“No airline is worth moving for… live where you want and commute.”
Sometimes, the best advice goes unheeded. Several people have said those words to me over the years. I always thought they were crazy. A pilot has to be nuts to commute.
I now acknowledge there’s value in their advice… to an extent. So, I will modify it to suit my situation: “If you have to commute, you may as well live where you want.”
When I was furloughed the first time from United Airlines in 2003, we were living in Northern Virginia just outside the Dulles Airport. After a brief stint with a consulting firm, I was hired to fly Citations for a fractional company.
The fractional required pilots to live within two hours driving of a “base.” The company provided an airline ticket from the base to wherever a jet was waiting to be flown. Sometimes, a jet was parked on the general aviation ramp of the base. Either way, my base was Dulles. I was thrilled that I wasn’t responsible for my commuting.
The lifestyle was good, but money was still draining out of our bank account. The first year pay at the fractional was dismal, but, there were plenty of bases. Our mortgage and the overall cost of living in Northern Virginia forced us to make a change.
We narrowed our picks to three of the bases offered by the fractional: Dallas, Cincinnati, and Nashville. To us, all offered a more affordable cost of living and great environments to raise our family.
My in-laws lived right down the road. We knew it would be hard to leave them, but we had to get out of Northern Virginia. It was difficult for my wife to break the news to her parents that we were mulling over the three far away cities.
While I was on a trip, she told them the news. That night, I received the phone call I’ll never forget. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “My dad said if we pick Nashville, they’ll move with us.” My father-in-law was getting ready to retire and said he always considered Middle Tennessee a great place to settle.
Over the next few weeks, my in-laws and my wife and I took separate trips to the Nashville area. We put our houses up for sale. In the hot real estate market, they sold quickly.
My in-laws purchased a home in a quiet town south of Nashville. After research revealed reasonable cost of living and phenomenal schools, we also purchased a home.
A few weeks later, we embarked on the craziest adventure of our lives. We moved to Tennessee… for no other reasons than to escape a high cost of living and keep our family together. The plan was to hide out there for a few years until the airlines recovered. It was just a place to live, right?
Wrong. Living in Middle Tennessee is a special way of life. The people are friendly, respectful, “give the shirt off their back” type of folks. The climate is temperate. They have professional football and are the epicenter of Country Music. Downtown Nashville is one of the most lively cities in America. Just minutes outside the city, there’s an abundance of open country space. There’s a Cracker Barrel at every exit. The place has it all… we fell in love with it almost immediately.
In early 2006, the recall letter came from United. I “bypassed” almost entirely so we could stay in Tennessee. I did not want to commute and I didn’t want to leave my family and friends.
In late 2006, United had called back everyone junior to me and offered me a final recall. It was “take it or leave it” time. Although I enjoyed the fractional job, I knew it wouldn’t be a sustainable career. I resigned and started back with United in January, 2007. (My decision was validated when my old company recently announced they were suspending their fractional program.)
We were excited about the new beginning and were offered the opportunity to move to Denver. That was perfect for me… I loved Colorado and hoped to earn a position working as a pilot instructor at the United Training Center.
Taking full advantage of a “paid move,” we relocated just south of Denver in the Summer of 2007. My in-laws stayed in Tennessee. Almost immediately, we missed the safety net of having family close to us. But, it was still worth it to avoid the stress of commuting.
Professionally, the move to Colorado was a disaster. If you’ve been reading the blog, you know my story: United decided to park one hundred jets
to prepare for a merger due to high fuel prices. Then, retirements halted when the FAA raised the retirement age to 65. Fifteen hundred of us were furloughed by the Fall of 2009.
On a personal level, I still like Colorado. We made some great friends and had many, many great family adventures. But, Colorado is not the best place for our family.
A year ago, we tried to move back to Tennessee. A couple who wanted to enroll their kids in our county’s schools put a contract on our house. We were excited and told all our family and friends. A few weeks later, they backed out of the deal due to lack of financing. (Yes, their kids were allowed to stay in school… draw your own conclusion.) Since we missed our window of opportunity, we took the house off the market and decided to invest in some upgrades.
Just a couple of months ago, we were still struggling with this big life decision: Should we try again? Ultimately, the pros outweighed the cons.
I set this post to automatically publish at 5:00pm MDT on Thursday, June 28. If I didn’t stop it from posting, then the papers are signed and we are in our vehicles heading east towards Nashville. It is now official: We’re coming home.
At the end of May, we listed the house. On the first day, we had two showings. Both showings resulted in offers. We negotiated and accepted with one of the parties. For the last month, we have been scrambling to get all our
above-average amount of crap belongings packed into three moving containers and a U-Haul trailer to tow behind my truck.
There was no time to find a house in Tennessee. For now, we’ll be living with the in-laws and picking up our mail from a rented box at the UPS Store. We’ve spoken with several home builders and plan to start making the rounds as soon as we arrive. I dropped my first trip in July to allow us time to move and get settled. Thankfully, there was plenty of reserve coverage for those days.
We are moving on to this next chapter in our lives. My commute will be longer and more difficult. I may have to change bases to make it a little easier. But, it is worth it to be close to family and go back to our old southern way of life.
This move also provides closure. To me, United and Denver will always be synonymous. To truly put this behind me, I need to move on. A friend of mine recently summed it up by saying, “You moved here on a promise… and got screwed.”
If you are reading this in Tennessee, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you sooner. After last year’s emotional roller coaster, we didn’t went to get anyone’s hopes up in case the house deal imploded.
If you are reading this in Colorado, I’m sorry we are leaving you. We became close to many of you and you will be missed. Please understand this is the best thing for our family. You are always welcome to visit.
For the rest of you, thanks for reading my little goodbye to Colorado. Although, I suspect sometime in my career, I’ll be back for a visit.