With new-hire class starting on Monday, I planned to travel sometime on Sunday afternoon. Without an airline ID, my only options were to buy a ticket or fly standby on United. After ten months of unemployment, cheap won out over practical. As the date approached, every flight except for the 6:00AM was booked full. Regretting not buying a ticket, I rolled out of our driveway at 4:00AM to begin the next chapter of my airline career.
The plane touched down in San Francisco at 7:30AM PDT. I phoned the hotel and was pleasantly surprised they could have a room available for check-in about 9:00AM. (They would have had every right to tell me I couldn’t check-in until 3:00PM. That would have been a very long day sitting around the airport!) Once at the hotel, I met up with a few of the guys from my interview, went to the grocery store, and grabbed some dinner. Exhausted, I went to bed early.
On the first day, I woke early and went for a long walk along San Francisco Bay. It was nice to be out early, listening to my MP3 player, and reflecting on what had gotten me to this moment. I had spent so much time in this area with United. I’d walked this path countless times visiting local restaurants on SFO layovers. Now, this was the headquarters for my new company.
After my walk, I went back to the hotel and prepared for day one. The Virgin America Headquarters is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. I walked over and met the other seven new-hire pilots in my class.
In the next few minutes, we officially became the eight most junior pilots at Virgin America. Since we all shared a common hire date, the company fairly designated seniority among the group. Back at United, they sorted the class by the last four digits of each pilot’s social security number. With my last four starting with eight, I was the most junior in my United class. Virgin America uses a random system. Would you believe for the second time in my career I ended up the most JUNIOR in my class? Never take me to a casino. In the random shuffle of eight guys, my name came up last. However, if they hire as many pilots as they are projecting, being last in this class will be completely insignificant. They presented me with a “LAST VIRGIN” identification badge to wear during my two weeks as the most junior pilot. It made for a lot of laughs. Plus, I was able to present it to the most junior guy in the class a few weeks later!
Regardless of the airline, the first two weeks are always the same: Indoctrination (Indoc). Indoc is a combination of welcomes, briefings, and a slightly ridiculous amount of FAA required material. All the material is relevant, but, most of it is review for anyone with our level of experience. The material is presented in both classroom and web-based formats.
The company part of Indoc was far more interesting than the FAA required material. We toured the headquarters and heard presentations from HR, benefits, dispatch, crew scheduling, maintenance, and the chief pilots. We were badged, fitted for uniforms, operated the emergency exits, jumped down an evac slide, and participated in the full day TSA crew member self-defense course. We took a trip to the airport and toured operations and one of the planes. We also attended several social gatherings sponsored by the company. At one, I spent a few minutes speaking with the CEO. Everyone we met seemed happy and very enthusiastic about Virgin America’s product and future growth plans.
With Indoc complete, I traveled home to spend some much needed time with my family. The next day, spending time with all of them, I felt more relaxed than I had in a very, very long time. Professionally, I was once again part of something exciting. The crippling weight of unemployment had finally been lifted off my shoulders.