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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Friday, April 03, 2009


"At least they're not furloughing, unlike the rest of the industry."
I uttered these words a few days ago, in a nowadays very common company-bashing conversation with a captain. The following day, we heard the news that the company would furlough just under 100 pilots.
It's a tough time for airline pilots. Other bigger and much better airlines than mine have let pilots go, grounded airplanes, shut down bases and cut pay and benefits in recent months. A United Airlines captain riding in our jumpseat told me just the other day that 800 of his colleagues will soon be out on the street as the company has decided to ground all of its 737s.
Nobody is safe. This isn't a situation where the bottom of the regional airline pack is getting pinched. All the big boys, except perhaps for Southwest, are feeling the pressure.
My airline, which typically trails its competitors in terms of effecting changes (good or bad), closed my home base, forcing me and over 200 of my colleagues to commute to work by air. In the current climate, however, I considered myself lucky to still be in a job. The move was also widely viewed as a negotiating tactic gone sour rather than an actual financial necessity.
But now the downturn is at our doorstep. In just a few short weeks, colleagues will be sent to the street at a time when finding a job is tough enough and one flying airplanes almost completely impossible.
Again, I count myself fortunate to not be in that group. However, I can't help but think that this might only be the first wave. With a family to take care of, a mortgage to pay and debt accumulated in the past couple of years due to low pay as a flight instructor and a junior first officer, the prospect of being furloughed is terrifying.
The future remains terribly uncertain for the airlines. While oil prices have dropped to much more manageable levels, passengers aren't flying as much as they used to and as the economy continues its downward spiral, loads will probably continue to drop as well.
Having researched the industry before joining it, I know this is just another cycle (admittedly in the context of the greatest economic slump in decades) in what has to be one of the most volatile lines of work out there. Things will get better, I'm sure of it. One day the airlines will expand again, hiring will boom, upward movement will be restored and with any luck pay and benefits will improve and the battered airline industry will once more be a desirable place to work.
But until then, I fear it's going to be a very bumpy ride.


Anonymous David said...

Hang in there... it was worth it before!

9:05 AM  

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