Travel As layoffs loom, pilots face difficult future
Here’s what it takes to pass the captain test for a major airline
Reaching the rank of captain is one of the most significant moments of any airline pilot’s career. Trading in the three-stripe jacket and picking a pristine new four-stripe uniform is the culmination of years of hard work. Whilst the years spent in the right-hand seat are all building toward that upgrade, the final few months …Whilst the years spent in the right-hand seat are all building toward that upgrade, the final few months are the most demanding of a pilot’s entire career. In order to make the move from first officer to captain, all pilots must complete the command course.
Thousands of pilots across the country are facing pink slips in a matter of weeks unless the airline industry receives more financial aid from the federal government. For many of them, flying has been their dream since they were kids, and the crisis in the industry has left pilots young and old stuck in a holding pattern — either hoping for a miracle or eyeing the exit.
On Thursday, executives from the major U.S. airlinesin an attempt to secure more emergency funding. The meeting included CEOs Doug Parker of American Airlines, Scott Kirby of United and Southwest's Gary Kelly.
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TSA passenger checkpoint numbersto just 90,000 by mid-April, amid pandemic lockdowns and public health concerns. Passenger travel has since recovered somewhat, but at its best has been no more than half of pre-pandemic levels.
Much of the airlines' labor costs during the pandemic has been funded by the $25 billion Payroll Support Program passed as part of the government's coronavirus relief package in March. As a condition of that funding, airlines agreed not to institute any involuntary layoffs or furloughs until Oct. 1.
Baked into the agreement were expectations that the virus would be under control by the fall. Now, the, but there is no clear breakthrough on the medical or legislative front. Even some industry veterans admit they won’t fly until there is a safe and effective vaccine.
Your next flight could be a pilot’s final test before making captain
The path to becoming an airline captain starts on the first day of flight school. Every flight, every simulator session and every event that happens along the way builds the skills that a first officer needs to become a captain. All good first officers will view each flight as if they were the captain. How …All good first officers will view each flight as if they were the captain.
“We need the flying public,” said Marc Himelhoch, an active pilot for a major American airline. “The course we’re on is unsustainable.”
For many pilots, their calling has been public service: ferrying passengers safely to new jobs, birthdays, reunions and vacations. They have made sacrifices, logged thousands of hours of flying time, and paid out of pocket for instruction.
Now, that same public is afraid to fly — and lawmakers and aviation experts can’t come to an agreement on how to protect the nation’s airlines, nor the hundreds of thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend on the industry. Air travel won’t fully recover until 2024, the International Air Transport Association estimates.
“Being an airline pilot is more than just a job. I met my husband while working, and I had my first baby while we were pilots. What I do for a living makes up so much of who I am,” wrote Karen Lacy, a first officer at an airline,“And today I know that on Oct. 1, I will be out of a job.”
I took 7 flights on all the largest US airlines in June. Here's what it's like to fly in America right now.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed how we fly in more ways than just face masks are now required on most airlines.I almost didn't recognize the aviation industry on my first trip back into the skies in early June. I flew on Delta Air Lines and was shocked to see a semi-empty plane with blocked seats with my ticket allowing for unlimited changes without the normal fee.
Over 38,000 furloughs have been announced for pilots, flight attendants and airline employees, according to the latest figures, an airline employment site.
Some pilots, especially more junior ones who are at greater risk of furlough in the seniority-based system, are now considering applying for other kinds of transport work.
“A lot of us are interested in going to work in nonflying positions for companies that we would like to fly for when the industry recovers — such as driving trucks for FedEx, UPS or Amazon,” said a pilot for a regional carrier who asked that his name be withheld, since he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
That’s a significant comedown for the prestigious and profitable world of commercial air travel.
The potential drop in pay is appreciable, about $1,500 a month — the cost of an average monthly mortgage payment, according to the Census Bureau.
In 2019, the median wage for airline pilots, co-pilots and engineers was $174,000,.
In the meantime, pilots are focusing on cutting expenses to the bone and delaying or deferring moving or buying a new home.
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In a statement to NBC News, the Air Line Pilots Association, the world's largest pilot union, warned of the cost to families and communities from lost wages for furloughed pilots if the Payroll Support Program is not extended. The union also highlighted how the costs to recall and retrain furloughed pilots could slow the recovery of aviation and travel sectors.
“There is no way to avoid it,” the pilot for the regional carrier said. “The company is going to decide how many people they are going to cut, and if your number is on the list, that’s kind of it.”
There are a few standard go-to options for a commercial pilot, especially in the corporate sector. Pilots are needed for air transport of goods, which has seen some demand increase from a surge in e-commerce during the pandemic. There’s work to be had in the air, from remote pipeline inspection to banner towing, the difficult-to-break-into world of private jets, or flight instruction.
“It depends on how much you’re willing to suck up your pride and take a job beneath your qualifications,” Himelhoch said.
With tens of thousands of pilots all facing the same deadline for furloughs and layoffs, competition for any related job will be fierce.
“It is not uncommon to see 500-plus people applying for a job,” wrote Anthony Lorenti, a former pilot for a regional carrier, in an online comment. “Ground-based jobs are swarming with applicants.” Lorenti could not be reached for further comment.
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Some pilots facing layoffs are reaching back into their past, renewing their real estate or insurance license.
Other pilots are reaching back into their past, renewing their real estate or insurance license, or starting small businesses such as a coffee shop or landscaping, said Cheryl Cage, an aviation career consultant. Many pilots develop side businesses during their down time, and developing those businesses may be the first thing they do if they can't fly for a living.
A career pivot represents a special challenge for people in their 40s or 50s who have spent years in the air doing a specialized task that doesn't easily transfer, especially during a time of historic unemployment. But an experienced pilot has a lot of things to offer if they’re presented the right way, Cage said.
“Pilots have a lot of innate talent. They’re good in an emergency, work well in a team, communicate well with others. They have a lot to offer,” Cage said. “If you understand the process, how people make hiring decisions, what tools you need to get your name in front of decision makers ... your chances go up dramatically. There are jobs out there.”
“Pilots will do what they need to do to support their families,” Cage said. “They’ll be Uber drivers if they have to until they find something more permanent.”
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United Airlines avoids furloughing 3,900 pilots, but 12,000 others will lose their jobs unless Congress extends the CARES Act .
A new deal will have pilots accept reduced duty hours — and, in effect, monthly pay — in order to spread the remaining work around.However, United will still furlough roughly 12,000 workers on October 1, a senior executive said during a press briefing — unless Congress extends the provisions of the CARES Act that gave the airline industry $25 billion to help with payroll, provided they keep all employees on staff through September.