formative years and are aghast at the risks they took. It's not worth it; don't give yourself anything to regret.
That's all I have to say. Hope you enjoyed the series!