Friday, October 31, 2014

Almost Home

Besides the better pay, work rules, and benefits, one of the reasons that so many young pilots aspire to fly for one of the remaining legacy network airlines is the variety of flying available to its pilots over the course of their careers. The "Big Three" have large networks covering the US, North America, and the entire world, with a large number of different aircraft types of various sizes, capabilities, makes, and levels of automation. Once the new American Airlines is fully integrated, for example, a newhire may find themselves flying an old-school MD83, a Boeing 737, an Airbus 320/319/321, or an Embraer 190. Moving up, they might fly internationally in a Boeing 757/767, A330, 777, or 787 - or they might stay on domestic narrowbody equipment for better seniority. They might delay upgrade for a better schedule, or they might chase the highest-paying left-seat position available. They might give up a pay raise to hold a base they live in or which features an easier commute. The options are many, and few pilots will make the exact same choices over the course of their career.

Personally I enjoy variety in my flying, which is one of the main things that made me wait out a class date at a legacy carrier rather than trying to get hired at an airline like jetBlue, Southwest, or Alaska. Those are fine companies that treat their pilots well, but they are also (for now) single-fleet operators with narrowbody equipment confined to North America. That's what I'm doing now and that's just fine for a few years, but I can't see doing it my entire career. My current airline has even greater fleet variety than American. Assuming that both my health and the state of the economy and my employer stays strong, I'll hopefully bid to widebody international equipment in a few years, do that until I upgrade on the Mad Dog or similar domestic narrowbody, and eventually go back to international in the left seat. Changing it up will help keep the flying from getting stale over the next 32 years to mandatory retirement (I hope to retire sooner...said every 33-year old pilot ever).

For now I'm just hoping to get home to Minneapolis as soon as possible. There is a Mad Dog base there and it's not really that senior, but there is a huge glut of newhires who happen to be from the Twin Cities who are trying to get home. Among the 2010 hires, I have a several friends who have been trying to get back ever since; they've been commuting to reserve in New York for much of the last four years. Considering this, I was thinking it would be a year or better before I could hold Minneapolis, but nevertheless kept it active in my online vacancy bid. Imagine my surprise when, several months ago, a vacancy award was published that had my name and "MSP Mad Dog FO" on it! Some 19 pilots senior to me and 8 junior to me got back to MSP in the same bid. I talked to a chief pilot shortly afterwards, and he showed me slated for a December 1st "conversion date." I was a bit doubtful; letting 20+ pilots go all at once would decimate the New York base. But as time went on and the December 1st date held firm, I allowed myself a glimmer of hope.

The December category lists were just published - and disappointingly, I'm still in New York, along with most of the senior pilots awarded MSP. The contract gives the company wide discretion on when they chose to convert vacancy awards, and they apparently realized that short-staffing New York immediately before the holidays and the return of winter weather was not in their best interests. That's ok. I know plenty of people forced to commute their entire careers. I'll likely commute again at some point in mine. For now, it's good to know that I'm coming home, and I only have to wait a few more months. For December, I'll be over 50% seniority in the New York Mad Dog base, raising the possibility of holding Christmas off in my very first year. I got Thanksgiving off in November. Minneapolis, like widebody international flying, will be there for me down the road. In the meantime I'm enjoying much better seniority than a probationary pilot would usually dare to hope for.


Blogging with Spencer said...

This was a really informative post about why pilots bid the aircraft they do I can understand having a little variety in the type of aircraft u can fly good luck on the next bid in getting based at home!

Anonymous said...

Awesome Sam - hoping you get to MSP soon! Looking forward to more on flying for a legacy, the mad dog, the NY base, etc.