Friday, August 31, 2007

2:30am, Seattle, Bus #174

I was glad to see the bus coming down the street. The bus to the airport only runs once an hour at this time of the morning, and I'd already been waiting for a half hour. If you've never spent any time on the streets of downtown Seattle in early morning, it's a pretty motley assortment of shifty panhandlers, homeless folks bedding down for the night, and drunk & restless barhoppers dumped onto the streets by Seattle's 2am closing time. I'd flown up to Seattle to see Armin van Buuren play at The Last Supper Club, and the lack of a car left me dependent on the bus. So I waited at the 2nd Ave & James St bus stop, listening to drunk frat boys yelling obscenities at each other and bums muttering to themselves. The bus was a welcome sight.

Halfway to the airport, I was starting to nod off when an argument erupted just behind me. It was between a guy who'd been dozing when I boarded and another guy who got on more recently. Although I didn't understand everything they said, they apparently knew each other, one owed the other money, and they weren't expecting to see each other on the bus. As the argument grew more heated, nobody looked back. Neither did I. The bus driver didn't say a word. Both protagonists were apparently standing up, as one pushed the other into the back of my seat. I was just hoping that if it got too violent, it'd involve fists and not a knife - or worse yet, a gun.

Logic and restraint carried the day; both sides quieted down and settled into seats opposite each other, muttering under their breaths. The second the bus stopped at the airport, I bolted.

Incidentally, the show was really good, so I'm still glad I went. But next time I head to Seattle for a show that gets out at 2am, I think I'll just drive.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

An Eventful Week

It was one week ago that we got the offer from NewCo and decided to go for it, which rather radically altered our plans for the next few months and year. One major change is that we now know where we're moving. Another is that Dawn won't be taking a leave of absence anymore; she resigned her position instead. Finally, I'll be making a lot less money the first few months than I would've with Ameriflight, meaning we kind of need Dawn to teach. With school starting in two short weeks, Dawn started looking for a job in Minneapolis as soon as we knew.

Fortunately, math teachers always seem to be in demand. There are a number of positions still open throughout the Twin Cities. Dawn wants more than just a job, though. This will be the third school in six years and she wants to be somewhere she can plan on staying at for years to come. For her, that means teaching middle school in a good district.

On Monday, Dawn came across a post on her alma mater's alumni jobsearch website that claimed there was an "unofficial" opening for a middle school math teacher in the Minnetonka school district, one of the better in the Twin Cities area. Dawn called the principal, who told her that there was an opening at the high school that one of his current teachers wanted to transfer to, but their transfer was contingent on finding a suitable replacement - rather unlikely at this late date. He told Dawn it was crunch time and if she was interested in teaching at the middle school she'd better put in her application the very same day, and he'd review her application and call her in the morning for a phone interview.

Dawn's phone interview on Tuesday morning went well, and the principal asked her how soon she could get to Minneapolis. "I can be on a plane in two hours," she told him. That was perfect, he said: Wednesday was the only day he could interview her without switching his schedule around. She threw some clothes in her suitcase and I drove her to the airport, where she bought a non-rev pass and took Northwest Airlines to MSP. She was there six hours after getting the invitation to interview.

Dawn interviewed yesterday morning; it went very well and she was offered the position. She's extremely excited: it's not simply a job, but her dream job. She'll be teaching 7th graders like she was in SoCal, it's a well-off school district that invests heavily in its teachers and facilities, and the math department is close knit and places a strong emphasis on colaborative teaching. And it all happened in two days, leaving us both a little dazed. I'm so proud of her I could burst.

And in keeping with the hectic pace of the first week of our new life, she starts on Monday... at a school 1700 miles away. She'll start driving on Saturday morning, so she has two days to pack her things and move out. I had a trip starting today, so this morning may be my last time seeing her in a while.

This morning we were at the bank when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID: it said "Satan," which is my identifier for crew scheduling. I picked the phone up hoping my day had been cancelled.

No such luck. Crew scheduling wanted to know where I was. "Umm...at a bank...why?" Turns out I was supposed to be checked in for a 10:50 show. I had incorrectly written it on the calendar as a 14:40 show time. They had no airport reserves left to cover for me. The flight was scheduled to depart in 55 minutes. We raced home and I threw on part of my uniform while Dawn packed; I dressed the rest of the way in the car on the way to the airport. I got to the plane by 11:30, enough time to do my normal duties and still depart on time. No harm, no foul, I guess. Still, it's embarassing - this is the first time I've missed a show time by more than a minute or two. The Captain I'm flying with half-jokingly says I have short-timer's syndrome.

So our hurried embrace before I sprinted into the terminal was the last I'll see of Dawn for a while. I'd commute to MSP but I really need to stick around here to sell our house. I love Portland dearly, but with Dawn gone I'll be anxious to move to Minneapolis. I guess that's a good thing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Motivated Procrastinator Seeks Bike

Umm, so in the midst of everything going on I forgot that I'd scheduled a motorcycle endorsement road test for tomorrow morning at 8:30am. I was going to borrow an Enduro from a friend of a friend but that fell through. This is a shot in the dark, but is there anyone here in P-town that has a smaller bike or scooter they'd be willing to rent to me for the day? If not I can probably reschedule but I'm not sure where I'm going to find a bike to take the test on unless I buy one, take the test, and then sell it. On top of everything else that's going on....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Meet the New Boss

It's official. My time at my current airline is coming to a close. I was offered the position I interviewed for on Tuesday and I've decided to accept.

I've seen a few comments and received a few emails from people making a bigger deal of this than it is. This isn't a major airline, nor a national or an LCC or a cargo carrier. This is a lateral move to another regional airline, albeit a brand new one where I'll get seniority very quickly and hopefully upgrade after a few months of flying as an FO.

Once again I need to make a decision about how anonymous I want my blogging to be. I've decided to keep on like I've been doing, where I never mention my company by name (and ask you not to either) but keep it thinly veiled enough for those with knowledge of the industry to know who it is.

The fact that this is a new regional means there are basically two airlines that it could be, and no, it's not the one flying Megawhackers. The airplane I'll be flying is a new 76 seat jet made by a certain South American manufacturer. It looks like the young progeny of a B737 and a A320; I'm still trying to think of a suitable nickname for it. Any suggestions? For now I'm gonna go with ElectroFluf, a nice amalgamation of A320 and B737 nicknames.

I'm going to call my new company "NewCo" - this was actually it's informal name when it was in the planning stages. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of a major airline we'll call "RedCo." NewCo
was formed as part of a deal between RedCo's management and their pilot union during bankruptcy. RedCo has a large fleet of aging DC-9's that need replacing. It is expected that NewCo's flying will replace some of the DC9's; it's possible that RedCo will purchase the ElectroFluf's larger brother to fill in the gap between the ElectroFluf and the A319. In exchange for outsourcing some of their flying to NewCo, RedCo's pilots have the ability to flow down to the top of NewCo's seniority list if RedCo ever furloughs. This flows both ways: when RedCo hires, NewCo pilots will be given first priority to flow up to RedCo.

The upsides to the move are obvious. I'm getting into NewCo fairly early on - I'll be around #100 on a seniority list that's expected to grow to 400 by the end of 2008. I'll see more seniority in a few months at NewCo than I saw in 3.5 years at my current airline. I'll gain turbine PIC fairly quickly, making it easier to go to a major airline of my choice or even flow up to RedCo after 30 months if things turn around there.

On the other hand, I'm frankly not very thrilled about the circumstances under which NewCo was formed, or the fact that I'll be flying an airplane that arguably belongs at mainline for regional wages. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that RedCo pilots negotiated NewCo's existence as well as NewCo's first pilot contract, a majority of RedCo pilots voted for it, and RedCo pilots got something out of the deal in the form of job security if furloughs ever take place. I rather doubt any DC9 pilots are going to be furloughed as RedCo is beginning to hire and has a large order of B787s on the way. A major plus for me is that NewCo will have ALPA on property from the very first day. While the negotiated contract isn't that great (it's just average for the regionals), it's a first contract and having a union on property will help NewCo pilots improve it. I plan on getting involved, as I have been at my current company.

I'm going to miss it here. I like this company and really enjoy the flying and the crewmembers I work with here. It's time to move on, though. My class date at NewCo is 28 September; until then, I'm enjoying the Megawhacker for one last bid.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

14 August

Somebody's already commented on my "Options" post wanting to know what happened today. Well, the answer isn't very satisfying: I don't know. I won't know until next week or so. I think I did all right, especially in the sim (I pwned that 727!) - but until I get the FedEx envelope, I just don't know. I thought I did ok when I interviewed at Trans States almost four years ago and I didn't get that job - and this was when Trans States was taking anybody with a pulse! I hear the pulse is now preferred.

Obviously I'm not going to discuss particulars while they're deciding whether to hire me or not - and if I get hired, I may be tightlipped on details because, well, this company has a much larger and more active legal department than my current airline. Now, don't get any ideas - I didn't interview with a major, 727 sim notwithstanding. But it could be a very good career move.

And so the waiting game begins. Meanwhile: getting in some BBQ'ing, selling the house, and enjoying what's very possibly my last bid at my current airline.

Friday, August 10, 2007

For Sale By Owner

Dawn and I have been quite busy the last few weeks preparing our house for sale. It actually took less work than I was anticipating...maybe that's because Dawn was doing it all while I was off flying! Yay for "summer vacation." Now that it's all done, the house is sparkling - and suddenly we don't want to leave! Funny how that works...

We're going to do this For Sale By Owner because, frankly, I can't stomach the thought of paying 6% commission on top of the 3% in taxes, seller's closing costs, etc. The odds aren't great: the experts say that only 20% of FSBO's successfully sell. Of course, those experts are also the ones hoping you'll cut them a 6% commission.... The market is pretty saturated around here, too. There are areas where it seems like every third house is up for sale.

The good news is that we have a great place that's only five years old and in excellent condition, in a nice area - so I think that as long as buyers find it, we'll have someone fall in love with it like we did. And that's where you come in, dear readers. If you know anybody in the PDX area who is in the market for a house (or could be for the right house), I'm asking you to send them the flyer below.

Now even if you're not in the market and don't know anybody who is, this is a great opportunity to snoop in my house, so I know you're going to visit the website listed on the flyer. I'll save you the work of typing it into the address bar! http://home.comcast.net/~sdweigel/. Happy stalking!


PS - Ward mentioned that the above flyer has no address. I wasn't going to make it that easy to stalk me. I will, however, mention that the house is in Vancouver, WA, about a 20 minute drive from the employee lot at PDX. The neighborhood is NE Hazel Dell. If you go to the website and click on Neighborhood Information, you'll see a nifty map of the area.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Options

When I first started looking at doing something different, I made a chart that laid out my options and what the possible benefits and consequences could be for each choice as well as the likelihood of attaining my goals with each option. The options I came up with were Status Quo, Move Up, Move Sorta Up, Move Sideways, or Move Down.

Status Quo

I stay at my current airline. I most likely upgrade in 3-4 years unless something unexpected happens. Plan on going to a major in 5-7 years.

Pros: I keep my seniority and gain quality of life as I become a more senior FO. No paycut involved. Get to keep living in the Pacific Northwest, keep living in our house.

Cons: Essentially stagnant wages for 6-8 years. If Dawn and I have kids, we both have to work full-time to (barely) afford it and won't be significantly paying down our student loan debts anymore. Exposed position for the next 3-4 years as I have zero turbine PIC time.

Move Up

Go to a major airline, one that I could stay at my entire career.

Pros: Even with decimated pay rates, work rules, and retirements, the majors are still better than regional airlines, and things are bound to get better - at least at the airlines that survive the next few years. Senior pilot groups mean more retirements and quicker advancement. And getting in at the beginning of a hiring surge means more furlough protection when the next downturn hits.

Cons: American isn't hiring. NWA and United are very dicey prepositions, and with zero turbine PIC I'd be gambling that I'd never get furloughed. FedEx, UPS, and Southwest require turbine PIC. Delta and Continental are hiring and technically don't require turbine PIC, but you really need to know somebody in high places to get hired without it. Paycut to go to CO, UA, and NW.

Action: Thought about applying to UA or NW for about two seconds. I did put in apps at DL and CO but haven't heard anything from either. I have no internal recommendations at either airline.

Move Sorta Up

Go to a major or national airline that's not an ideal career choice but would provide higher pay than I'm making now.

Pros: Several of these airline don't require turbine PIC (jetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country, etc). Pay would increase after year one. Alaska Airlines has also started hiring FOs at my company with zero PIC time - and Alaska is the one airline where I could still live in Portland and have a short commute.

Cons: I have real doubts about the future of Spirit and Sun Country, and I think even jetBlue is in trouble. Alaska Airlines has successfully carved out a niche for itself on the west coast until now, but their conservative management has been painfully slow to react to increasing competition in the last year. The stock price has tumbled and there is a real threat of a LBO. Meanwhile, the upgrade is over ten years and I'd be without turbine PIC that entire time - back to square one at a regional if I lost my job. Slight paycut for first year at AS. Good chance of a strike at AS within the next few years.

Action: I met with an Alaska Airlines recruiter who said I had a very good chance of getting called for an interview. I began to submit my application. I even had several of my coworkers write recommendations on my behalf. Then Dawn had the miscarriage and the money problem wasn't immediately pressing and I realized it was a dumb career move with not much payoff for the risk involved.

Move Sideways

Go to another regional airline with a quicker upgrade time. Get turbine PIC time and get out.

Pros: Once I upgraded, pay would be better than I'm making now. Would build turbine PIC quickly and could then go to a career major. Quite a few airlines with low upgrade time, a few nearly hiring street captains. Also there are a few startups - Lynx and Compass - with the chance to get in very nearly at the bottom floor, with instant or rapid upgrades and good seniority.

Cons: Don't hate myself enough to work for Pinnacle or Mesa. Lynx payrates turned out to be ridiculously low ($50/hr for Megawhacker captain). Signs that growth may halt at Skywest (last scheduled deliveries in November). Huge paycut while FO. Would have to move - couldn't afford the house as FO and few easily commutable bases from Portland. Giving up three years seniority to go to another regional is painful and somewhat risky...chasing seniority has bitten more than one pilot, and your job is one RFP away from elimination at any regional.

Action: Briefly considered Lynx until I saw their ridiculous payrates. Yes, that's year one pay but they have yet to post any sort of scale that'd indicate that pay goes up significantly with longevity. Applied to Compass Airlines in the spring and didn't hear anything back.

Move Down

Take a leave of absence from my current company and go back to Ameriflight and fly the Be1900 or Metroliner for a year. Build 1000 hours turbine PIC time.

Pros: Don't have to give up seniority number at current airline; leave of absence does not delay when I can upgrade. Little career risk. In the meantime, I'll have the 1000 hours TPIC needed to get hired at the "career majors" or go to a 2nd choice like Alaska with more confidence in case something happened. Pay is about what I'm making now. Not flying 70+ seat airplanes for insulting rates. I know Ameriflight is a good company. Dawn wanted to take a year's break from teaching anyways.

Cons: Back to single-pilot freight, harder and more dangerous than regional flying. Have to move, commuting not an option. Having 1000 hrs of Metro turbine time is no guarantee of getting hired at DL or CO, especially without many contacts there.

Action: Have worked with my chief pilot on getting a LOA and Ameriflight's chief pilot on securing a Metroliner slot. Dawn took a LOA from her school. We're going to sell our house. We don't know where we're moving yet. My tentative class date at Ameriflight is September 17.

So that's where we're at. I really didn't have any great options to choose from, short of fanciful ones like Scenario A in the While I Was Out post. I'm pretty risk-adverse in my career choices, which is probably why I ended up where I'm at, looking at a seven year upgrade. Taking the LOA is the least risky of the realistic options - it allows me to pursue my goals without really sticking my neck out far. I should mention that Dawn's very on board with this - she wanted to take a break to do something else for a year. The fact that we both have jobs to come back to and we know it's for one year only makes it a lot easier. I wish we didn't have to sell the house but renting it out isn't a realistic option when I'm across the country without nonrev benefits. By the way, if you know somebody who'd be in the market for a nice 3BR/2.5BA townhome in the Portland area, give them my email. If I don't post much in the next few weeks, I'm busy trying to entice a buyer to purchase our home rather than the other gazillion for sale in our town.

Update: Between the time I started writing this post and finished it, one of the major assumptions about one of my options changed dramatically. I'm not sure if anything will come of it so I won't go into details yet. You can expect more after, say, August 14.