Normally, Jetwhine does not post pieces without the author’s name. This is an exception since this story is from an active line pilot. We’ve changed the author’s name to protect what is left of their career. Admittedly, this is a little longer than what we usually run, but I think it’s well worth your time. In conversations with other pilots, I’ve learned that this pilot’s perspective does not represent an isolated case.
What would you do if you were faced with the same decisions as this pilot? Feel free to pass this on to a friend who might be in Roger’s situation.
Rob Mark, editor
by Roger Miller
Well here I am in the 18th year of service as a pilot for one of our nation’s “legacy” air carriers.
I am 40 years old, and have been doing some deep thinking about some career options at this point in my life. Over the course of my career, I have accumulated over 12,000 hours of flying time. I currently fly as a first officer on the Boeing 777. Up until 3 years ago I was a captain on the Boeing 737 for almost five years.
In terms of an airline career, I have much to be thankful for in what I have accomplished at my age. I love to fly airplanes, and thoroughly enjoy the flight crews that I work with. It is a love of aviation and a part of our jobs that I often feel goes unappreciated in the upper management ranks at my company.
Despite these positive career attributes, the reality of many issues is starting to make me think about a few things.
Since my date of hire, I have not held on to a specific contract for more than 3 years. Every time our pilot group has been able to negotiate a contract, we have found ourselves giving concessions in some form. During the 1990’s we went through an era known as the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). In exchange for pay and benefits, our employee group along with others would receive a controlling stake in the company after 6 years. A seamless contract renegotiation was also promised.
It all sounded like a good idea in the interest of long term stability and morale, so I voted for the deal. As time progressed, I started to feel a sense of pride as I watched my stock portfolio grow. I became excited as the close of the ESOP payment period came and the thought of a new contract would be entertained. The time came and went with little or no motivation by my company to talk to our pilot group. Our operation ran poor during the summer of 2000. Finally negotiations took place, and an industry leading contract was in place.
A Career Turns Ugly
As the start of the millennium progressed, nobody in their deepest thoughts could ever imagine the events of September 11th. All of us were stunned as those events unfolded. As a result of this my carrier started to park airplanes and furlough pilots at a fast pace. About a year later we declared bankruptcy. During bankruptcy our pilots along with other employees gave huge concessions in every way imaginable to help save our airline. Our ESOP stock portfolios were wiped out. Our pay, benefits, and work rules were substantially altered. Our senior management said it was all necessary to avoid liquidation. They told us there would be a “shared sacrifice” between them and us to make it thorough the crisis.
Eventually, the “perfect storm” of events came and went, and recovery started to appear evident. We emerged from bankruptcy two years ago. Furloughed pilots started coming back. Financial results started to look better despite high fuel costs. Management took HUGE bonuses in light of their “shared sacrifice” mantra during bankruptcy. As a result of this, a very bitter atmosphere among the group started to set in. Our union started a picketing campaign to protest many of the issues at hand. To top things off, a merger seems imminent with another legacy carrier. As many of you know, this type of event seldom runs smooth. About three months ago, the FAA changed the pilot retirement age to 65.
When this happened, I really started to think hard about my career as a pilot.
If I stay healthy, I have the potential to work another 25 years. Throughout the industry downturn, I maintained a subscription to AIR INC in order to stay abreast of everything going on in the world of pilot hiring. As I received various issues of Airline Pilot Careers magazine, and the monthly job update, I started to take interest in some of the information on the various cargo carriers. Two particular operations caught my eye as I read about their years of extensive profits and excellent job stability. Ten years ago I would never imagine that working for one of these would provide a high level of stability, compensation, and benefits. Sure, some parts of their operations are not as attractive and glamorous as flying for a passenger carrier, but the thought of career stability and respect above what our pilot group has been provided seems more important. As I further researched one particular company’s web site, I seemed impressed with the fact that they are one of the most admired companies to work for. A part of their corporate creed reads like this:
“We believe that people do their best when they feel the pride in their contribution…when they are treated with dignity…and when their talents are encouraged to flourish in an environment that encourages diversity.”
That carrier believes its people are its most valuable asset. Recruiting and retaining a winning team of employees dedicated to the company’s mission and purpose is critical to its ability to serve its customers’ needs on a day-to-day and long term basis. That’s why they offer one of the most comprehensive total compensation packages available, the site says. I’ve begun talking to pilots who work at some of the cargo carriers as well.
I actually believe that a “winning team” thoroughly exists among the ranks at my company also. The flight crews that I work with along with many other people in various departments are highly experienced and talented individuals. But when you have been through a situation like ours, your sense of pride and morale tends to diminish. A winning team needs a good coach in the form of senior management to set the tone to instill pride and morale among its players in order to win. Our stats recently have been among the worse in the industry.
As I preflight many of the battleship gray faded and oxidized airplanes with worn out interiors, I wonder what the game plan for us really might be. Many other carriers are moving forward with new airplanes on order. Our glorious carrier is starting to appear old and tired. Our “coaches” have moved on with their lives as they live a very lucrative lifestyle in spite of our lingering bankruptcy work rules.
As our contract negotiations draw near, I stand ready to stick with the team to do whatever is necessary to fight and get back what we have given up. As for the new players that I have seen come on board recently in the form of new hires, I hope they will join us. Many of these folks have come from the ranks of regional carriers where what they are experiencing now might seem like an improvement over their former carrier. It is important for them to realize that our current contract is nothing compared to what it was years ago.
So let me sum this up.
Most experienced players on my team would have extremely competitive qualifications to interview at the cargo carriers I’ve looked at. Outside of seniority, the recapture period for pay and benefits would be about 3 to 5 years depending on seniority. The demand for pilots worldwide is at an all time high. Many foreign carriers are offering very lucrative contracts as well.
Jumping ship – so to speak – for another airline at this point in a career might not be the answer for everybody, including myself depending upon what transpires in the next two years. There is no such thing as a perfect airline career, but the temptation to pick up the pieces and move on in the name of more stability might seem worthy.
What would you do? Kick or stick?