38,000 feet a coffee in my hand and the whole world at my feet – My honest story

Through my Instagram account @pilotmaria, I often times make it look like the sky is always blue, roses are red, and the sun is always shining. That has not always been the truth. Here is my honest journey about the pilot profession and how I came to fly 737 as my first commercial jet with 189 passengers on board.



Flying an airplane requires dedication, patience and sacrifice. During the time I studied to become pilot, I met no one and my social life took a hard hit. Today, I have a handful of close friends, who have always been there for me, even if it sometimes takes months or even years between seeing each other, we know we’re always there for each other. As a pilot you can be away days or even weeks depending on company schedule, long or short haul etc.



I took my final exam for my ATPL in April 2010 and I was ready to take the aviation market by storm! Nothing could stop me at this point. But there was nothing but echo, I sent out job applications to what felt like every airline company out there, for God’s sake I would even offer myself to work for free, only to get flying hours! It’s expensive to fly privately and after paying 60k Euro for my pilot training, it was not just the stress that I did not get a job but also the stress that the bank wanted to get back the money I took a loan out for. Even after flying commercially for three years the bank still takes 1500 euros from me every month to pay back what I owe them.



I was lucky, for me it took “only” two years to get a job. I have friends who it took over ten years before they got their first job as a pilot! And then September 11, 2001 happened… Boeing and Airbus orders were canceled and airlines had to furlough their employees. It was an incredibly difficult time for the aviation industry and it took years for things to normalize. Some might say the industry still may not be back to where it once was.



During the two years applying for pilot jobs, I committed  myself to staying current and focused in aviation… Networking was one thing, but I figured any foot in the aviation door was a step in the right direction… So I worked as airport security, TSA in my home country, Sweden for one year, and as a crew planner, where I handled administrative duties for another airline. Planned monthly schedules, holidays, and day off requests from pilots. Every week when we released the new schedule, my inbox filled with at least 200 emails from pilots who were not happy with the routes they received or times they worked. Quiet to myself, I used to think: “but you have a job as a pilot, stop complaining I would do what you do for nothing…” Never did I think I too one day would complain to someone else when I don’t get the days off I requested.



I have to pinch my arm and think back on the days when I sat in the office and dreamed of sitting where the pilots sat. The world’s most beautiful office, 38,000 feet a coffee in my hand and the whole world at my feet.

It’s a perfect job and I could not imagine myself doing anything else, but for those who dream of becoming a pilot and believe that you will explore the whole world and have screaming girls, like Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Catch me if you can’ after you as soon as you put the stripes on, you’ll have to think again. It’s not like that anymore and you will have to work hard for it! Most of the times when you land for a layover you are too tired to do anything. The 12 hours you have in Bogota, New York or any other dream destination you will most likely go back to your hotel room and sleep, order room service and watch tv.


The trips I make, the movies I share on Instagram are not filmed during a 24 hour layover in a paradise resort. Most trips I do, I do on my free time. It is thanks to Instagram and my social channels I can afford to do so, not thanks to free airline tickets and a juicy pilot salary. The pilot salary for the company I work for is definitely not bad, but I’m a contracted pilot which means I’m not employed by the company but rather hired for a service. They give me a salary every month and from that salary I have to put away money for my pension, pay healthcare, insurance, loss of license and everything from my own meals aboard to my uniform. I wouldn’t change a thing, I’m quite okay taking my own responsibility but it might not be something that suits everyone.



I hope my story inspires you because even though it takes a lot of work, I wouldn’t change it for anything– let’s be honest though, pilots are the best people at complaining. You will always find someone saying “it’s not what it used to be” and although that might be true since things change, at the end of the day, it’s still the best gig around in my opinion and I just want to share that with you and bring more positivity to aviation. While of course I would never share anything that could jeopardize safety, I want to show you all what’s behind that secret door that nowadays has to be closed, locked and bullet proof. It´s not a secret how you start an engine, you can learn that from a computer game. And I hope for some of you that are scared of flying that it might help to see someone being healthy, positive and happy about their job, aviation has already had too many hits, it’s about time we show why it’s the safest way to go from A to B and never the less the prettiest way – that view from 38.000 feet.

xx Maria


Thank you Dustin @aircrewlife and Emilie @emiliepix for inspiration, feedback and correcting my grammar 😉 


Written by Maria Pettersson

Edited by Dustin Johnson and Emilie Candeur


Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook



  1. ilza
    June 21, 2017 / 3:42 pm

    Congrats, it is very nice to see someone who loves her/his job. I’m in my profession (lawyer). My husband was like you, but at his time flight attendant was not welcome to arrive at cockpit…so he just got licence for small planes…
    But his first son is studing to be pilot…to bad when it will come true, hubby will not see from here…maybe from heaven…no problem, our 14 yo son will be there to represent hubby all proud of my step son….
    Be happy at your job is the secret to live well….

    • pilotmaria
      June 21, 2017 / 5:23 pm

      I know he is looking down very proud at both your son and you ❤️❤️❤️

  2. Haluk Bilgin
    June 21, 2017 / 4:19 pm

    Dedication, perseverance, hard work. Brava.

  3. Gustavo
    June 21, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    I liked your story, I wanted to be a pilot myself and even though I could not do it I have been a fan of aviation. Keep pushing forward to accomplish your dreams.

  4. June 21, 2017 / 7:24 pm

    Very nice and inspiring story! You did your flight training for just 60k in Europe? That looks very cheap to me, can I ask you which flight school you attended?

    • pilotmaria
      June 21, 2017 / 7:30 pm

      Yes, i starten at SPU Swedish Pilot Education in Gothenburg, I did my ppl and atom theory there. CPL, IR and multi engine I did at SSSA South Sweden School of Aeronautics:)

      • June 22, 2017 / 10:24 am

        Thank you so much! Didn’t know about the SSSA and I live just around the corner in Copenhagen haha

  5. June 21, 2017 / 8:32 pm

    Great post! I used to be terrified of flying but I’m getting better thanks to hypnotherapy and reading positive stories like yours ☺️ It’s amazing to see someone with such passion for their job! Katie x

  6. Delys
    June 21, 2017 / 9:28 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Maria! It’s so amazing to see someone like you! I want to be a pilot myself and when I see your posts I get really inspired! It’s not an easy journey, but it is definitely worth it! You’re the best! Keep it up! ❤

  7. Carlos
    June 22, 2017 / 12:20 am

    I’m in that moment where my social life has fell and almost no one can see me… But it will be worth (as you are the example). Every time I run up the engine of the little Diamond 20 I think every pilot has started in a tiny piston single engine acft and makes me dream about my future. Let’s see what future is keeping secret!
    Safe landings from BCN Maria!

  8. Jaime Mordoh
    June 22, 2017 / 5:18 am

    I want to congratulate you for your perseverance and dedication in spite of all the difficulties you had to achieve your dream. Never let them go, and always follow them with the same force you have had so far. I fully agree with you that there is nothing better than seeing the world from a plane cockpit

  9. Priti
    June 23, 2017 / 10:13 am

    Hi wonderful post .. I follow you on insta love all your pics. I was a cabin crew before and worked hard to get on to 737 cockpit. Now working towards my command on 737 . I so associate with you.. all the best

  10. Damaris Carlón
    June 24, 2017 / 6:13 pm

    Such a great inspiration, you definitely answered all the doubts i had, i’m 16 right now but i want to become a pilot i can’t wait for that

  11. Jacob
    June 24, 2017 / 7:12 pm

    Inspiring story, I wouldn’t mind being a Pilot myself.

  12. Noe_miami
    June 24, 2017 / 8:42 pm

    Just congrat’s. This is so nice to see someone like you. So passionate, My boyfriend just graduated. He is pilot too, he is in Orlando and i’m in France. And i totally see what you mean about working time. That’s not easy but i’m so proud and happy for him. I totally understand why he is doing that Job. You are such an amazing woman and Pilot. I wish you all the best 😘👩🏼‍✈️🛩

  13. Evan
    June 26, 2017 / 1:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story, Maria.

    • pilotmaria
      September 21, 2017 / 10:13 am

      Hi Evan 🙂 Thank you so much for reading my story!

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