Wednesday, May 08, 2013


I came off medical leave and was released back onto the line at the beginning of April, which means that I didn't have the opportunity to bid an April schedule in mid-March. Instead, crew planning built me a schedule for the remainder of the month from a combination of trips in open time and reserve days. There wasn't much flying in open time, which meant that I sat on reserve for 9 days. It was the first reserve I've done in nearly 5 years.

Roughly two of my 3.5 years at Horizon was spent on reserve, a function of their stagnant seniority list. Because NewCo was growing so rapidly when I came here, I was on reserve for less than a month both as a FO and as a new captain. Since sixty of our pilots flowed up to WidgetCo in 2010, our list has become fairly stagnant, and we now have pilots who have been stuck on reserve for nearly two years. We have quite a few senior FOs who have bypassed upgrade for this very reason. Some people don't mind reserve, but a lot do. It's not so much the uncertainty of not knowing what you're doing day-to-day; it's moreso the fact that you typically get minimum days off, don't make more than minimum guarantee pay, the schedule is hard to commute to, and you're generally called upon for all the crap duty that nobody else wants to do. For example, at NewCo reserves often get called in for checkride seat support in the sim. Pilots sitting seat support, even though the checkride isn't for their sake, are checked and can fail the ride. Imagine that: being forced to take a checkride with your job on the line with two hours notice, without studying beforehand. No wonder nobody wants to do it.

I didn't mind my half-month bout of juniority. I don't think juniority is actually a word, but it ought to be, because it describes a real condition much better than seniority does. Senior pilots live somewhat normal lives; junior pilots work odd hours, weekends, and holidays. Whenever I move on from NewCo, I know I'm going to be junior for a long time, and probably a commuter to boot. That's one reason I've been enjoying my two-year blip of regional-pilot seniority, and perhaps getting a little too comfortable waiting for flowthrough to WidgetCo.

I was used eight out of nine reserve days, two of which were spent on airport jail, i.e. ready reserve. I normally avoid the crew room at all costs, but having just returned from a four month absence, I was eager to meet up with friends I hadn't seen in a while, and was able to withstand the typical crew room negative energy most of the eight-hour shifts. I was informed about most of the other assignments the night prior, as opposed to a two-hour callout. Considering I live a quick 25 minute jaunt from the airport, and didn't get used for anything too silly, it wasn't too far removed from a normal schedule. And I got to bid for May with my old 14% seniority, resulting in a very nice 19-day-off line.

My bout of reserve got me thinking, though - why is it always automatically left to junior people? Being brand new at a regional airline is hard enough, what with the ludicrously low first-year pay - why force people to endure reserve as well, particularly commuters? I know a few places overseas, as well as some flight attendant groups in the US, where crews do 6-8 weeks of reserve a year, regardless of seniority. If this was the rule among pilot groups in the US, I suspect some of the more onerous reserve work rules would get fixed in a hurry. And in any case, it's not like my seniority at NewCo is the result of dozens of years of faithful service. In many cases, I got here mere months before captains who are far below me on the seniority list. Seniority here was largely luck of the draw. That said, I rather doubt I'm going to have much luck persuading my fellow senior pilots to make our contract more equitable between the seniors and the juniors.


Anonymous said...

My regional in Europe has no concessions for seniority...our reserve (we call it standby) is sprinkled throughout the roster and duties are allocated randomly within the rules and to keep annual duty/flight hours similar for everybody. I'm pretty senior so I'd like to think my loyalty would mean I get an easy ride, but it's the fairest system I suppose for everybody. Good luck with Widget Co. We don't have any Big Daddy to flow up to so the end game for us is to leave an go elsewhere but the market in Europe is slooooooowly beginning to improve!

dph said...

Sam: I was talking with another economist dude here at work (I work in a finance related role) and we were discussing the relative watering down of unions in North America and why unionization efforts were failing to draw younger workers or non-traditional industries.

I hypothesized that one of the reasons is exactly what you talked about. I have a friend at Air Canada and their union did the same thing to their incoming workers - hosed them to keep big time benefits for senior guys. And then the old guys were complaining that the young punks weren't toeing the company line like a good little soldiers.

Some unions are better than others when it comes to this aspect, and corporations have certainly done there share of making unions irrelevent, but if you want to political power, you need to have the younger demographic at least on your side, not seeing you as a rigged game to make sure the guy who got in 10 years ago gets his leaving nothing for you.

I've read some of your other notes on being active in your pilot group, and I think that's great. This kind of leadership is what's needed to keep the organized labour relevent to all generations.

Anonymous said...

That is one aspect of the job that scares me away from pursuing it... The high pressure pass/fail keep your house/lose your shirt scenarios. I didn't know about the "checkride support" role... God, it's bad enough to have to do the actual checkride time and time again, but this too? It could be justified when it paid 100k or more, but for 16k a yr? I slip further and further away from my childhood dream... Been a tough road.


Anonymous said...

So...just received my June 2013 "Flying" magazine. I knew I picked my flying blogs well. Nice article.

Sam said...

Thanks :-) I alluded to it in a post last month but it ended up being in the June issue instead of May as originally planned. I've been subscribing to & reading Flying since I was 13 (1994) so it was pretty exciting to have a piece published in its pages.

Sam said...

dph-- Some astute observations, and closely related to the issues I have with our big pilot union, ALPA. They've sold out my generation time and time again with the encouragement and continuation of small-gauge outsourcing, while telling us it's for our own good. My opinions there could fill an entire post, and probably will at some point.

Dan-- Sorry I didn't respond to this sooner. That should be the last thing that would keep you from an airline career. If you're able to pass your FAA checkrides through CPL-AMEL & CFI, you'll be able to pass airline checkrides. And you can have a bust or two throughout your career without losing your job at most carriers, so long as your record is otherwise decent. Yeah, your job is theoretically at risk, but I mostly use that as a motivation to study - I never think about it during the checkride itself. Having to do it on zero notice while on reserve is crappy, but I think we're one of very few regionals who do that. Horizon certainly didn't.

IFR Pilot said...

Fantastic article in Flying, Sam. Well written, nice blend of different subject matters. Kudos to you for a job well done!