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Capt Anonymous: Pressure Rising

by Captain Anonymous
Guest Column, June 2007

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Note from Darren: "Captain Anonymous" is back with his fourth article.  He is a pilot for a major airline and holds the position of Captain in a widebody jet. Just a few years from retiring, he holds a schedule which has him traveling approximately 11 days per month.  The rest of the month, he spends thinking about the things he now writes here.  Yes, he is opinionated and abrasive but I would expect nothing less from a true gentleman who's been flying for 36 years.  I am not responsible for his opinions and they may not represent my own values and opinions.

June, 2007

The pressure is building and the younger pilots are starting to crack.  Look at these headlines (right).

While pilots who fly widebody like myself have it a little easier than the rest, the majority of pilots are under considerable strain.  I'm particularly concerned about the pilots at my own airline but this is affecting the whole industry.  Folks, we used to have the best and brightest in the cockpit.  With pay scales what they are, the best and the brightest can get more lucrative employment in other fields. United and Northwest are recalling all their pilots who were furloughed after September 11th.  Most aren't coming back according to our union.  For all the other professions, we're paying near minimum wages to marginally qualified new employees.  As cheaper workers infilftrate the ranks, slower service in all areas (cleaning, fueling, mechanical, unloading) and quality of the work is affecting the passengers. My airline is staffing airplanes with the bare minimum numbers of flight attendants which was unheard of 10 years ago.  We keep cutting costs and paying less and expecting everyone to hang tight or "we're going to replace you with a cheaper worker" with zero experience.

As a result, we are having all kinds of financial problems, suffering all kinds of life changes that we never anticipated when we started this career.  I don't have a fancy triangle or a safety engineer's theory, but I can tell you that on the short list, the problems are:
  • Increased divorces, child custody problems
  • Loosing it, snapping, feeling on the edge
  • Lifestyle changes due to massive wage cuts
  • Credit problems and bankruptcy
  • Pilot's worrying about their cheating spouses
  • Lack of or loss of retirement benefits/pensions
  • See more Life Stress Events
Some of my fellow pilots have left for greener pastures in other fields, others have committed suicide.  Yes -- suicide. This is serious and I'm not sure where its going to lead, but I know its ugly.  There is a new attitude among airline employees: a quiet, hostile, defensiveness which seems to be spring loaded for disaster.  Up until 7 years ago, airline employees loved what they did and stayed with their airlines for a career that typically lasted a lifetime.  Salaries were above averages, benefits were above averages, and people were motivated.  We're now 7 years after September 11th and passenger counts are greater than they were before that event.  We're doing all the same work with 100,000 less airline employees.  That's another way that airlines strip away layers of safety that has made us the safest industry in the USA.  The medical field kills 100,000 people a year but if aviation did that, no one would ever fly in another airplane again.  What do you think is going to happen?  The most recent declaration to the CVR was, "I hope the automation saves us, I'm not sure I can do it."  The pilot was referring to landing a planeload full of people after a 14 hour day which started at 5am.

The people that remain at the airline love their jobs, probably dream about the old days, and hope everything gets better.  Of pilots, I think that we're probably:
  • 10% "life is great - we're going to make it"
  • 30% broken spirited but hopeful
  • 60% angry, passive aggressive, and only doing the minimum.
One of my fellow pilots said to me, "Where's the breaking point?"  These stressors are factors that the accounting department can't calculate.  This is going to increase the costs of labor.  One of my fellow pilots went on record in the Wall Street Journal and said, "An airline career is not worth it anymore. It's a very different profession than it was 23 years ago when I started." 

I've only got a few more years before the age 60 rule retires me.  I've got more questions than answers.  The next wave of layoffs and bankruptcies are just around the corner.  Its been like clockwork since the 70's gas crunch, the 80's controller strike, the 90's gulf war, and September 11th -- all happening at the beginning of each decade.  It scares the hell out of the younger pilots.  They don't see the bright light at the end of all of this.  And when they do, its probably a train right?

Special note to Anthony: Bought my last BBQ grill from Grill Doctor, imported from Europe. My last pair of sneakers were made in Thailand purchased in Panama. Haven't stepped foot in a KMart since the 70's.  Haven't shopped at Sears since Montgomery Ward made lawn mowers.  We have Lowes and Home Despot but Elliot's is closer and has almost everything.  Ace Hardware is closer too but most likely there's a whole lot of cheaply made Chinese goods there too.  I did learn this week that my ice maker is Chinese, which frosts me a bit.  You ultimately support my point.  We create nothing in American anymore except pushing paper around.  American inguinuity is disappearing and we're all going to suffer economically for it.  Anthony's Post.
Happy Birthday to my wife, turned 34, met her at work and life has been paradise since.  That's it for this month... lets spool up these engines and get the hell out of here.

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