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Working for free

February 19, 2012

A little over a week ago, a FedEx envelope arrived addressed to yours truly.  A job offer.  Not just any job offer, but a job offering to fulfill my longstanding dream of pilot employment with a major airline flying the ubiquitous Boeing 737.  It would even be a sizable pay raise.  “Calgon, take me away!”  Pack my bags, here I come, right?

I turned them down.

Like some too good to be true advertisement for mutual funds or a credit card application, there were some strings attached.  Which is why I said thanks but no, thanks.

The aforementioned offer of dutiful pilot employment was not entirely unexpected by me.  I figured I would have to make this decision some time.  But having to make this decision just made my belly tighten a little, and not in a good way.

You see, as an airline pilot, you’re “based” somewhere.  Meaning, all your flights begin and end at the same port.  For me, it’s been Chicago-O’Hare.  I live 10 minutes from here.  This job offer promised my base to be either Houston, TX or Newark, NJ.  No, I wouldn’t have to uproot my family (unless I wanted to)–I could commute.

Now, I’m sure many of you know what commuting is.  Driving to work downtown.  Taking the train/subway/bus.  In my case it would be getting on an airplane (empty seats are free to us) and flying across the country.  It takes longer.  Sometimes it takes all day.  Crappy weather, heavy passenger loads, time of day/week/year, mechanical breakdowns–you’re captive to each and every capricious one.

Which is why I said no to the job.  The commuter’s blues.  Simple math would be me commuting to work an average of 6 hours each way–a total of 48 hours, or 2 days–a month.  This on top of working 18 days a month.  That’s 20 days a month gone from home.

It goes without saying that those extra 2 days a month spent commuting are unpaid.  Working for free.

I can’t do that to my family.  My wife and kids need me–now more than ever.  Hell, I can’t do that to me.  Stress is bad enough in my life presently.

No, this schedule would not be this way forever.  Just long enough to be a royal pain in my ass.  I wouldn’t be around to get Alex on the bus.  I wouldn’t be around to pick up Drew from school.  I wouldn’t be around to give Kat the smooches and hugs we both need in large quantities lately.

This is the basic, classic struggle beneath every professional pilot’s career.  The balance of work obligation vs. home is a sticky quagmire.  Thus far I have not subjected my family to much of it.  And I’ve always lived where I’ve been based, save for one 2 year stint with Jetblue Airways.  (Which further solidified why I didn’t like or want to commute ever again.)

This being said, one day I will be recalled back to my rightful assignment as a Chicago-based pilot.  And with that, I will take the job.  However, my family will still need me.  And I will still need them.  We will frankly need the money in a BIG way.  Yes, I’ll still be gone up to 18 days a month.  But I’m paid for that.

  1. Rob permalink

    The other day I had a retired pilot tell me that I should take the first recall I could get to AMR because it’s so much better than my current gig where I go home to my family every night.

    So, I asked him about his career. He was on reserve for a total of two weeks in his entire 30+ year career. That’s right, when he completed IOE as a new hire he finished out then month and never saw reserve again. He was never furloughed. He never went through a merger. He upgraded to captain in 4 years. He “paid his dues.” He was able to buy a Cadillac a month with his paycheck. He never had to find out what PBGC was. He had never seen the industry that you and I have experienced. He didn’t have a clue.

    You’ve got your priorities straight. Every night I ever spent in a hotel commuting to and from work was one less day in my life to be with my family at my own expense.

    • Thanks, Rob. There was a time when I thought I couldn’t love anything more than flying. But holding my wife’s hand while she was giving birth to my two sons easily eclipsed it.

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