Career History
The return to the legacy carrier
March 25, 2014
22

It was the day after the Superbowl in 2003.  My pregnant wife, two sons and I were walking out of the Logan’s Roadhouse in Manassas, Virginia.  As I opened the car door, my cellphone rang.  While settling down into the driver’s seat, I flipped the phone open to answer.

Although we lived twenty minutes away, it was a very long drive home.  A few times, my wife asked whether we needed to pull over so she could drive.  My focus was overcome by sadness, fear and anger.  A part of me had just been ripped away.

The person on the other end of the phone had informed me that I was being furloughed on April 1.  It was a very cold conversation… the woman with the unpleasant task simply read from a script.  When I hung up, reality sank in.  I knew the furlough was coming, but I thought I was safe until June.  I was wrong.  The after effects of 9/11 had reached my seniority number.

With the airline in bankruptcy and at risk of liquidation, I didn’t know if I’d ever be recalled.  When I was hired years earlier, the airline was strong and the pilots had a “no furlough” clause in their contract.  Until 9/11, I had no reason to think I’d ever be furloughed.

I learned three lessons from that first furlough:

  1. Things always work out.
  2. A furlough can be a blessing that allows a person to meet new people and have experiences that never would have happened if life continued on the original path.
  3. Flying planes is what I do for work… not who I am.  I mentioned that I felt as if part of me was ripped away.  Once I recovered from that emotional blow, I realized that attaching any part of my identity to my work was absurd.  If you look inside what makes me tick, you will see a child of God, father, husband, son, brother and friend.  Flying jets is just a great way to earn a living.  When it goes astray, I’m still 100% me.

If you’ve been reading along, you already know the rest of the story.

For the next six months, I worked as an aviation consultant in Virginia.  Then, I flew corporate jets for a fractional company before returning to the legacy carrier in 2007.

In 2009, after management decided to park one hundred airplanes, I was furloughed for the second time.  After ten months of unemployment, I secured a flying job with an exciting, innovative airline on the west coast.

Just before I started the job in 2010, I wrote my first blog post.  I wanted to document my new-hire training and life as a first year employee with an airline.  Later, the blog evolved into a platform for me to share stories and insights from the road.

A few years ago, my old and new lives started to clash.  The old company announced a merger that would make it a mega-force in the airline industry.  I was sent an offer to work for the merger partner as a new-hire until the nuptials were complete.  The pay was very comparable to what I was earning, so I decided stay firmly planted at my new airline.

I wanted to watch the merger from the sidelines.

Then, a joint contract was penned and suddenly the compensation looked a lot more appealing.  Still, I wasn’t ready to leave with the combined seniority list still a mystery.

Last fall, the arbitrators released the ruling that integrated the seniority lists of the two airlines.  If I returned, I knew where I would sit on the list. (I will never publicly comment on the ruling.  Everyone has an opinion and emotions tend to flare up when discussing it.)

Still, I wasn’t ready to accept any job offers.  With the holidays approaching, I knew I could bid a great schedule and spend some very quality time with my family.  That’s exactly what I did… and, we had a great Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

By mid-January, I realized I’d run out of excuses.

It was the day after the Superbowl in 2014.  Since it was a “snow day,” my wife, five kids and I had just finished lunch.  This time, I picked up my smartphone and dialed an outgoing call.

I accepted a position to return to the legacy airline.

When I arrived in class on March 4, I shared the news on Twitter.  Many were surprised and asked what led to my decision.  As best as I can share on the blog, here are the reasons I returned to the legacy carrier:

  • My previous airline stopped growing:  When I was hired, I was projected to upgrade to captain in about two and a half years.  Anyone who has been in this business knows not to trust any growth plan until the aircraft are on the property.  However, I was counting on the expansion to meet my career expectations with that carrier.  Last year, the aircraft deliveries came to a halt when the airline stopped growing in an attempt to stabilize.  Rather than upgrading in two and a half years, my position as a very senior first officer became virtually permanent.  Another jet isn’t scheduled to be delivered until summer of 2015.  Then, the growth will be slow.  Even if I upgraded, I would have been stuck as a junior captain for a very long time.  To be fair, slow growth plans should be viewed with as much skepticism as rapid ones.  Plans could all change tomorrow.  I used the latest available information to aid in my decision.
  • Pay and retirement fell short: Even with recently announced enhancements, the pay, benefits and retirement funding fell way short to what was offered by the legacy carrier.  I’ve got a mortgage to pay and kids that will need to attend college.  Although I enjoyed my job and had a great schedule, I could only leave so much money on the table.
  • Shorter commute:  I love living in Nashville and was getting a little tired of commuting all the way to the west coast.  Back in December, I gave myself a little health scare that fortunately turned out to be dehydration and exhaustion… all resulting from a crazy commute home.  (Free advice… if you ever fly a red-eye trans-con, sleep terrible during the day, fly a trans-con back to the west coast that night, wait for a delayed red-eye commute flight home and sit for four hours in a 737 cockpit jumpseat… don’t compound the situation by going without food and water for eight hours.) The legacy carrier has several bases within a few hour flight of my home.  My first base with be Newark.
  • Other:  These reasons don’t get published on a public blog.  If you want more details, we’ll have to sit down and chat.

I’ve been back on the property for three weeks.  Honestly, it feels like I came home.  My relationship with this legacy airline goes all the way back to an internship in 1995.  Is it perfect? No.  Am I drinking the Kool-Aid?  No.  I’ve been in the business long enough to see highlights and lowlights working for any airline.  One must look at the big picture when deciding where (s)he will be the happiest.

Over the last fourteen and a half years, there have been great highs and some very deep lows.  But, the merged company seems to be back on its feet and heading for some great times.  I wanted to be part of it.  Time will tell if I made the right decision.  Nobody in aviation owns a crystal ball.  Over the next few decades, my career could thrive or once again fall apart.

I’ve learned to take one day at a time.

Now, back to studying the 737.

If you share this with friends, I respectively ask you don’t mention the names of either company in your tweets or Facebook posts.  Everyone knows where I worked and where I currently landed.  This blog isn’t about individual companies, so please don’t draw unwanted attention to them.  This site is meant to document my individual, personal experiences as an airline pilot.

About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 22 comments

  • Brandon Currier says:

    Good read, my dad was also furloughed from a major airline after 9/11. Not the same one you were, but a legacy airline in the US. He was furloughed in October of 2001, and his last decade was much like yours, he flew Citations for a while, then 767’s for a charter company in the US. He was recalled to the legacy carrier this past fall and finished IOE in November on the 737 out of Miami (I probably gave away which airline it is haha). He’ll be transitioning to the A319/A321 out of NYC soon though and is excited about it. It is amazing to see the parallels in your career and his, with the unexpected events. I enjoy reading your blog also because I am looking to become an airline pilot despite seeing what it has done to good pilots like you and my dad who should be captains at legacy carriers right now, but are just starting back up the ladder instead. I’m a freshman in college with my private pilots license and about 100 hours experience in a C172S and PA28R-200. I almost have my instrument rating and will be taking my checkride for that soon. The thought of getting my Commercial, CFI, and CFII and starting my professional career is very exciting and reading your blog get me even more excited! Keep posting!

    • Thanks for the comment, Brandon.

      One of the things I’ve always tried to mention is that I’m not alone in this story. It may not have come out in this particular post, but there are thousands of pilots who share a similar story.

      I’m currently going through training with three other guys that were furloughed twice from this airline. But, everyone has a positive attitude and seems excited about the future.

      Hope your dad likes The Bus!

  • Cedarglen says:

    Thanks for the great post and update. No one but you and your family can know what else when into your decision. Of course I’ll honor the request to bury the corporate names, but let’s be clear about one part: You did well because your name/number was above the ‘staple line.’ In time, when you fly with them daily, please remember that they are not the acquired baggage that some consider them to be. You apparently came out well, but please remember that many of you new, single brand colleagues were screwed. Sorry, there is no other way to put it. They are working, many received a welcome raise and their jobs are reasonably secure. And for many, any reasonable hope of advancement is gone. As for your interim airline, they kept you working, your skills high and your kids in new shoes for a few years. That is not a bad thing. Their business model is different from what you grew up with. I hope that your return to Original Legacy Airlines goes well and that you never suffer another furlough. Aside, I have to wonder how many OL Air pilots have declined the opportunity to return; it must be a lot. Best wishes and happy landings, -C.

    • I sent you a private email so I could keep my word on not publicly commenting on the seniority integration.

      However, I will share here that I did not make out as well as you imply in your comment.

  • Dave from the UK says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    I am not in the aviation business but was nonetheless furloughed in 2009, after a couple of interesting jobs where I learned a number of new skills I returned to my original company 14 months later. It certainly changed my outlook and made me realise, as you say, that it’s only a job (an enjoyable one but still only a job).

    I no longer worry about what the future holds as I have seen both sides and come through stronger mentally.

    I wish you every success and I am sure it wasn’t a decision you and your family took lightly.

    I hope you find time to blog about your upcoming adventures and experiences!

    All the best

    D from the UK

  • ScottSTLFLL says:

    I appreciate the time and effort you take in giving us some insight into your fascinating career. From a customer perspective I like your previous employer, however I agree with your reasoning. Sometimes there really is strength in numbers. Wishing you all the best in your return.

  • I have two questions. My first question is since you were working for company A and Company B was the ones flying/ordering the 737-NGs does that mean the pilots now AB can fly together because of the integrated Seniority lists?
    And my second question I know its sorta off Subject but Whats it like going from a Fifi Jet to Boeing I have read about going from Boeing to Airbus but never the other way around.

    • There is no more Company A and Company B. From a pilot perspective, the companies are merged. With the exception of a few fences implemented by the arbitration award, any pilot on the property can bid any seat his/her seniority will allow. Crews can be mixed from either legacy carrier.

      As for your other question, I’ve done both. In 2000, I went from the 727 to the A320. In 2002, I trained on the 737. In 2007, I went back to the Airbus. I’m familiar enough with the logic of both manufacturers that it isn’t really a big deal. Although there’s a lot for me to re-learn, there really aren’t any “surprises” in the training.

      I laugh when pilots dig their heals in on one side of the Boeing/Airbus debate when they only have time in either one or neither of the aircraft.

  • Don Rieck says:

    Great Blog – I recently discovered it and have enjoyed reading the archives. I’m not a pilot, but I do have 750k miles lifetime with your new (old ?) employer as a passenger, and really enjoy reading what it’s like up at the front of the plane.

    So thanks for posting and please know that those of us in the back are very appreciative of what you and the rest of your crew are doing. Even if we are occasionally stuck in 32B 🙂

  • Brad Tate says:

    Congratulations! Honestly, I didn’t see this coming, but I’m genuinely happy for you and excited about your future. I can’t wait to hear and read about your experience in training and what it’s like slipping back into that old, but hopefully comfortable pair of shoes.

    I came with a month of furlough in the years after 9/11. You described some of the hidden benifits of furlough and to be honest, I’ve often wondered where I would be if I had received that same phone call.

    As you said, it could all change tomorrow, but today is a good day. Enjoy your new position and try real hard to get the call sign right or we’ll all know where you’ve been:)

    • You would have “seen it coming” if you hadn’t stood me up in Nashville with the weak excuse that your airline stranded you in Florida. 🙂 Unless you were sitting there with a recorder, I was all ready to unleash all sorts of issues on you. They just don’t show up here in public. 🙂

      Thanks for the congrats and spreading the word about the blog. No kidding on the call sign… I’ve already let it slip out once in the FTD. Fortunately, leading with a U is not new to me, either.

  • Luke Simons says:

    Good read, and congratulations on getting back “home”! You and I probably ran into each other at some point. I was with VX from 2012-2013 and remember briefly talking to someone in the crew room about commuting out of BNA. Nashville is an awesome town, I’d love to live there. I ended up making the decision to leave as well, and I think it was the right decision. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the blog and congrats!

    P.S. I’m lukebsimons on instagram. That’s how I found your site.

    • Luke,

      I apologize… I somehow missed when you made this comment and just found it.

      I just looked at your Instagram account. Yes, I believe we’ve met. You look familiar.

      If you see this reply, drop me an email at contact@renewedpilot.com (or, fill out the form on the contact page.) I’d love to talk a little more via email.

  • PHLRick says:

    Just curious–after 6 weeks, how’s it going? Are you out of the classroom yet?

    Here in Philly, US operates 70% of the flights, and there’s some anxiety because of the AA-US merger. As you know, US “east” and “west” continue to operate almost as separate airlines, and we’re wondering how a 3-way seniority merger will work out. I can imagine the new management greatly scaling back the PHL, CLT, and/or PHX hubs just to reduce the problem.

    • I’m out of the classroom and just finishing up IOE. It’s going great.

      I can appreciate the anxiety over US operating such a high percentage and now merging with another company. Plus, I just read VA is putting their PHL ops on hold to make room for new routes.

      Did you mention US because of where you live? Or, where you think I landed. I’m back at UA.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • PHLRick says:

        Mentioned US because of where I live, your comments on seniority integration, and the Merger Migraine due here as the east, west, and AA rosters are blended.

  • Tom says:

    Have not heard from you in a while. Are you going to blog again or does the new gig frown on that?

  • Oluwafemi Toyinbo says:

    WOW! ‘…Child of God…”

    Sir, I am IMPRESSED! With so many trying to be ‘Politically Correct’, you did not deny Him. I am Nigerian, reading from Nigeria 🙂 and I am proud of your Sir. You suddenly became one of my Role Models.

    I have been on a reading ‘binge’ of your blog since yesterday, reading from the very beginning and I must say, my resolve to become an Airline Pilot has been strengthened.

    Without mincing words and trying to be ‘patriotic’ I have to say you got one of the BEST AVIATION BLOGS in the WORLD! Take it from someone who has read (and still reads) lots of Aviation blogs (including those on your ‘Interesting Sites’ list).

    Thank you for continuously inspiring me (and I’m sure thousands of others).
    Thank you for been the funny, interesting and honest Airline Pilot that you are.
    Most importantly, thank you for been a Child of GOD!

    PS: I’m a 23 year old ‘married’ PASSIONATE Aviation Enthusiast. Although working in some other industry, I’m believing God to complete my Flight School Fees, for me to begin training in AEROSIM Flight Academy, Sandford, FLorida this year.

    Thanks Brian.
    Keep Posting. Safer skies ahead!

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