Commuting Out of State by Air

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Considering taking a job out of state

April 2007

My husband is considering taking a job out of state. This job is a very rare opportunity that won't come around again. The family is routed here because of schools for our two young kids and my job, which has taken me a long time to establish in this area. One thing we are considering is that he would commute via plane 3-4 hours for 3 days every week to work, then be here the remaining 4 days to be with us. We are wondering if others have done such a thing and how they make it work. How long can this be sustained? We'd also like to hear about people who have tried it and what the downsides were. trying to make it work

My husband and I have been doing exactly what you describe for almost two years now (3.5 hours flight for 3.5 days a week), with a toddler at home.

Honestly, to me the hardest part is answering everyone's questions about it, because people can be very harsh critics of others' life choices and, well, it seems pretty fascinating. I've been asked why I am so ''career focused'' to put my family through this (the assumption being that I could just move with him, right?). To me, the most important part is if you and your husband both feel like you value and respect each others' careers enough to make it work, and not subtly try to convince the other one that you are making sacrifices ''for them''. On a more mundane level, pay the extra money if needed to fly nonstop, and stick with one airline so you board first, get free upgrades, and get first priority to re-route if there is a travel delay.

As for how long it can be sustained, we are fortunate as academics to take breaks from this routine during the summers and semester breaks, and we plan to do it 2 years at a time before one of us does a sabbatical in the other's city. That said, many of my college classmates with high-powered jobs in business travel 3 days a week for years.

You are welcome to ask the moderator to share my email address if you'd like to chat more. Making it work (somehow)

My husband is a pilot so I think I can speak on this subject with a bit of authority. My husband's base is in Portland, OR and we live in Oakland. The flight to work is approx. 2.5 hours and his schedule usually has him home 3 days per week and gone for 4. Does it work? Yes, but not without a considerable amount of strain on all of us. First, I am a de-facto single parent for half the week. Which means pick ups, drop offs, sick days, dinner etc. all fall on me those days. I'm tempted to turn the kids over to him when he's home - and I do sometimes - but I believe in whole family time so often I feel like I'm on 7 days per week. Next, the kids have to adjust to his coming and going and I think we're being dishonest to say it doesn't effect them. They definitely treat me like the parent and him as the ''fun adult.'' It's also difficult for their routine care. They're less sastified to have their dad do bath time, story time etc. because they are used to me doing it all the time. (My kids are 2 and 5). Finally, it has had some impact on our relationship as husband and wife. We often feel forced to connect when we can rather than when we want to. Part of that is the nature of parenting small kids, but it is worse when the opportunity and mood strike on Tuesday and he's not around. Plus, communication is different when it's on the phone.

All of that said, it's what works for our family. My husband has always wanted to be a pilot and you can't undervalue having a fulfilled spouse. Would I do it again? Probably, but only because I know he's fulfilling his professional dream. Anything short of that and I'd feel like I'm giving more than I'm getting - which I still feel sometimes. Good luck. part-time wife, full-time mother

We have done this for 17 years--long enough for our oldest to be starting college. I would not do it again, unless you live with a very accommodating parent or nanny, and you and your husband have an unusually accommodating relationship. I believe it was a bad life choice. Here are some of the problems, right off the top of my head:
1. It is expensive. 2. You will be a single mother. When they are sick, it is you. When they need to be driven somewhere, it is you. You do all the picking up, so that he does not have to come home to a disaster. When there is a meeting, it is you. If school is out at 3, so is your work. You cannot travel anywhere. You cannot attend meetings. If your husband travels for work, you are a single parent even more. 3. It is probably not so great for the kids, or for his relationship with the kids. 4. If he is the type that can be led astray, he probably will be, despite his best intentions. 5. When you are away from each other, you get used to it. Then you have to re-adjust every week. 6. You will not be able to get to know, or socialize, with the people that he works with. These people will be very important to him. If you want to attend a function with him, will you and the kids all fly out there? Do you have someone to leave them with? Will you want to? My husband has won numerous awards. I have only been at one of the awards ceremonies. 7. If you can move there, do it. You will probably be considerably better off financially too.

My first thought was: it won't work. Plane tickets will get expensive and your husband will get tired of flying. At some point, he will start sleeping wherever the job is. If you can live with that, so be it. Think it through. anon

I was in your same situation several years ago. My husband was presented with a wonderful opportunity on the east coast. We had 2 young children and I had a job I loved; we were established here and neither of us were interested in moving. So we decided to bite the bullet and he commuted alternating weeks here and there. It wasn't easy but we survived. The downsides: it was very tiring for both of us, for him the physical strains of the commute, the stress of working from 2 locations and feeling somewhat disconnected from us; for me keeping the household running, keeping on top of work, and missing him! And, I don't know exactly how to put this, but we'd get a routine established for when he was gone, then we'd have to sort of fit him back in when he was here. It's not so much that his going back and forth was disruptive, it was just that when I was on my own here I was pretty much in survival mode and not looking for back up, then when he was here we had to switch gears. Also, when he was here he still had to work so even though he was in the house he was as unavailable as if he were away. I guess I had an idea that his time might be more flexible here, but that was not the case. In fact some people in his office didn't accept this set up and acted as if unless he was in the office he was on vacation! Not true in the least! But there were upsides. He was able to get great experience and a strong track record in an an area where he wanted to move his career. In the summer we were able to spend time with him out there so that made things a bit better. I guess I would say to make this work, make sure his employers are clear on how hard he's working even if they can't see him. Be flexible in how you keep yourself and the kids moving along, and do what you must to make it work. And most important communicate! If it's getting to be too much, speak up. You'll be working just as hard as he will, so try to make choices that will make things smoother for you. In the end, we have to make sacrifices to make progress. My husband now has a local job which he loves which would not have been possible if not for the time spent commuting. It was definitely not easy, but in our case it was worth it. Good luck to all of you! Been There

I am going to answer based on my experience as a child of a father who worked away from home for many years. I am nearly 50 now and the mother of three and I would never want my spouse to work on a distance-commuting basis. My father, who was largely a good parent and to whom I remain very close, worked out of town sometimes being gone M-F and sometimes gone for 3 weeks, home for 1. I think it was terribly hard on my mother (who had 6 children!) and on the children. My mom was left to be the heavy and we were always so excited and happy to see our dad - he could do no wrong in our eyes. When he finally returned to a local job there was a very difficult period of adjustment - we had all gotten quite used to having him gone. My parents later divorced and although it might have happened anyway, I think the long distance work contributed to it. Anon

We've been doing it for the past 5 years. My husband is an airline pilot and serves as a pilot in the Navy Reserves. For most of the past 5 years, my husband commuted from Florida to his base in JFK (2 to 3 hours in the same time zone). Now he is commuting to New York from Utah (four to five hours with a two-hour time change), though that will change to a Salt Lake to Long Beach commute (1-hour to 1 1/2 hour commute with one-hour time change) next month. For the past few months (and this will continue for the next few years) he has also commuted to Florida for his Navy Reserve duty. We are separated from 12 to 18 days a month, except when the Navy sends him away a few times a year for two-week blocks. We have two children, ages two and four.

I am VERY independent, so this arrangement does not bother as much as it may bother others. I am happy with time to myself. I am a mostly stay-at-home Mom (I work 20-hours a week at a daycare) so I have the luxury of spreading out household operations over the course of the day (hey girls -- let's go pick up Daddy's shirts at the cleaners...lets go to Wild Oat's to get groceries...let's clean the house) instead of trying to cram it into the weekend or after a full day at the office. I am good at creating a social life for the girls and/or me without a husband (see downsides for more on that...)

The downsides...I operate as a single Mom in most circumstances (excepting financial) for half of the month. That means, I am 'on' for 24-hours for days on end -- the husband is midway through an 11-day (four days with the airline, three with the Navy, four days with the airline) stretch at the moment. Couples may think that you are fabulous, but you are not going to get invited out to dinner unless your other half is around. I find that very odd, as I want the company most when my husband is out of town, but most people can't deal with me unless I am a complete set. It took three months to line up a date for dinner with another couple recently. The kids miss Daddy. I miss my husband. Also, time zones can be a killer (especially if red-eyes are thrown in the mix) The airline gig will last for another 24 years. The Navy gig will end in about 5 years.

We could move to LA, but it isn't for us. He grew up in San Diego and I grew up along the Russian River/Berkeley. We love our life in the Park City -- ski season ends tomorrow and the bikes come out on Monday. The public school system is one of the best in the country. Friends and family are always coming to visit. We just don't want to trade what we have now for Long Island, NY or Long Beach, CA. Maybe when I need to be 3 places at once we will reconsider, but for now, the trade-offs are worth it. jan

GO for it! You can make it work. But you'll REALLY need to prioritize spending time as a family & sit down with hubby on a periodic basis to brainstorm when challenges arise.

There probably aren't a lot of folks looking at your situation, but I hope I might have some helpful things to say, because: (1) We live on the Russian River in Sonoma County & my husband works three hours away in Mountain View (long story) & have managed to make it work -- I am a stay-at-home mom, & we have few resources & little extra cash, yet we manage to keep ourselves & our preschooler daughter happy; & (2) Some friends of ours have 2 little girls & a situation that seems crazy even to me -- the mom is a consultant who frequently travels across the country for days at a time while the dad works long (but flexible) hours running a business out of his home, ... yet they also have happy kids, a loving marriage & are both deeply involved with & committed to raising their kids. They have more money than we do for household help & stuff, but really it's their values & abilities to prioritize that allow them to balance their needs for a loving & close-knit family with their intense & successful careers

Set your priorities so you have enough QUALITY time to spend together as a family, alone with your husband, & for each of you to bond with the kids while the other spouse chills out or gets stuff done.

Figure out which household tasks will interfere with spending quality time together as a family & or enjoying some much-needed time for yourselves & ''outsource'' as many of these jobs as your income allows. Hire people to clean house, water your plants or take care of your yard, do household repairs, pay your bills & do your bookeeping & paperwork, transport the kids back & forth to school & activities, etc. Have groceries delivered & consider hiring someone to prepare meals & put them in the freezer.

If you can afford it or can get your husband's company to pay for it, DO consider having him stay overnight near work during the week. That way, he can focus on his job when he's at work & focus on you & the kids when he's at home, instead of being tired & cranky & neither here-nor-there all week. Once his boss & coworkers develop a trusting relationship, they might start letting him telecommute for a least a day-or-two per week. My husband's boss started encouraging him to work at home 2 days per week after only 8 months or so. Think about whether this is possible & develop a 2-year or 5-year plan.

Connecting with each other should be the main priority & every thing else should go to heck. I'm hoping that your combined incomes will allow you to do these things. If not, you might be in for a long slog.

Good luck! Lisa

Long-distance commute with a 3-year-old

March 2006

I'm in a dual-career marriage with jobs on opposite coasts, & have managed to keep my academic job (tenured job at a research university in DC) since daughter's birth mainly by taking leaves while I finish a book & continue to look for jobs on the west coast (where we prefer living), etc. (My husband has also taken leaves from his job so that we could all be in DC durign 2 of the 3 semesters I have taught since her birth, so we haven't had to be apart much this far; also, one of us has been at home with her nearly all her life.) Next yr to keep my job I am considering commuting (nonstop flts. from OAK) to DC while my husband works here; this will mean being away 3 nights/wk (from Mon after her bedtime til late Thurs nite) for 13 wks in fall & 1 night/wk in spring (it's also possible that this would be in fall only, with no spring commute). I have a leave for the followign acad. yr. so i would have lots of time with her then (her last year pre-K). Our daughter, who is outgoing, communicative, & seems to feel very secure, has handled her father's brief absences well, but I have never yet spent a night away from her. She likes school alot--she started preschool last fall 2 days/wk & we gradually increased it to 4 days, her schedule next year. She will be 3 1/2 when this starts. Anyone have experience with a temp. work commute like this? Advice on helping daughter (or myself) handle it?

I commuted to CT from Oakland when our child was 4 yrs old. It did not work for us. My husband felt like a single parent, running from work to preschool to the grocery store and then home to cook just to do it over again the next day. Our son missed me and when I was at home, all i did was sleep. We did not have quality time as a family and I missed them all terribly. I would not recommend it. Anita

My husband and I also have a temporary long-distance commute with a 2-year-old. It was either this or one of us would have to retire from our career as we both do obscure things where we are just lucky to be working, and we both have a lot of passion and love for our jobs.

People say we're crazy, but a lot of the time when we actually explain the mechanics of the situation there is much more envy than pity. I leave on the first flight Monday and return late Thursday or early Friday. Four days a week my husband is the single caretaker and our son is at daycare much of the day, and three days a week I am the primary caretaker including spending all day Saturday and Sunday with my son. I get so much more work done in the week than I used to in all 7 days that I'm no longer distracted and trying to squeeze in work during the weekends, so in total my son gets way more time with me than before. I also get a husband who really does pitch in an equal amount with caregiving, by design he cannot do otherwise. (It helps that we have a friendly student who comes part-time for the morning routine and laundry, etc.) We do this about half of the time and I telecommute from home about half of the time.

What does this mean for me? Yes I miss him during the week, but I also miss him during the day when he is at daycare. Now I am a more refreshed and better mother, because work and family have clearly delineated territories and the responsibilities don't bleed together quite as much. I also even have personal time and time to see girlfriends during the week.

Frankly, if the gender were reversed and you re-phrased our ''commute'' as a father who works in consulting or another high-powered job that has a lot of travel Mon-Thurs, no one would ever say anything. Sometimes I point this out to people, they go silent, and say wow you're right.

So, I say, do what feels right and don't let people tell you how to live your life. You can make this work if you want to. anon