Airline Pilots: The Romance Is Gone

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As the legacy airlines struggle to avoid bankruptcy, several are duking it out with their workers, slashing pay and benefits. In the process, some airline pilots are speaking out about the frustrations of their jobs -- it seems it's just not as much fun as it used to be. To squeeze out more productivity, airlines are scheduling quick turnarounds and bunking the crews in cheap, boring hotels close to the airports. Security rules restrict their contact with passengers, they have to go through tedious security checks like everyone else. "It is pretty demeaning to stand there with four stripes on your uniform and take off your shoes," US Airways Capt. Jeffrey Duisik told The Charlotte Observer. (There are minds that wonder why a pilot would need a weapon to take an airplane down.) As of 2002, the median annual earnings of airline pilots was about $110,000. But most pilots make salaries in that range only for a small portion of their 30 or more years in the cockpit, US Airways pilot-union chairman Bill Pollock told the Observer. Under a tentative agreement between the union and the airline, pilots will take an 18-percent pay cut, reducing the average pay from $154,900 to $127,018. Maximum monthly flight hours will increase from 85 to 95, and vacation days are capped at 21 per year. A running forum at pprune.com, a Web site for flight crews, has logged 62 comments from pilots and ex-pilots on the topic of "Are you still enjoying it?!!" Many describe a stressed-out, worn-out, discouraging climate at today's airlines. According to one, "If you're flying for an airline, just accept you are doing it for the money, and find your fun elsewhere!" Others cite "crushing tedium ... a subtle blend of fatigue, frustration, boredom, broken up by periods of high stress ... wouldn't pursue airline flying again ... a real grind." But some take a more philosophical tone: "Yes, opting out sometimes seems like a good idea, but, if I'd been in any other job, I would have died of boredom years ago and after 39 years, it's still the best way in the world to earn a living."