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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Regional Truth - Part 2

This post was going to touch on the way regional airline pilots are treated and my company stepped right in to provide me with the perfect story on this past trip. We had a wheels up time to New York because of weather. After an hour-and-a-half on the ramp, we returned to the gate to refuel and let passengers who were going to miss connections go. Two hours behind schedule, we took off and headed for JFK, where we would then work a flight back to Boston for the overnight. In range, however, we realized our flight had been given to another crew that departed a mere 15 minutes before we reached the gate, something of a common tactic from crew scheduling as of late to avoid cancelations that would mandate them to give us a hotel room even in base.
So we were now stuck in New York. Because it is our base, eventhough no one in my crew lives there, the company will not provide a hotel. We still called scheduling to see whether they could put us up because we had a 13-hour day the following day. The answer was an unequivocal and resounding no. I told the scheduler that my captain and I refused to sleep in the crew room, or the terminal in this case since six pilots had already claimed the filthy glycol-stained sofas as their own, and were heading to Boston to look for a bed to sleep in, like normal people.
The scheduler put me on hold and returned a second later with a threat. If we missed our deadhead the next morning they would slap us with a missed assignment and a note to that effect was now on my file. They could have simply deadheaded us from Boston in the morning instead, which would have given us a few more hours of sleep, but obviously this particular scheduler chose the war path instead.
Undeterred, we got on a flight to Boston. We figured out what crews had made it to their overnight, and more importantly which hadn't and managed to score a couple of rooms for the night. At 2 a.m., I got into my room, completely wiped out, only to get up again at 6 a.m. to return to the airport and fight my way back to JFK.
Playing around wording in our contract, making threats and being generally uncooperative is sadly what we are faced with every day we have to talk to crew scheduling. Of course, some schedulers are very nice and will go the extra mile to help but they are few and far between.
I am fully aware of economic considerations the airlines face, especially these days, but how can a company refuse to put up its crewmembers in a hotel on the eve of a 13-hour day? The scheduler I talked to simply told me to get a crashpad, a bed in a house or apartment full of commuting pilots. As a lineholder, however, I should not have to shell out the extra $250/month for a bed I might only use once or twice a year. In any case, on my First Officer pay, a crashpad or a hotel room in New York are luxuries I simply cannot afford.
In the wake of Colgan's crash, airlines have to wake up to the fact that they too have a responsibility in keeping their crews well-rested. These scheduling games aimed at circumventing contractual agreements have to stop. Some I've shared this story with have suggested I should have simply gone home and called in fatigued the next day, as a retaliatory move. While it might have created a scheduling hiccup, I would have lost two days of pay, something I just cannot afford either.
The mood at my airline, and I suspect at many others recently, has been been very dark lately. It is as though we are in a constant tug or war with the company, a game it is obvious we will never win.
The problem at the regional airlines today isn't experience. The fact that we have 200-hour wonders flying around the system is something that can be dealt with easily by pairing these pilots with experienced captains. After all, major airlines have in the past used so-called ab initio programs to train pilots.
The true issue is how airlines treat their pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and ramp personel. All of us work hard, go the extra mile to help passengers and run a safe ship but all we get in return is disrespect.
It is time for the press to leave behind this issue of lack of experience and focus on this: your crew is tired, underpaid, overworked and pissed off.


Blogger d said...

How would you review your experience at ATP?

Also, did you get your PPL at EFA at KBED?

How would you review your time there as well?

Future Student Pilot...

7:22 AM  
Blogger Capt. Wilko said...

I was very fortunate in my time at ATP to have two excellent instructors who took their jobs very seriously, knew their stuff and taught it very well. I know, sadly, that this isn't everyone's experience at ATP. It's a great program but unfortunately the instruction can be spotty. My single COMM CFI, for instance, admitted to me that he had no idea how to perform the single-engine maneuvers...
If you are planning on going to ATP soon, you should be in luck since CFIs have probably been there for a while now that airlines aren't hiring.
If you haven't earned your private yet, I'd encourage you to do so elsewhere and fly a little on your own before going to ATP.
EFA is a good school. I enjoyed my time there as a student and as a CFI. The quality of instruction is very good, especially since I left! ;)

3:32 PM  
Blogger d said...

Thank you very much for your feedback.

I have my first lesson tommorrow at EFA!

I mentioned you, and they spoke of you fondly.

Thanks again, D

3:40 PM  
Blogger Capt. Wilko said...

They must have me confused with someone else! ;) Have fun and good luck.

6:53 AM  
Blogger shamrock071 said...

This post is a shimmering light of hope for me in the pursuit of my dream of flying-I've recently become quasi-addicted to aviation blogs and I happened upon your post-I am a Ferry Captain(one of the ones who was @ the 1549 landing) and an avid sim pilot(working on the PPL) I've looked at ab-initio schools and I'd like to do that route-my 8 years of experience as a ferry captain is the ONLY thing I have on a resume-no College-just a GED and a buttload of boat driving of all different types. Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated and thanks for keeping the light shining for me-I hope you get this comment-I know it's an older post.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Capt. Wilko said...

Shamrock, sorry for the late reply but life is busy and I rarely stop by anymore.
I would recommend that you continue to work on your PPL at home, keep your job and stash away as much money as you can for the road ahead. Programs like ATP are quite good if time is of the essence for you and because there has been no hiring lately at the airlines, chances are your instructors will be quite experienced.
Depending on what age you are, these accelerated programs could serve you well. But you can also keep your job and advance through your ratings at home. Seeing the employment picture, there is no reason to rush. I don't think there will be any meaningful hiring for a while.
Do consider getting your CFI and teaching. It pays poorly, but is a tremendous job that will teach you much more than getting your various ratings will. It's a great way to build hours, but more importantly it will make you more knowledgeable and will hone your judgement.
Good luck.

8:58 AM  

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