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“For one who flies above, this land is merely a map…”

Who doesn’t know the extract from Radnóti’s poem or the feeling one gets by looking out of the window of a plane: miniature cars, wobbling lights, plough lands as regular as chess boards, and even Lake Balaton seems nothing more than a puddle…?

Certainly everyone who doesn’t freak out from the weightless gliding above the clouds has at least once toyed with the idea: what would it be like to fly thousand meters above the ground day after day? What would it be like to work as a pilot or a flight attendant?


Such daydreamers usually forget about the literally more down-to-earth profession of air traffic controllers, though it is a high-quality, unique job representing daily challenges.


Dear seniors standing in the doorway of higher education, let’s see what skills you need to become successful in one of the professions mentioned above. 


Flight attendant


Let’s start with the most available career of the three: become a steward or a stewardess! A high school diploma and a good level of English are indispensable to this, and you also have to like taking care of people and must be emphatic. If you possess these qualities, you have good chances at the interview, but the hardest part comes only after this. From the three jobs, this is the one that is easier to start than to continue in the long run.


The life of a flight attendant is unpredictable and irregular; they know their schedule only a few weeks in advance, and they often get a day off when everyone else (i.e., non-flying mundane) is working. This has some advantages, of course: for example, they have the whole beach for themselves while others are sweating in their offices in the biggest summer heat on a Tuesday, waiting for the weekend as if it were the Messiah himself. Those working for a bigger airline get the opportunity to not only to travel but actually see the world, since the cabin crew doesn’t immediately head back home after a longer flight – their employer accommodates them at their place of arrival until they return (usually within 1-2 days). This time is perfect for sightseeing.


By contrast, smaller, low-cost airlines try to have their crews back to the base after each shift, so it may happen that someone goes to Paris twice a day, yet they don’t get to see more than its airport. 


The irregular lifestyle may be both a positive and a negative factor: those who like variety and continuous novelties were born to be flight attendants! If you can get used to this and are able to cope with stress (we are talking about a physically and mentally demanding job), you will love your work! Not mentioning that entry level salaries highly surpass those of graduates entering the workforce.   


If someone is courageous enough and feels like trying him/herself as a flight attendant, the first thing to do is getting some information on the online forums because there are huge differences between the different air services. Positions available at low-cost airlines are the easiest to obtain, while companies from the Middle East offer a far more appealing amount of salary – but their employees are submitted to considerably stricter rules as well. It is not worth doing a formation in advance because airlines offer training for their selected candidates.  




Everything said about the job of a flight attendant is valid for pilots as well. However, the latter goes with a lot more sacrifice, responsibility, training, and perseverance as well. In a nutshell: it is difficult to start and hard to continue, but nothing can be costly enough for the aviation lover – so it is maybe worth it for them. 


While bigger airlines used to finance the formation of their future pilots, today it is not typical anymore – the long training must be arranged and paid by candidates themselves, from personal resources. In Hungary, it is only the College of Nyíregyháza which offers a state-funded formation for (agricultural) pilots, but merely 4-5 students per year are allowed to start their studies there. The others can choose from several flight schools and clubs where they can have private lessons to get their first Private Pilot License. Speaking in terms of cars, this is the equivalent of a category B driving license; its obtention requires an investment of about two million Forints. Let’s not forget that it’s only the first stage followed by several others: the 200-hour aviation training demands approximately 20 million Forints, unbroken enthusiasm, and unconditional love lasting for years. This is when the apprentice becomes a real pilot who may drive bigger (passenger) aircrafts at an airline. It is a righteous demand to mention some arguments for becoming a pilot after all these negative points. Well, high salary is one of them, but going back a few lines and doing some calculations it is immediately clear that the investment will not return soon – so if you are merely motivated by money, you shouldn’t become a pilot.


But who should apply then?


Those whose life goal and eternal love is aviation, who don’t feel complete without it. Those willing to make both financial and personal sacrifices for it, since in this lifestyle flying must play the major role. Knowing that the plane gets higher at your command will make up for everything – at least this is what say those who remained faithful to aviation and are blindly in love with it even after several years.


Air traffic controller


It’s an ideal job for those who would rather admire the beauty of flying from the ground and help the work of the above mentioned people from there. It necessitates definitely high levels of stress management and the ability of intensive concentration during long periods of time. Precision is crucial, and mathematical-logical skills come in handy too, since one has to do a lot of mental calculations despite everything being computerized. Air traffic controllers have huge responsibility on their shoulders – the smallest mistake may cost the lives of hundreds of people. To put it simply: you cannot make errors here.


Those who live up to these high expectations and are interested in the job can participate in the 1.5-year formation of Hungarocontrol in Hungary. Training is not available in each year, and merely 10-12 participants are admitted – but it is free of charge and it is almost guaranteed that you’ll immediately have a job once you’ve finished. You need to pass a 5-6 round entrance exam to successfully apply.


Since air traffic controllers are exposed to a high amount of stress, employers remunerate their dedication with great working conditions and rather high salaries. Their schedule is special, too: they work in day and night shifts, having enough time to get some rest between the two. For example, after 12 hours of work comes a 24-hour pause, then a 12-hour shift again. Then they have 72 hours – 3 days – off. Of course, a 12-hour shift does not mean 12 hours actively spent with work. There is a gym, recreation rooms, and other opportunities for useful relaxation because in the active 90 minutes they must wholly concentrate and cannot make any mistakes. It is a responsible, demanding, challenging job offering a high quality of life.


Hoping that while reading these lines many people will take a liking for getting a job in the airline industry, I wish everyone good luck with their applications.


Last but not least, I’d like to thank Zsolt Gátfalvi pilot and ex-steward for sharing his photos and “aerial experiences” with me.


Written by Kamilla Drubina.

Translated by Mária Kenesei.



Published: Fri, 28/08/2015 - 10:12

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