Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I hate Greg's job!!!

So this week isn't going much better than last week for Greg. He was sent to Canada at the beginning of the week and is now on his way to Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Earlier in the week I had talked with some friends about a wine festival coming up this weekend in Charlotte. I remembered that I have a free night's stay at a hotel within walking distance of the wine fest, so I went ahead and booked Saturday night for us there, thinking of course that it would allow us both to drink and not have to drive and we could finally use that gift certificate I won at last year's Christmas party that has been gathering dust all year. Well, Greg did the math and he said it is not looking promising that he'll get home this weekend based on being up in Green Bay and having to get back to Charlotte in the next two days before he maxes out on hours for the week. So, not only am I bummed about the wine fest plans (I'll still go even if he can't and cancel the hotel), but I miss him terribly, he hasn't been home since Sept 20th, and his job is getting more and more unbearable. I want him to quit. They are just torturing him, it's getting ridiculous.
I found a Postal service mail delivery job for Greg that looked promising in our town. I went ahead and did the application for him, which was actually a HUGE pain the ass. It was a typical govt. application, so I guess I should have known. They wanted 7 years of job history, 5 years of residence history, his selective service number (there's a site where you can look it up), etc... PAIN IN THE BUTT! My effort was probably futile. I can't seem to get myself promoted to another job, so why would I think that I can do anything for him- but oh well, maybe it'll pan out. I hope so!
In other news the weather is FANTASTIC right now. Mid 70's every day and the heat and humidity is gone. I am loving it. Great running weather. I'm off to run now in fact!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Weekend Recap

The weekend was good. My plan to get into pajamas and not leave the couch Friday night was foiled by my friends calling and dangling a night out for tapas in front of me. I kinda played fifth wheel to two couples, but I didn't feel too fifth-wheelish and had a good time. We went to a place called Las Ramblas for the Tapas, and then to Pewter Rose for some more wine and conversation. Over the course of the chatter Greg was brought up and I described what kind of programs he has written. My friend Brad is a programmer and thought Greg's experience sounded worthy of further consideration and possibly an interview at his company and told me to send Greg's info to him so he could try and promote him to his higher-ups. Usually Greg shies away from computer type jobs, even though I've been saying since day one of the furlough that I thought that's what he should be pursuing as his alternate career. He's got his degree in Management Information Systems, has been programming for a long time, and I really think he's just got a knack for it and is creative with it. His biggest downfall is that he has no real career experience with it and thus he always worries about this and doesn't think he's got enough experience to really apply for most things. I think he sells himself short and could find a computer job if he had some confidence. I still think if the right person were to take a look at him they would see that he would be an asset. So anyway, Saturday when I talked to Greg I had him send me all his resume and computer skills stuff and attempted to organize a resume that showcased his experience to send to Brad. Hopefully it will get him somewhere.
Greg finally got to a truck stop Saturday and had his first shower in about 5 days, did laundry, and stocked up on food. I felt so bad that he didn't get to come home, but was glad he went to the truck stop to kind of get recharged.
Saturday I managed to follow through with my original plan for Friday- ie sitting on the couch in my pajamas for the better part of the day. It was perfect weather for it too, nice and rainy out! I love rainy weather. I've really come to appreciate it more since the norm down here is hot and sunny almost every day. I welcome a cool rainy day to break of the monotony of sunshine in the south! LOL! Saturday night I went out with Sarah for her 35th birthday as planned. The girl does not look 35 at all (see picture- I'm on the left, Sarah in middle, and her friend Christa on the right).

I'd say she looks younger than me. We went to Nikko for sushi, which is a modern clubby type sushi place. There seemed to be at least one bachelor party going on there, complete with the groom grinding on random people with lots of cat-calling to go with it. Pretty entertaining. After dinner we proceeded to this club opening Sarah had found out about. The place was called Dharma Lounge and had sort of a yoga/indian theme going on. The good news was that because it was the grand opening, they had open bar til 11pm, which was a welcome surprise! We ran into this crew of people Sarah knew from a meet-up group she's in and kinda hung out with them most of the night. They were a younger group of 20 somethings and even though Sarah kind of had a crush on one of the guys, she declared him to young for her as we were leaving the club. We didn't really stay out that late- left around 12:30ish, which was fine by me (I'm not a huge night owl, and live further out, so I usually welcome a chance to get home when out late), but I think Sarah would have stayed out later if we could have come up with a plan of what else to do. Oh well, hopefully she had fun.
Sunday I finally saw "The Hangover". Funny, but disturbing.
All in all a great weekend. That was a lot of night life packed into a weekend for me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Greg's job sucks.

Greg's having another hellish week on the road. He hasn't had a shower since Sunday (and it's Friday!) and he isn't going to get to come home this weekend. I think his company is intent on punishing him for being away a couple days last week for the wedding. The way trucking works, he'll still have to be off for at least 34 hours since he's maxed out his work time for the week, but he's just going to end up timing out in PA, so he'll be stuck at the truck for 34 hours there. I feel so bad for him. He desperately wants to come home. Plus since we were away and I wasn't home when he left for this trip, he left without the usual plethora of food so is running very low on stuff to eat. He also only brought a week's worth of clothes.
I actually told him to quit. It's the first time I've said to. Usually I say, "I'd love to tell you to quit, but I can't support us both". This time I don't care. They are abusing him every way they can, he's miserable, and I'm convinced he's not making much anyway. The company cheats him on tolls that he pays hundreds of dollars for and never gets reimbursed for. It's not worth it.
So, I apparently am on my own for the weekend. I think tonight is going to be all about downtime for me. I have only had one night off since I got back from NJ, and am itching to catch up on TIVO and watch the Netflix movie I've had sitting on the counter for 2 weeks plus. Tomorrow night is my friend Sarah's b-day, so I think we're doing a girls night out. That should be cool. Sunday I might catch "The Informant" with my friend Kerrie. I think it'll be a good weekend, but I wish Greg would be home to enjoy some of it with. :(

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Scene

This is a busy week for me. I got back from NJ on Sunday and had a little down time on Monday night after work, but pretty much every other night this week I have plans. Last night I went running with my friend Kelly. I met her in my running group. She lives downtown in a condo with her boyfriend a few times she's asked me if I wanted to run with her. It's nice because I can just stay after work and then meet her at her place. We do a run through the city then go back to the condo, shower, change, and go for dinner. So far our thing has been sushi at a couple different places. The place we went last night was called Press. It's kind of a wine bar with food. The sushi was actually really good. We ordered the Hisshimo rolls (I think that's what they were called), and the Venom rolls and shared a mini bottle of Shiraz. The Hisshimo rolls had baked scallops in some kind of sauce on top. It was funny because when it came out it looked like sushi rolls with mac and cheese on top because the color of the sauce was the color of cheese in mac and cheese. Anyway, it was good.
Tonight I have a sorority alumni gathering after work. Tomorrow I have my Thursday night running group. We run four miles then drink beer after.
My social life in Charlotte has been an interesting thing. At times it's been kind of drama filled, which I'm really not used to, or into. Initially, when I moved to Charlotte, I was about the third youngest person in my whole office. Greg and I quickly realized we were the youngest people in our immediate area of the neighborhood. Basically, for the first time in a while, I realized it was going to be kind of difficult to meet people to hang out with. I ended up becoming really close friends with a girl in my office who was a couple years older than me. We really didn't have a lot in common other than that we worked at the same place and lived in the same town, but for a while the friendship just kind of worked. I was warned about her from some people in the office, but wanted to make up my own mind. In hind sight I probably should have heeded the warnings. Basically, she ended up burning me big time. It's kind of sad, because it's honestly changed how I approach friendships and how close I let people get. I only have a few friends that I really feel like I want to let my guard down with. After my friendship with her ended, there was about 6 months to a year, where I was really pretty miserable about things in respect to my social life. Around the beginning of 2009 I finally started to come out of it a little more and decided to take some initiative in meeting some new people. I joined my sorority alumni association and met some nice girls. In the spring my friend Gibson started at our office and we became friends. Gibson didn't know many people here at all and started doing groups and told me about the running group and encouraged me to come to it. I'm really glad he did, because I met Kelly, and a bunch of other cool people. I also met a newer guy named Brent and he introduced me to his wife Becky, who is also a friend.
I'm a friendly and relatively outgoing person. I really enjoy being out with people. It's one thing that is kind of different about Greg and I. He likes people too, but likes more alone time and more home time than I do. I have to prod him to go out.
I've lived all over and Charlotte has been the most difficult place I've lived socially so far. I have theories that it is because I'm a Northern girl at heart and a lot of Southern women are different from me. They are into the sugar-coating of everything and will go out of their way to be sweet to you and then stab you in the back. I don't like that. If I don't like someone, I wouldn't go out of my way to be nice to them, but I also wouldn't be mean. I'd just be neutral.
Anyway, things are pretty good right now socially, so I'm happy about that. It makes a big difference to at least have stability there when everything else is in upheaval.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wedding and the trucking blues.

I got back from my brother's wedding in NJ. It was great, a beautiful day and lots of fun. I was a bridesmaid and really enjoyed being part of everything. I can't believe my little brother is married. Wow, we're getting old!
Greg was able to get non-rev there, but I had gotten a round-trip ticket a couple months ago so I flew up and back with my parents. I'm not really big into flying standby. I know a lot of pilot's wives swear by it and use the privilege all the time, but I sometimes think it's more trouble than it's worth. The last time I tried it was about a year ago (maybe more than..?). I flew up to EWR and then planned on non-revving back. We checked the loads (checked to see how many open seats/stand-bys there were) days in advance and leading right up to the day we wanted to come back. They looked ok right up til we checked when we were about to head to the airport. Everything on Continental was booked solid with multiple standbys for like a week. I ended up buying a ticket on US Air to get home which was about $200 one-way. Therefore, I always say that if you can find a fairly cheap ticket, you're better off just buying a ticket and having a positive space. I just don't really have time to mess around with flying standby and not getting on flights. I have a full time job and can't be leaving it up to chance whether I'm going to get home or not. I think it's a great privilege for retired people or people more flexible than me. My in-laws use it a lot. I just feel like when I'm flying somewhere, it's usually for something important, like a wedding or baby shower and it's not something I want to wait til the last minute and see if I can make it there or not. Also, lately I think the airlines have done their research and figured out how many flights they need to and from most places and streamlined to make sure they aren't flying half filled planes around as much, because they can't make money off empty planes. Therefore, most planes aren't flying around with tons of empty seats. Although, our flights did have a bunch of seats open, but I think right now we are in that September end of summer lull, and that's why. I'm still glad we booked tickets. Peace of mind.
In any case, Greg got there and back fine on standby, so it worked out good. He also was able to take a train directly down to where the wedding was in NJ, which was also great. I didn't have to duck out and drive an hour away to pick him up, so I was happy because I worried I'd be cutting it close to making it to the rehearsal or something I needed to be at.
Trucking has gone from awful to worse lately. Greg fought with his dispatcher a lot last week about getting off for the wedding. In training they told everyone if they needed to be off for something to let them know and they would work around it and it shouldn't be a big deal. Greg purposely let his dispatcher know over a month ago that he had a family wedding coming up and consistently reminded him of this each week leading up to it. Come the week of the wedding he got really ridiculous with Greg about letting him go home and go to the wedding. Finally after a lot of hassle he let him go. This was after trying to make it seem like it was Greg's fault for not "planning" better for it. It's like "hello???? A MONTH'S NOTICE!!!" Whatever, jerk.
Greg flew back a day early to be back for work and they were already bugging him with an assignment. He got back on the road and hit a deer the first day. Then he had a bad tire that the company didn't want to fix and Greg finally said he wouldn't do anything else til they fixed it because he could tell it wasn't safe. He hates this job... I don't blame him.
On a lighter note, I heard about this funny blog written by a guy that is using that unlimited flight pass on JetBlue.
Pretty funny reading.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The scare

Yesterday I had a scare. When Greg was flying he usually called to check in once a day (at least), but there were occasionally times where we didn't connect in a day. It never really worried me too much because I felt like he was safe and just getting in too late to talk to me. Obviously with flying and having to have a cell phone turned off, there are just times where it isn't possible to call.
With truck driving so far, he's called me every single day, usually we even talk a couple times a day. He pretty much always has his phone on and/or answers it, unless he's out of the truck loading or something. It's usually fairly easy for me to get a hold of him. Even so, if I don't, I don't usually worry. He always calls me at some point. Well, yesterday was one of those days. I called a couple times during the day and he didn't answer. I didn't think much of it. Then I went to my running group after work. Finally on my way home around 9 or so, I tried him again, still nothing. I figured I would have a message on the machine at home, so still wasn't that worried. Got home, nothing on the machine. I then started to worry. I called and left a message telling him I was worried. Sent him a text. I suddenly realized we had no emergency plan in place for this type of situation. What if I really needed to get a hold of him? I had no contact number for his company for after hours. I waited a while and tried a couple more times, then finally went online and found the main line for his truck company and dialed. I was routed through a phone tree and got a line that just rang and rang. Dead end. I really had no idea what to do and finally just had to go to bed. But I laid in bed very worried. Truck driving isn't like flying a plane. I feel like it's a lot more dangerous and he's by himself most of the time. I worried that he had fallen while tarping or injured himself somehow. I worried he had rolled the truck, been in an accident, or something. I worried that he had left his truck unlocked or been attacked at a truck stop or rest area. The wheels were just turning about all the bad things that could/might have happened to him to cause him to not call or to not answer his phone. Finally he did call. Turned out he had taken his truck for maintenance and they had it up on a lift and he'd left the cell in the cab, so couldn't get to it. Logical. He was profusely apologetic for worrying me. I was just so relieved he was ok.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Being Independent

I feel like I'm a pretty independent person in my marriage. Meeting my husband was an interesting thing. I think until I met him I was definitely one of those women who fell into a relationship and let it become the center of their lives, letting my world kind of revolve around who I was with, which probably isn't the best thing. I wouldn't say I was necessarily clingy, but definitely reliant upon my relationship and man. Meeting Greg forced me to be independent, which I think is a good thing. I had to get a life if I didn't already have one. This is a crucial thing if you're married to a pilot or a person that travels a lot for work.
People ask me a lot about how it is, and I always say that I'm used to it and it's kind of "normal" to me. We've been together almost 8 years now (married for over 3) and he was already a pilot when I met him, so I had to get used to him being away from the beginning. I always say that I'm used to him being home and I'm used to him being away. Both kind of feel normal to me. What's weird is when it's one extreme or the other. Like when he was away for 2-3 months in training to learn to fly a new plane a few times. That was a long time without him home. Or when he first got furloughed and was home every day for like 6 months til he started truck driving. That was also weird. I actually did get kind of sick of him being home so much when he first got furloughed. I joked that he was driving me kind of nuts. Don't get me wrong, I love having him around, it's just that when you're used to having a few days a week by yourself, you get used to doing certain things on those days. I plan things after work with friends, work out more, eat differently, veg on the couch and catch up on trashy shows I TIVOd, spend an hour working on my farms on Facebook (yes, I'm a loser! lol), read on the deck, etc... Those are things I don't necessarily do when he's home, and I really enjoy those things.
I do get freaked out about having children with him gone so much though. I am well aware that I'll be a single parent about half the time and we don't have any family close by, so I worry about that.
While we're in our "holding pattern", I have decided to make the most of it though. Two things I really want to do right now are travel and have children and both are kind of on hold until Greg gets called back from furlough or finds a more lucrative/stable job. In the mean time I've vowed to fill my time with fun things as much as I can. I spend a lot of time with friends. I joined a running group that I really enjoy. I go for drinks, festivals, parties and whatever else my friends and I come up with. I read a lot now. I bike. I don't want to look back on this tough time for us and think that it was just a crappy couple of years that absolutely sucked for me. I want to remember the fun things I did and be glad that I did them before I had kids so that this time doesn't feel wasted. I know if I sit home all the time I will just get depressed and feel like I'm wasting this time. So I don't.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pilot Wives online forums

Here are some online pilot wives forums I belong to:

They have been cool to look at and occasionally post to. There do not appear to be a lot of women on them that are in my situation though, with a pilot husband on currently on furlough. A lot have husbands that have been on furlough at one point or another, but aren't currently. There are some good threads to read though.

My husband actually had almost three days off this weekend, which is rare. I may have mentioned already that he chose this particular truck company partly because of their claim that their drivers have weekends off. Their definition of a weekend is not what everyone else's might be though. Often he'll get home on a Saturday afternoon and be back out on the road on Sunday evening. Anyway, I took the opportunity to drag him with me to my parents' house for the weekend.
My mom hosted a French/Julia Child themed dinner that ended up being really fun. I brought an apple tart that was quite beautiful (I have a picture, I'll try and post it at some point).
I went for a walk with my mom one day and talked with her about how frustrated I've been. I feel like I have spent a lot of time looking for jobs for Greg or giving him feedback about what I think he should do (because he asks). A lot of the time I feel like he just does what he wants in the end anyway though and doesn't apply for half the job postings I send him or take my advice. Which is very frustrating. I also had my mom look at his resume. A looooooooooong time ago in this process, I looked at it and suggested he really needed to rework it. Basically he's been using a "functional" type resume, which is more like a paragraph/cover letter type. It doesn't have the backward chronological job history with all the dates and skills applied at each job. I think that's a huge mistake on his part. He justifies it because he says he uses it for jobs where you are already listing out all the job history, and that is his opportunity to explain/show other things. I just still think it doesn't look like a resume and isn't doing him any favors. My mom agreed and I'm hoping he will apply for jobs with a normal looking resume from now on. Who knows though.
Greg spent most of his down time at my parents searching for and applying for jobs. He got on a kick of applying for hotel jobs. He actually got a call yesterday for one of them and has a phone interview this morning for a hotel van driver job. The pay didn't sound that great, but then it would also include tips, and of course quality of life should be better than what he's dealing with now. It could work out...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Present day....trucking along

I realized I haven't really talked about what my husband has been doing since getting furloughed. A year ago when the furlough first occurred, he came up a plan. He decided to get his real estate license. At first I was against it, because I am and have always been a person that likes that guaranteed bi-weekly paycheck. I didn't (and still don't) like the idea of going indefinite amounts of time before a pay check comes in. It's too unstable and nerve-racking. In the end, he convinced me it was a reasonable idea. For one thing, he had already taken a real estate class in VA (he never got licensed). He also owned a rental property and and gone through the process of buying and selling 3-4 houses himself, so he was pretty familiar with everything about real estate and knew a lot about it. It would be a quick process to get licensed and he even did his research in talking to brokers in our area and finding out more about how everything was going. He got offered a job with one broker and decided to go ahead and try things out. Also, since he was collecting unemployment, he was able to stay on it until he actually made a profit, so aside from the cost of getting licensed and some other real estate agent fees he wouldn't be out a ton of money. He tried it for a couple months and nothing was happening. He did countless open houses, put out flyers, went to some of those "business people of *insert name of town here*" gatherings, etc... I think the market was just too crappy. Nothing was moving. Finally he threw in the towel realizing he wasn't going to make money doing that job. Back to the drawing board. I realize I'm biased being that I'm his wife, but I'm convinced my husband is very very smart. He has very mechanical mind, he just understands how things work. I know a lot of people are like this, but I'm not one of them, so I admire this quality. Anything mechanical, he just kind of automatically gets, can fix, can improve, etc... I've seen him change out light fixtures and ceiling fans, rewire cable, install wireless internet, change the touch screen on his phone, etc... He also knows a lot about computer stuff. He's been able to walk me through many many computer issues, including ones at work that I doubt I could have gotten IT people in my own office to figure out. He also writes music software as a hobby and knows how to build radio control cars, planes, and helicopters. It's not even just that he knows how to do the basic functions of these hobbies, but he also knows how to improve them. Like with writing software, in addition to the music software he writes, when he was flying he also wrote software that sorts pilot scheduling bids. When doing real estate he came up with a program that matched up owner addresses/phone numbers with for-sale-by-owner listings. With his RC hobby, he can actually improve the speed and different aspects of the maneuvering because he just understands how do it. I just think not everyone thinks outside the box like his does and can come up with these ideas and successfully implement them. I think he's brilliant.
Anyway, that being said, my husband was applying for any and every kind of job and by this time had dropped his standards quite significantly and was actually applying for any old lowly job (we're talking warehouse worker at Lowe's, Autozone clerk, Sprint phone salesmen, etc...). He wasn't get any offers. Which was sad. And also depressing for him. As if it's not hard enough to lose your career, you can't even get a lowly job. It's the most depressed and low I've ever seen him. To the point that I actually went and talked to an EAP counselor at my job because after a while I didn't know how to deal with him like that. I went back and forth between cheerleader and getting frustrated/tired of him being so dumpy about it all and feeling like enough was enough. He was just sooooooo down and depressed. It was hard.
Eventually he heard about some pilots talking about doing truck driving. He started looking into it and started thinking about doing it. This was a similar scenario to the whole real estate scenario in that he slowly justified it as being a logical idea to me. He would be traveling/away (we're already used to that from him flying), the pay sounded potentially decent from what he could deduce, it was something he was capable to getting trained to do quickly and fairly easily and would be able to start doing it soon. Also, he didn't want to wait around for something better to come along because eventually there would come a time when unemployment would run out and he didn't want to be stuck in a panic without a job. So he signed up for CDL school (about 5 weeks long) and began truck driving. First off, if it's not already completely obvious, aviation and trucking are two VERY different industries. Different kinds of people, different "culture" etc... It is/was comical. The process at the company Greg chose was actually fairly rigorous. He chose a flat-bed semi company because the pay was supposed to be better with more work involved (tarping and strapping the loads) and because this company tried to give you weekends off, were as a lot of companies kept the drivers out for weeks at a time. He's been doing the job about 6 months now and absolutely hates it. The pay is not what he thought it would be. He's gone at least 5 days a week and sometimes only gets to come home for like 30 hours. It's been a hot summer and he sleeps in a truck he's not allowed to keep running at night that gets sweltering hot. The labor part of the job is really hard, especially in the heat. He gets drenched in sweat daily tarping and strapping the loads on to the flat bed. He's lost between 15-20 lbs since he started. It's also dangerous, a lot of guys fall, get hit with something, etc... The company has completely unrealistic expectations on how long it takes to tarp and strap and drive to the destination his loads get delivered to. They frequently ask him to cheat on his log book and lie about how long he has rested or how long it's taken him to load in order to give him more drive time. This is a problem not only because it's illegal, but also because if he ever did cheat and get caught and get a ticket, it could affect his aviation career, since pilots can't have violations on their driving records and he fully intends to go back to flying. He's EXHAUSTED every day. He's miserable every day.
I want to tell him to quit, but I saw the months he tried finding another job before resorting to this and he could not find anything. And that's when we had his unemployment, which now we wouldn't have if he were to quit. I can't support us on my salary alone. He's been looking/applying for other jobs, but so far hasn't heard anything. He really doesn't have a ton of time to dedicate to searching and applying though because he barely has any downtime. It's a catch 22. So that's where we're at right now.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Follow-up to article/my husband's story

First, I apologize for the formatting/gaps in my article post. I tried to edit them out, but they appeared anyway once I posted the article. I have never read this guy's column before, but really liked this article explaining furlough/seniority and how generally screwed up the whole airline profession is. I felt the author very accurately described the industry, better than I can, and also shares my general opinion and point of view on things. The author's history with airlines seems kind of similar to my husband's.
My husband's history is as follows: In high school he took his first flight lesson, got hooked, and then his parents basically continued to get him trained as a pilot. He went to college, but actually didn't major in aviation. He's got a BS in MIS (management information systems- which is kinda computer science mixed with business). This is kind of funny because we had always said that it was a good thing that he majored in something other than aviation, so that he'd have that to fall back on if his aviation career crapped out, but it turns out, it hasn't helped in the least to have a degree in something else. We think the reason is because MIS is the kind of degree you graduate with and immediately apply the degree in your field. He's been a pilot since graduating college (15 years), so he never went out and got a computer or business related job. With a field like computers that is ever changing, have a degree in MIS is kinda useless if you've never worked in the field and the programming you know how to do is stuff learned 15 years ago. I digress. So anyway, he graduated from college and did what I gather a lot of pilots do and became a flight instructor. From there he got hired at a small freight operation, flying a prop plane that carried bank checks and lab samples. It was dangerous work and he flew alone at night a lot. He built up his hours and then applied to several airlines, mainly regional carriers, which is where many pilots start their careers before going to major airlines. He got hired at a regional (ACA) and within a couple years made Captain. He was a Captain for 7 years, which is what he was doing when I met him. At the time I met him, he was basically making as much as he's made in his career (we didn't know that at the time!).
Now, at this point I feel like I need to explain Regionals vs. Major carriers and what I know of that dynamic. This is all information I've gathered from my husband and/or what I know of the industry and I'm just going to give the "big picture" as I know it. I'm not sure I know whether Regionals created themselves and marketed themselves to the Majors or if the Majors expressed the need for Regionals and then they were created (kind of a chicken/egg question). All I know is that at some point they were created and mainly handle the flying to and from smaller airports for the Majors. Regional pilots are paid much less than major airline pilots. Literally, starting pay is less than $20,000 a year, and this is common. The reason is (at least the way I understand it) that there are now a LOT of Regionals and they compete with each other to get the flying contracts with the various Major airlines. Well, the most attractive thing they can do is say "hey, I'll fly for you for less than the others will" to get a contract, which in turn translates to paying their pilots peanuts in order to do so.
Which brings me back to my husband's career. He was at one of the highest paid Regionals. Which spelled disaster, because it meant that no Major would want to keep them despite their professionalism and good track record, because they were too expensive. Might as well go with a low-paid cheaper Regional to save money. Which, let's face it, all airlines need to save money! So, my husband's Regional fought with their major carrier and decided to do something different. They created their own airline called Independence Air.
They already had a huge amount of employees and planes and they decided to go ahead and separate from the Major airline and become their own airline. It was a good idea in theory. They got very creative with the marketing and the cool thing about them was that all the employees were totally psyched about it as opposed to most airline employees around at the time who were totally disgruntled in a struggling industry. My husband loved it. He was happy to go to work and excited that they were trying something different. The problem was, Independence failed. They ran out of money. Their strategy had been to do the low-cost thing and instead of slowly growing as business got better, they started out with so many people and planes that they were too big and were flying half empty planes around while they tried to build recognition and get people to fly on them. They failed. So like the author of the article explained, my husband, with tons of flight time at this point, and 7 years as a Captain, was forced to find employment at the bottom again. Which he did. He actually found a job within two weeks of Independence going under, which made me so proud. The problem was that it was another Regional Airline, and he was a First Officer again, and had the worst schedules, crappy pay, and also all the guys he was flying with were totally disgruntled. He hated it there.
Then he heard about another airline starting up that was trying to do the new/modern progressive thing. It was called Skybus, and they had a lot of the ideas Independence had, only this time they would not start out huge, they would grow gradually, so he thought it could work.
He weighed his options and decided to go there because he was already at the bottom at the Regional so he wouldn't be taking a pay cut, he knew upward movement was looking to be very slow at the Regional, and if he got hired at Skybus and they succeeded, he'd be very senior and be upgrading to Captain quickly in an Airbus (big plane!). He went for it. My husband is obsessed with following airline news, which I think a lot of pilots are. He was like this when I met him and still remains so, even furloughed. Well, he closely followed Skybus's financials, and eventually decided that things were not going well and started predicting they would probably end up tanking like Independence had. Luckily, based on the applications he had put out to a lot of airlines a couple years before, he ended up getting a call from Continental right as he was starting to worry that Skybus didn't have a future. He took the job at Continental and again was at first year pay (this is three years in a row now). After 9 months they furloughed him.
He hasn't flown since.

Good Article About Aviation

Ask the pilot

If you're a pilot, no matter how much skill you have, or how many lives you've heroically saved, the only thing that matters is seniority.
By Patrick Smith
March 20, 2009 | Let me start by repeating something from last time.
"Also bear in mind that salary or tenure is nontransferable," I wrote in my March 6 discussion about the deterioration of pay and benefits faced by airline pilots in recessionary America. "If a pilot who is furloughed or otherwise cast off from one airline chooses to work at another, the seniority system dictates that he begin again at probationary pay and benefits, regardless of experience."
I'm repeating this passage because too many people seem not to believe it. I received a multitude of e-mails from incredulous readers. Such a statement must be false, they contend, or at least exaggerated. Yes?
Imagine you're an airline captain. You've been with the same company for 20 years now, and you're making a respectable if not spectacular six-figure salary. Then one day this airline goes bankrupt and closes its doors, à la Eastern, Braniff, Pan Am and no doubt others still to come. Suddenly jobless, you apply for a position at one of its competitors. Lo and behold, you're hired. Back to normal, right? Not quite. I'm sad to report that, in addition to the routine challenges faced by anybody who takes up residence with a new company, you will not be hired on as a captain, and you certainly will not be bringing in anything close to your most recent salary. A third of that is more like it, if you’re lucky. You take your place at the bottom of the seniority list, and the long, slow climb begins again. Compensation and benefits are fixed and nonnegotiable. Your annual raise, when there is one, will be based on longevity.
There are no exceptions. Not even if your name is, say, Chesley Sullenberger. "We're all proud of you, Sully. Sorry about the demise of US Airways. You'll be an asset to our airline and we're happy to have you. Unfortunately, you'll need to remove that fourth stripe from your epaulet, since with us you'll be flying as a junior copilot. Many of your captains, younger and far less experienced than you, will probably feel uneasy, but so it goes."
And in a lot of ways, that's a best-case scenario. One problem right now for nervous pilots at struggling carriers like US Airways, United and American is that virtually none of their competitors are actively hiring. On the contrary, there are currently more than 4,000 pilots out there either on indefinite furlough status or victimized by airline shutdowns (ATA, Aloha, etc.). And that number will be climbing, perhaps drastically, in the months ahead. Only a handful of regional carriers are still recruiting, albeit at a trickle, with opening salaries topping out at a princely $20,000 or so. Somehow I can't picture Sully taking up shop in the right seat of a 30-seater, working five days a week for $1,500 a month.
My own displacement stories have been less drastic but still frustrating and not much good for the bank account.
In 1994, around the time this photo was taken, I was a regional captain making about $35,000 a year. (At an airline where new hires were paid less than half that much, I frankly felt like a zillionaire and could splurge on trips to Peru.) But very soon the company went under, and just like that I was a first officer again, with a brand-new airline and a salary of $14,000.
Later in the 1990s I flew cargo for DHL. After four years I was earning nearly $65,000 when I left that job for a position with a major passenger carrier. Starting salary at my ultimate dream job was about $29,000 -- a 50 percent pay cut. To be fair, though, I'd be doing quite well in only a few short years, above and beyond anything I would have made at my previous jobs...
Except that I was promptly furloughed in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks. I was still in training when the layoffs were announced. I flew for a few weeks, and by Halloween I was down signing papers at the unemployment office.
Could I have returned to DHL? Maybe. At the bottom. Could I have gone to a regional? Maybe. At the bottom.
"Numbers" are a hot topic when the rumors of furlough swirl, or when employee groups are integrated during mergers. I've seen people visibly upset on learning that their relative position would drop by a meager percentage point or two as the result of a merger. One percent doesn't sound like a lot, but it could cost you, for instance, an upgrade from first officer (er, "copilot," if we must) to captain, and many thousands of dollars over time.
I know of no other profession structured this way. The arts and various free-agency fields present similar risks, but in the realm of mainstream trades there is virtually no comparison. Blue-collar or white-collar, help me out here ... teachers, doctors, engineers, architects, plumbers?
You ask, so why do pilots put up with this? "Why don't you guys get a union?" is something I hear from time to time.
Of course, most airline pilots already belong to large, quite powerful unions, which were primarily responsible for getting the seniority system going and for helping to entrench and solidify the protocols now in place. But unionization, broadly speaking, is not the problem -- nonunion airlines in America, I'll point out, are set up no differently. The problem is a pilot culture and mind-set that refuses to reconsider an all-or-nothing emphasis on seniority, and the absurd pay disparities that exist within a given airline's ranks. Captains should and do earn more than first officers, but the disparity within a position, and its being based entirely on longevity, is itself badly out of whack. Pilots do not earn merit-based tenure, and there are no apprenticeships or residencies in an airline cockpit. Thus there is something patently unjust about a junior first officer making, say, $30,000 while a more senior first officer, at the same airline, is earning $100,000 or more. Both have exactly the same job, with the same measure of responsibility.
Leveling the field through a more even distribution of salary seems a logical fix. Lifetime earnings would remain more or less the same, while those who need to switch companies could do so with a milder penalty. Easier said than done. It would require, among other things, considerable sacrifices from those ensconced in the highest and best-paying echelons of seniority. Try asking a senior captain -- thrice furloughed in his career, his pay reduced by 40 percent since 2001, his pension gone -- to sacrifice yet more merely to improve the lot of a new first officer. Good luck with that. And so the cycle is self-reinforcing. (The management of Florida-based Spirit Airlines recently proposed a scheme that would award certain captain upgrades based partly on subjective personality assessments. The idea is vociferously opposed by Spirit's pilot group.)
As presently constructed, the system made a lot more sense in the days before deregulation, when the industry was more stable. Furloughs and liquidations weren't nearly as common as they are today. You had your number, and your airline, and you hung with it; the payoff was there, eventually. You could (almost) bank on it. The danger of having to start over was comparatively remote. Today that danger is widespread, yet there are no protections, no insurance. The system has failed to adjust.
Overseas, incidentally, the picture is often different. Pilots who've gone the expat route to Asia and the Middle East, for example, don't need to be as "number"-conscious. While the situation varies from country to country, airline to airline, differences typically include promotions that are merit-based and salaries that are more evenly distributed. You might not make as much in the end, but neither do you make as little in the beginning. In many respects this is a better arrangement, but these jobs are, in other ways, often riskier than those at home, lacking many of the hard-won protections provided by unions like the Air Line Pilots Association. You can argue that collective bargaining has stuck us with a too-rigid seniority format, but it has also given us innumerable benefits, from protections against summary discipline, to legal and medical assistance, to countless safety initiatives.
Here at home, there have been murmurs about a so-called national seniority list, which might allow a more equitable sideways transfer between companies, but little has come of it.
Seniority should have its benefits, I feel, just as it does in a wide range of other professions. But it should not wield such enormous power over the life and livelihood of a worker -- particularly a well-trained and highly skilled worker who has labored long and hard to reach a certain level.
Now, hold on. Some of you are scowling, I know. You're scowling because here is this pompous pilot whining about life at one of the country's least-beloved industries. Airlines? Let them all go to hell. "Your industry doesn't care about me," wrote an e-mailer recently. "Why should I care about you or your job?"
And you're scowling because I'm supposed to know that life isn't fair, and what about the millions of other hardworking people in this country affected by this ever-deepening recession, many of them facing the specter of unemployment?
Before you click the Send button, I know, I know, I know. This isn't an entitlement tantrum, and I am well aware that there are far worse lots than to be stuck flying planes for a living, even at torpedoed wages. But this is an air travel column, and I'm trying to explain the nuts and bolts of something that is widely misunderstood.
Yes, these are scary and uncertain times for everybody.
And if my column isn't helping you feel better, try something else. Put on some music, maybe. And keep it topical...
I once opined, and will do so again, that the two greatest songs ever written about unemployment are the Clash's "Career Opportunities" and the Jam's "Smithers-Jones." The former, from the Clash's eponymous debut in 1977, is a raucous tear-down of the economic malaise in late-'70s Britain. I have to say it still sounds fresh and plays quite nicely in 2009 America. The latter, written by the Jam's Bruce Foxton, tells the story of a British everyman who arrives for work one morning, optimistic and "spot on time," only to be summoned into the office and summarily handed his walking papers.
"I've some news to tell you,
there's no longer a position for you;
sorry, Smithers-Jones."
The song implodes around the word "Jones" in a crash of orchestral beauty. It's very nice. Listen and you'll see. Though, all things considered, it might also give you the
QuantcastI spent the next five years writing columns instead.
(For more on how furloughs work, you can revisit this 2005 column. I'll also take this opportunity to remind people that, for the most part, regional affiliates operate independently of their major airline "parents." They are subcontractors. A pilot for United Express is no more an employee for United Airlines than the kid working at the concourse yogurt stand. With very few exceptions, there is no employee flow-through between a major and its regionals.)
One could easily say that experience, for all of its intangible value, both in normal operations and in those rare times of danger, is essentially meaningless to a pilot's destiny. Seniority is the currency of value. And because seniority has no value beyond the borders of a specific airline, pilots are fiercely protective of it. Nothing is more important than, as we call it, our "number."
All of a pilot's quality-of-life variables are assigned via bidding. You bid for position (captain or first officer), aircraft type, base city, routes, vacations and so on. What you end up with depends on your relative position within the ranks -- that is, your number: your number within the airline overall; your number in that base; your number within a specific aircraft category; your number, number, number.
How much skill or experience you possess, or how swell a person you are, will not earn you a raise or a better monthly schedule. Neither will how many lives you managed to save in the throes of some emergency. Only your number can do that. It's at once fair and unfair; the ultimate insult and the ultimate egalitarian tool. Dehumanizing, maddening and immensely important.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Over lunch with a friend today, I realized something. I've been very ticked off about the whole prospect of Greg holding on to hope that he'll get called back. Well, I think I'm over that now, and I suddenly get it better. In my lunch conversation today, my friend asked why I thought Greg was holding on to this hope and not wanting to consider finding something else to do. Turns out, I understand why. I realized this as I defended and explained why he was holding on to hope and wanting to go back to flying, even though I myself have been complaining about this and asking him the same question. It's because becoming a pilot isn't like most other jobs people do as a career. At some point you choose to commit to it and put a lot of money, time, and commitment behind it. You choose to do it despite the fact that it will mean being away from home, a spouse, and a family. You choose to do it despite the fact that it will mean instability and possibly furlough or an airline going under (we've dealt with both). You do it even though you may end up moving to make life more livable or despite the fact that you may have to commute to your hub and spend additional time away because of this. You do it even though it will mean learning complicated things and having to go through difficult training both to learn new planes and go to recurrent training and sweat over whether you will pass. It's just not the kind of job that you roll over and decide to randomly do. I think any person that's chosen to become a pilot has weighed all of this and decided to make sacrifices to do the job, because it's what they really want to do. And my husband is great at the job. He's spent more than 15 years of his life doing the job. So to have all of that time and effort ripped from him has been hard, and it's understandable that he would want all of that to count for something and to get back to the totality of the life he chose. It's the kind of career that is a life style, not just a job. It's an identity because it consumes so much of your life. I get it now.
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