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:
- Things always work out.
- 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.
- 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.