Alaska Airlines pilot says two things surprise people about his job.

Share story

Ron Limes

What do you do? I am a captain at Alaska Airlines and get to fly 737s. I’m a lucky guy — I love what I do. I’ve been flying planes from place to place for Alaska Airlines since 1999. It’s a wonderful career, fulfilling and challenging.

Additionally, I’m a flight operations duty officer (or FODO), which means that I am a resource for frontline pilots and management, and bring people together to solve problems.

Because I love what I do so much, I’m also the chairman of the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program, an education program created to serve underserved kids in Washington state. We’ve partnered with the Museum of Flight to give kids grades 6–8 opportunities and exposure to what careers are possible in the STEM field. We’re in our ninth year now and have been seeing great success with our students now going onto college! We’ve all heard the motto, “You can do anything you want to do,” and this program takes that further by teaching these students they can do anything they want to do if they prepare, train and educate themselves. It’s great to see the success that our students have when we provide them opportunities to do that.

[Editor’s note: On Saturday, May 6, Alaska Airlines is co-hosting Aviation Day 2017 in Seattle, a free opportunity for young adults to learn in a classroom and hands on about career paths in the aviation industry.]

How did you get started in that field? My aviation career stems way back to fifth grade; my teacher at the time was a private pilot who flew general aviation. He would come back from the weekend and tell stories of what he did and where he went, and I was fascinated that he could be in a plane on the weekend and still be in class during the week. From there, there was nothing else I wanted to do except fly.

I graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1990. I spent 26 years in the Air Force between active duty and reserve duty, flying all over the world before coming to Alaska Airlines.

What’s a typical day like? The great thing about being an airline pilot is there is no typical day. Yes, I do the same things, same routine every day, but everything is different whether that’s the flight route, the weather or the plane.

For example, earlier this month I woke up at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight. I start with the pre-flight tasks — paperwork, check the weather, check the plane’s weight and balances, check the airport, and conduct briefings with the flight crew and first officer. Then the fun part begins, pushing the throttles up. That day, I flew to Palm Springs, then back to Seattle, then down to San Diego to end the day.

What surprises people about what you do? There are two things that surprise people the most about flying. The first is that they see this job as being very glamorous, having the opportunity to go to different cities and locations. What they don’t see is that the hours get long, oftentimes you’re flying on the back side of the clock (through the night) and how much training it takes to reach the airline pilot level. You have to really work for it.

The second thing that surprises people is that there is no standard route each person flies. It changes every day.

What’s the best part of the job? The best part of this job is that I get to go to cool places with cool people. Alaska Airlines has a great employee group — the flight crew, customer services, mechanics, dispatchers, everyone I work with is truly wonderful. We all want operations to go well, which makes the job so much better and more satisfying because everyone has the same goals in mind.

Flying is pretty amazing, too. I’ve traveled the world and seen the most beautiful places. But nothing can compare to flying over southeast Alaska on a clear day. Ketchikan, Sitka … those towns in the panhandle of Alaska, nowhere is more beautiful or spectacular than that.

Editor’s note: On Saturday, May 6, Alaska Airlines is hosting Aviation Day 2017, a free opportunity for young adults to learn in a classroom and hands on about career paths in the aviation industry.

Do you have a cool job or know someone in the Seattle area who does? Email us with your recommendations for people to feature in Cool Jobs.