To keep airline ticket prices low, airlines have cut into pilot salaries and benefits -- so much so that aviation experts say that the "glory days" of being a pilot are gone, and now fewer people are interested in flying for a living.
Even though commercial airline cabins may be getting more crowded these days, it's another story in the cockpits. Federal Aviation Administration officials and airline experts say in just a few years, airlines will be running short of qualified pilots.
"I think it has the potential to be a very, very big deal," said aviation expert and former pilot Barry Schiff. "There are going to be a lot more airliners and a lot fewer pilots available to fill them."
Aviation analyst Barry Schiff says a large number of veteran pilots are slated to retire soon and more stringent flight requirements set to go into effect mean the pool of qualified candidates is shrinking.
Then add in the fact that being a pilot isn't what it used to be.
"Co-pilots, for example, when they go to work for commuter pilots, are poorly paid, overworked, underfed -- they have a tough, tough life, and many of them just give it up," said Schiff.
Airline executives are so worried that they held a "pilot supply summit" last week to discuss ways to lure in more pilot candidates. They want the government to subsidize the cost of pilot training, which can easily top $100,000.
But passengers say the airlines need to bump up pilot pay.
"As a young person going to school, I have no interest in being a pilot. It's not really a glorified position anymore. They have to find a way to make it more appealing to young people," said Seattle resident Kirby Young.
"As a pilot's wife, I felt like, Yes, his years of expertise, the training they went through, the expense of the training, all of that, the danger involved, I think that they deserve higher wages," said Tucson resident Karen Putnam.
Schiff though expects the airlines to rely more on technology than people.
"We've gone from a four-man crew to a three-man crew to a two-man crew," said Schiff. "Get ready for the single-pilot airliner. And eventually, you bet: Pilotless airliners."
The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement Monday: "The FAA has prompted discussions with the airlines, pilots and other stakeholders to obtain data to determine long-term pilot staffing needs and solutions."