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.