What surprised me the most about losing my dream job is that the anticipation was much worse than the actual layoff. In the following days, I realized that I was still me. Although I was no longer an airline pilot, I was still a husband and father. I kept breathing, still had ten fingers and ten toes. I realized for all those years, I had identified myself as an airline pilot. That was completely wrong. I was just a guy who flew airplanes for a living. Although financial challenges were ahead, I had just overcome that huge mental obstacle.
Three days after the last trip, our third child was born. For months, I stressed the complications of losing a job AND having a baby. In reality, it was another blessing. What was supposed to be an emotionally challenging time turned out to be filled with joy.
A few weeks later, I started working as a consultant for a company which contracted its services to the U.S. Government. That job was an educational experience. I learned tons…. especially how much money the government wastes on useless busy-work.
In November 2003, I started flying for a fractional. For those of you not in the industry, a fractional is like a time-share program for private jet owners. Individuals purchase as little as 1/16 of a jet and then get access to the company’s entire fleet. The more they purchase, the more hours per year they can utilize. They call, and a jet arrives to take them wherever they want to go.
This fractional company’s schedule was a 7 day-on / 7 day-off rotation. On the first day, I would airline to a waiting jet. We would fly it for seven days, and then airline home from wherever we finished. Overall, it was an enjoyable job. I met some really interesting people and really sharpened my flying skills. However, it was not a job I wanted to continue doing for the next thirty years.
United originally recalled me in January 2006. What I once thought was going to be a celebratory moment turned out to be rather anticlimactic. Using the recall rules, I told them to “bypass” and offer my slot to someone junior to me. I was enjoying my job and wasn’t going to return to an airline in bankruptcy.
A year later, they forced my hand. The rules stated a pilot could bypass as long as someone junior to him/her was still furloughed. So, they recalled all the way to the bottom of the list. Then, they worked their way back up the list offering a “take it or leave it” recall. I was forced to make a big decision: return to United, or give up the seniority number.
I won’t bore you with all the pros and cons. Let’s just say it was a very hard decision. But, in the end, I was not ready to completely sever ties with United.
So, in February 2007, I finished up Airbus A320 school (again!) and launched out of Denver on a flight for Fort Lauderdale. After takeoff, the IOE captain looked at me, smiled, and said, “It’s really good to see you back in the saddle again.” Yeah, it was good. But, it wasn’t the same.
While I was on furlough, the pilots took a 40-48% pay cut and lost most of the beneficial work rules. Everyone was working much more for much less money…. and they were B I T T E R. The management’s only business plan seemed to be to merge with another airline. It was still a good job, but, much different.
In May 2008, United Management made the decision to park 100 more airplanes: 94 737s and 6 747s. Although the reason for this decision was open for debate, the official blame was placed on skyrocketing fuel prices.
It requires roughly 1,400 pilots to crew 100 jets. So, starting at the top, the seniority shuffle once again commenced. Senior pilots on the 747 and 737 were bumped. Those pilots displaced the ones junior to them on other airplanes…. and those pilots did the same to those junior to them… over and over. Bump them, train them, bump them, train them….. When it reaches the bottom, there’s no place for the most junior pilots to go… so, they get furloughed.
This time, it took seventeen months. In October 2009, I was furloughed once again. It was expected and accepted with very little emotion. From past experience, I felt faithful that everything would work out for the best.
(Remember the new-hire dinner when we were told we’d be halfway up the seniority list in ten years? That day, my seniority number was 10,513. Ten years later, I was furloughed with a seniority number around 6,500.)
Since October, there have been a few promising job leads. But, the one that came through was Virgin America Airlines. I was happy to accept their offer to come out to San Francisco to fly the Airbus.
So, there you have it… my “career” in a nutshell. Now, let’s move forward….