On the Job: Airline Pilot

Denver airline pilot Stacey Banks describes what it's like being an American Airlines pilot.

Authored by Erin Malcolm

Photo by Jon Rose

For Denver-based American Airlines First Officer Stacey Banks, travel is not just her livelihood, it’s her lifelong passion. “I think it’s so important to travel,” says Banks. “It’s crucial that people see the world and get different perspectives. You learn who you are when you’re out of your comfort zone in a place that’s totally foreign to you.” That discovery is one of many things that this pilot loves about her on-the-go career.

What’s your background?
“My father was a pilot for 48 years, so my exposure to aviation came when I was just a baby. I have a photo of my mom and grandmother holding my hands as I stood on the wing of an airplane when I was about 18 months old. I started flying lessons at age 16 and first soloed an airplane at 17. I then studied aviation and became a flight instructor in college at MSU Denver. All together, I’ve been flying for 24 years.”

What does a typical day as a pilot look like?
“Every day is different. Some days we might have one flight or five. We might start the day at 4 a.m. or midnight. We could have a 10-hour layover or a 24-hour one. Destinations are different on just about every trip, too. Everything changes depending on whether you’re flying internationally or domestically, where you’re based, what aircraft you’re on, and where you fall on the seniority list. There’s a lot that goes into a pilot’s schedule, so we have to be flexible.”

What’s it like being a female in the aviation industry?
“Only 5 to 6 percent of commercial airline pilots are women, so people are still surprised to see one of us. When I was in flight school, I would regularly be the only girl in my class. I think it’s great that we’re getting more exposure, because when a young girl sees other women doing something, they believe they can do it, too.”

What’s a challenge that you face within your career?
“You know how hard traveling is on your body? It’s the same for pilots. We’ve got to drink a lot of water and move whenever we hit the ground. Some essentials that I travel with are a yoga mat and a pair of tennis shoes.”

Is there anything that people might not expect about your job?
“The comradery between flight crew members. We spend so much time with each other that we become family. For example, if I’m flying with another pilot for a four-day trip, we often go to dinner or explore together during our layovers, too. Some of my best friends are other pilots. We’ve known each other for years and have just banded together.”

What do you love about your job?
“I love the physical act of flying an airplane. The plane becomes a part of me when I’m flying, almost like it’s an extension of my body. The office view is also the best in the world. I see the most incredible sunrises, sunsets, cloud formations, and cityscapes.”