Monday, July 30, 2007

Career Angst

My last post unleashed a flood of speculation, much of it surprisingly inaccurate. I'll end the suspense now. Story F is true.

A few of you expressed bewilderment that I'd even consider something like F. Some of my friends feel the same way. I can understand why. It must seem like a bit of a step backwards. I'm going from the cloistered comfort of the two-crew Part 121 passenger airline back to the rough-and-tumble world of single-pilot Part 135 freight-dogging. I'm going to be flying a smaller, slower, older airplane. I'm not even taking much of a pay raise, if any. I'm pulling up stakes from a place I love for...well, I don't even know where we're going yet. So it certainly wasn't an easy decision. I made it after quite a bit of consideration and talking it over with Dawn.

I've been at my present airline for three years, three months. I enjoy my job very much. I'm working for a high quality airline with minimally abusive management and good coworkers. The captains I fly with are mature, experienced, and mostly personable guys and gals; there's little of the frathouse atmosphere that permeates many other regionals. The pay and benefits are quite decent as regionals go. The only problem is that advancement has been excruciatingly slow and there's no sign of relief. I now have 197 First Officers under me on the seniority list, 90 of whom were hired in the last year to staff the new Megawhackers. Now the other shoe is dropping as we retire Miniwhackers. While we're not expected to furlough, we certainly won't be hiring or upgrading in significant numbers.

I have 157 FOs ahead of me on the list. Our last upgrade class was in April, and we're not expected to have any more for the remainder of the year. We only upgraded 28 this year, which is what management said would happen. This may well remain the case until late 2008, when we finally get a few more Megawhackers than the Miniwhackers we're retiring. It's worthwhile to note this is all happening in a "growth environment." My airline is growing so far as available seat miles go: 76 seat Megawhackers are replacing 37 seat Miniwhackers. Given this company's conservative management, I'm thinking this could well be the only growth we see in a while.

This all adds up to an estimated seven year upgrade. It's not that farfetched - it's running a little over six years now and we're not upgrading. In other words, I have another 3-4 years in the right seat to go if I just stay the course.

Now, a seven year upgrade wouldn't be a career killer for me. I could stay at this airline for 10 years and still get hired by a major airline at the tender young age of 32. All the same, those extra few years at a major could make a large difference in career earnings, retirement savings, furlough protection, and quality of life (ie seniority). And, if I'm being completely honest, impatience on my part enters into the equation. It's one of my major flaws. I just don't want to hang around at the regionals much longer than is neccessary.

The primary catalyst for this bout of career angst, however, was Dawn's short-lived pregnancy earlier this year. When I found out a child was on the way, it didn't take very much number crunching to realize we couldn't afford to start a family without both of us working full-time. We have a lot of debt from college that we've been working hard to pay down, and there's not a whole lot of money left over on FO and teacher wages. It's not just the 3-4 years of FO pay I'm thinking of; there's also the atrocious first year pay at the majors we'd need to save for during my captain years. We were looking at six to eight years of trying to raise a child on stagnant income. I decided I had to do something.

Losing the baby removed the need to do something right away but the basic problem remained: we want to start a family sometime this decade, but we want to be more financially secure than my current job will afford. I kept investigating my options.

In the next post, I'll write about the options I looked at and why we chose what we did.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

While I Was Out

Wow. That was a long time without posting. So long, in fact, that my evil twin Sam (different Sam) was worried enough about me to post a query in the comments for my last post. I'm touched! (Hey, where were the rest of you!?). The reason for my absence is one of the following. You decide which excuse to believe.

A) I was jumpseating to Atlanta to visit a friend, and the Delta captain turned out to be one of their assistant chief pilots. He gave me his email address and asked me to send him a resume, which I did that night - imagine my surprise when I got a call from HR the next week inviting me to an interview! I studied for the interview harder than I've studied for anything in my life. I can now recite my "Aviation Technical Interviews" book almost word for word. I even trained at the gym seven days a week in preparation for their physical exam. My interview was last Monday, and I was given a conditional offer of employment! Since then I passed the psych and physical exams, so pending the background check I've been offered an August 27 ground school class!

B) I was on a Boise layover when I woke up late because I never got a wakeup call and my cell phone battery died during the night. I threw on my uniform, shoved my clothes into my bag, and ran downstairs, but I was too late - the van had already left. The front desk called a cab for me, but it was fifteen minutes before it arrived, and then road construction forced an alternate route that took longer than usual. I hadn't had time to brush my teeth so I gargled some mouthwash in the cab. Then, the fare came to $3 more than I had in cash so I had to run to an ATM in the terminal. At this point it was only fifteen minutes before scheduled departure time....if there weren't any delays at the TSA checkpoint, I'd make it just in time to whip out my preflight flows and I wouldn't get in trouble for showing up late. There was a line at security, but it's customary for crewmembers to cut to the head of the line, which I did. The man I cut in front of started complaining loudly to a nearby TSA agent, saying his flight to Portland was leaving soon. I told the guy I was his first officer, so the plane wasn't leaving without him. He cracked a joke about me staying up too late in the bar, which the TSA agent overheard and suddenly started getting in my face. He claimed he smelled booze on my breath (I'm assuming Creme de Scope). He pulled me aside and made me wait while he found a manager, who then told me to wait while he called airport police. At this point I was furious and started arguing with the manager. This is a family friendly blog so I won't quote the complete conversation, but "Your fascist tendencies would be a little more endearing if they weren't accompanied by overwhelming incompetence" was one of the tamer things I said. Needless to say, I didn't make my flight. I almost spent a night in jail. During the meeting with management, my recent blog posting spoofing the TSA came up. I ended up with two weeks paid administrative leave, during which time I've been nearly continuously drunk and therefore haven't posted.

C) I discovered that now that Team Fortress Classic has been out for eight years, most of the h8rz got bored and moved on, taking their b'hopping, spawn camping, nail exploits, and nade hacks with them, allowing mediocre gamers like myself half a chance. I've been playing in every spare moment for the last three weeks. I've finally mastered sniper and have moved on to playing soldi or medic once in a while. I've even checked out a few maps other than 2fort! Dustbowl is pretty sweet.

D) Dawn and I went backpacking in North Cascades National Park a few weekends ago. We were on the Cascade Pass trail when I noticed a herd of mountain goats on a nearby ridge that was accessible by a side trail. We stashed our packs by the trail side so we could go light while climbing the ridge - I took only my camera. It took about 20 minutes to climb the ridge. When we got to the top, we spent about a half hour watching the goats and taking pictures before we started back down. As we started down the ridge, it started to rain and the trail started getting slick. Unfortunately there were only about two hours of daylight left and we were in a hurry to get to a suitable tent site. I was jogging around the end of a switchback when I slipped on a wet rock. It was a pretty exposed position and there was nothing I could do but yelp as I went over the edge. I cartwheeled a few times and then blacked out. I woke up only a few minutes later in excruciating pain. Dawn had down climbed to me and was trying to gently pull me behind a slightly overhanging boulder to get me out of the rain. She stayed with me a while but with our packs back on the main trail, there wasn't much she could do for me except wrap her sweatshirt around my head. We decided she should go for help. As soon as she left, I regretted it. The temperature was rapidly dropping and I was soaked to the skin. I dragged myself under the boulder and started shivering. What followed was the coldest, loneliest night of my life. At first I shivered uncontrollably. Then I stopped shivering and got sleepy, which really scared me. I thought up math problems to keep me awake, a trick I used to use while freight dogging late at night. When help arrived shortly after sunrise, I wasn't very lucid. I vaguely remember being airlifted out by helicopter. I spent nearly a week in the hospital with a concussion, dislocated shoulder, several fractured bones, lacerations, and hypothermia. Since then I've been on bedrest at home and haven't really been in any condition to post.

E) I discovered facebook. It's amazing how many of the hot girls I was afraid to talk to in high school are now on my high school network. I've been virtually stalking them for most of the last month. I don't care what old-timer facebook peeps say, thank God for News Feed!

F) I decided that I'm gonna go nuts sitting in the right seat for six or seven years so I've been looking at my options, and eventually decided on taking a leave of absence from my current company to go back to Ameriflight to fly the Metroliner for a year. Dawn and I are moving, but we're not sure where yet. I've been busy this month figuring out the details and preparing for the move.

G) I went to Toronto for the aviation blogger's conference but didn't tell any of the participants I was coming. Then I shadowed them to their mixers, dinners, and activities, stealthily gathering the information I need to successfully blackmail them. It was kinda tricky since I have my photo on my blog and Aviatrix has met me. I think the Groucho glasses and fake moustache did the trick, though.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Viper Squad, Unite!

Below is a recently leaked transcript of a meeting that took place in TSA headquarters in Arlington VA sometime within the last two years.

Kip Hawley (TSA Administrator): Is this thing on? Check, check. OK, cool. Welcome everyone to the secret lair, as I like to call it. Mike, thanks for making the trek over from DHS headquarters.

Michael Chertoff (Secretary of Department of Homeland Security): No problem. Please don't call me Mike.

Hawley: Um, sorry. Michael, then?

Chertoff: Well, you said this meeting was top secret. I think we should use code names. I'll be Big Daddy.

Hawley: Well, we are at TSA headquarters, which kinda makes me Big Daddy.

Chertoff: How about if you're Number One?

Hawley: That works. Lessee, I guess our first order of business should be giving code names to everyone else.

Dana Brown (Assistant Administrator for Law Enforcement and Director of Federal Air Marshal Service): Oh! I have one! How about AALEDFAMS!?

Hawley: That's way too obvious. Not to mention hard to pronounce.

Brown: OK, Number Two then.

William Gaches (Assistant Administrator for Intelligence and Analysis): Uh, you can't be Number Two. My position is just as high as yours.

Brown: Well, your title isn't as long as mine.

Hawley: Enough, you two. Dana, you're gonna be Viper. Bill, we're calling you Blade.

Gaches: Blade. I like that. It's very sharp, very cutting edge.

Ellen Howe (Assistant Administrator for Strategic Communications / Public Affairs): I wanna be Silent Avenger!

Hawley: Silent, my foot! You are henceforth Flack. As in PR flack. Haha. Get it?

Howe: I don't think that one really suits my personality.

Hawley: Well, I'll remember it better. OK, Viper, why don't you tell the team what we've been cooking up?

Francine Kerner (Chief Counsel): Ahem.

Hawley: Oh, you're here, aren't you. I suppose you want a name. How about "f%&@#g lawyer?" Haha. Just kidding. That's a compliment. No, really. Um you can call yourself Nightslayer. Go ahead, Viper.

Brown: Well, team, we have a pretty serious PR problem here at TSA. Our polling numbers are down there with IRS agents, airline management, and the Yankees. But worse than being disliked is that the flying public doesn't take us seriously anymore. They think we're simply another overinflated federal bureaucracy that's marked by incompetence and overwhelming groupthink. They say our employees aren't any better than the minimum wage private screeners we replaced. They say that TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around. Now: do any of you know what is to blame for this PR problem?

Howe: I'm sorry. I try, I really do. The reporters just don't like me. I think they laugh at me behind my back.

Brown: Nobody's blaming you, Flack. The real problem, team, is that the TSA isn't exciting enough. I mean, if we sit around staring at x-ray monitors all day and no knives or guns get through our checkpoints, who cares!? The public wants action! The FBI and CIA and Secret Service and US Marshalls kick down doors and shoot people and stuff, and they get action movies made about them. Nobody's making a movie about the TSA. Heck, even the DEA had Traffic.

Gaches: Well, we do have the Air Marshalls.

Brown: True, and that's a good start, but there are all the annoying rules about not identifying themselves to the passengers. It's not really great action movie material - believe me, I tried writing a script and didn't get past about ten pages. The most action they've seen was shooting that retard on the plane in Miami.

Kerner: What a fiasco that was. We don't need more action like that...

Brown: Wrong, nightslayer. If you look past the whole "innocent man gets gunned down" angle, that was actually a pretty good PR boost for us. I mean, it actually showed people that we're out there and ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. And it was a good piece of shooting from the air marshalls, if I say so myself. Boom, boom - two headshots!

Chertoff: What do you have in mind, Viper?

Brown: Glad you asked, Big Daddy. What I have in mind is sort of SWAT meets A-Team meets U.S. Seals. We assemble crack teams of various specialties - sharpshooters, bomb-sniffing canine units, human intelligence experts, etc - and send them out across the country to protect not only airplanes, but airports and train and bus stations, too, basically anything transportation related.

Gaches: Wow, I like it! We can assign code names to the teams, too, and outfit them with the latest weaponry and communications equipment. Every unit can have their own Q. It'll be like a Popular Science spread.

Hawley: Yeah, it'll be really sweet. Nothing shouts cool like an agent in shades and a trench coat carrying a huge submachine gun. It'll make the TSA look like a competent, proactive organization that's actually doing something to keep Americans safe rather than simply confiscating shampoo.

Chertoff: This is all just fine, but we already have local and federal law enforcement doing exactly this, to say nothing of National Guard troops deployed to help them. I'm not sure that one more agency doing this is necessary.

Hawley: Well, do they have "transportation" in their name? I think not, and that makes it our jurisdiction! One more agency won't hurt. And really, this isn't so much about increasing actual security as it is changing the public's perception of the TSA and transportation security in general. Come to think of it, that's the purpose of a lot of things we do around here!

Gaches: So who are we going to put in these teams?

Brown: Well, air marshalls, for starters. Right now they're just riding around in airplanes, never doing anything. They'll be the muscle, they're handy with weapons.

Kerner: OK, that's a problem. The Federal Air Marshall program that Congress authorized is pretty narrowly defined. It makes it pretty clear that their main jurisdiction is on board aircraft. I don't see where the authorization comes to use them as a general purpose law enforcement agency.

Gaches: Did we ask your opinion, Nightslayer? Jeeze. Leave it to the lawyers to screw everything up with "authorizations" and "jurisdictions."

Kerner: Congress isn't going to be happy.

Hawley: Well, if they don't want us using air marshalls, they should've funded another enforcement arm for us. And since when has a federal agency not expanded beyond it's original authorization? Those guys on the hill gotta expect it by now.

Howe: Once we publicize how much these teams are doing to protect America from the terrorists, nobody in Congress will bother to criticize us. I mean, if it's helping out in the war on terror, who cares how we go about it, right?

Gaches: Exactly. OK Viper, who else will be on the teams other than air marshalls?

Brown: Well, we'll definately do K9 units. Everyone loves dogs, especially police dogs. It adds a human touch. Like, yeah, we might shoot first and ask questions later if you're a suspicious looking arab, but we're also just normal people who like to play baseball and drink beer and pet our bomb-sniffing dogs.

Howe: Do they all have to be German Shepherds? Can't we get some Jack Russell Terriers or English Bulldogs?

Brown: I'll definately look into that. Let's see, we'll also have highly trained TSA agents to scan the crowds looking for suspicious behavior.

Kerner: Like what?

Brown: Sweating, nervousness, agitation, impatience.

Kerner: I've seen a lot of sweating, impatient people in airports.

Brown: Exactly! That's why we need people to be on the lookout for them.

Hawley: Making derogatory remarks about the TSA is also classic suspicious behavior.

Brown: Yeah, definitely. I'm sure Mohommed Atta made a TSA joke before he went through screening. Or would've if the TSA existed then.

Howe: Have you considered including clairvoyants on the teams? I could recommend one, she's very, very good at reading people's auras, picking up on negative energy.

Brown: Duly noted. We'll look into it.

Chertoff: Have you begun procurements for the teams?

Hawley: We've just started that process. We're currently in negotiations with GMC for specially equiped tactical vehicles.

Gaches: I think we should issue the .50 Desert Eagle as our standard sidearm. It can stop a charging moose dead in it's tracks. Not that I anticipate we'll have to do that, at least not very often.

Brown: Excellent choice, Blade. There's nothing as American as a ridiculously overpowered handgun. Even if it's made in Isreal.

Hawley: I've been thinking. I saw a pair of X-ray glasses in the back of my son's Boy's Life magazine. I'll bet those would be really useful. They weren't that expensive. Let's see about getting some.

Chertoff: You guys can sort out the details, I gotta get back to the Hill. First, tell me what you're planning on calling these teams?

Brown: We were thinking COBRA.

Chertoff: What does that stand for?

Brown: That's the trouble. We can't come up with an acronym for it.

Howe: Corps...Of...something...Reaction...ummm...

Brown: Maybe it doesn't have to stand for anything. Cobra just sounds kinda cool. Mayby the Red Cobras, or Purple Cobras?

Chertoff: Weren't the Cobras the bad guys in some movie?

Hawley: Well, we kinda wanna be the bad guys. Not in the "axis of evil" sense of course. Just kinda bad. Like don't mess with us. Kinda like a biker gang. Hey, Hell's Angels would be a pretty good team name!

Kerner: Copywrited.

Howe: Felons.

Hawley: Well, same concept.

Brown: Oh! Oh! If not about Vipers!!!

Gaches: Bah. Of course you'd think that. Why not Blades?

Brown: Because I have an acronym. Do you have an acronym?

Gaches: Um. Brave...Lads....All....

Kerner: Too sexist.

Brown: Too Braveheart.

Gaches: Well what's your acronym then!?

Brown: This is brilliant. Visible Intermodal Protection and Response. VIPER.

Gaches: What about the E?

Brown: Fine, VIPR. Pronounced Viper. That's so sweet! They'll be Viper teams and they can all have code names like Cobra, Adder, Black Mamba, and Rattlesnake!

Hawley: That's brilliant! I love it! VIPR it is.

Chertoff: Excellent, I'm off. I think the guys on the hill are gonna love this. Viper is really catchy. Very action-oriented. Good work, team.

Howe: I can't wait to get the press releases out on this! This will be much more fun than updating the liquids ban. "Viper Team Ready to Strike At Moment's Notice." Ooh. that's good.

Hawley: OK, folks, I think our work is done for now. Good job Blade, Flack, and, hehe, Viper.

Kerner: Ahem.

Hawley: You too, Nightslayer. Meeting ajourned.