Ahhhh, it's tax time for all of us and for the CEO of the Cockpit as well. Airline captains are accustomed to calling the shots when hundreds of lives are at stake. Who better to consult where the issue is merely whether or not a post-flight beer is deductible? Take it for what it's worth — the CEO has an opinion.
April 12, 2002
pilot lounge in Newark is larger than most but otherwise is the same as all of
them. Lazy Boy recliner chairs are scattered about the brick-walled windowless
room like the remnants of a close-out furniture sale. Some of them are broken
down by hundreds of desperate toss-turned nights spent by harried (and cheap)
commuters. The stale smell of little aircraft cabin blankets that have been
used for napping too long without benefit of a washing machine added to the
aroma of stale coffee and twelve-hour deodorant that has endured a fifteen-hour duty day.
Around the lounge are the detritus of the pilot life marked-up bid sheets,
company newsletters and the usual meaningless, self-serving memoranda that
only a management hierarchy made up of pilots with night-school MBAs could
produce: "Joe Jones promoted to Supervisor of Line Operations Management
A dozen trees were senselessly slaughtered and boiled down to print a memo
that 10,000 uncaring line pilots would toss into the trash without a
second look. Because of Joe's ascension to middle management, there are now
families of homeless squirrels roaming the planet. The horror.
The other constant in any pilot lounge are the computer terminals. Lined up
and glowing, they are the Oracle you consult to predict your future as a
pilot. Did I get that trip I put in for? Am I going to go to 767 school next
month? Why wasn't I paid assignment pay for that late-night call-out last
week? Also on the company computer is a means for employees to send each other
email and of course, electronic copies of the Joe Jones announcement.
A Bird Strike Yields Time To Think
I am sitting in the scrunchy "faux leather" of my lounge chair
and will likely continue to do so for quite awhile. My "Long Beach Death
Tube" (MD-88) unwisely ate a large sea gull during our approach and what
is left of that noble bird is still ensconced amidst the inlet guide vanes of
the number-one engine. Our maintenance professionals are gathered around it on
work stands trying with all their might to deny the fact that an engine change
is in their future. Once they reach that decision, my copilot Karl and I will
climb aboard a 727 and deadhead home. Until then we are in "reroute
The time will be well-spent today. I am thumbing through this year's
edition of my tax returns. My CPA kindly faxed me a copy before I climbed into
my run-out Dodge van and went to work the other day. This is my first chance
to review our version of the truth and my last chance to up the ante on any of
my so-called deductions. Karl is looking over my shoulder, smacking his lips
as he eats his crew meal granola bar.
"Are you really deducting the cost of a new suitcase?"
Well, Karl, you and I do travel for a living. What does the government
expect us to do, pack our meager belongings in K-mart bags? Besides, with the
bankruptcy of K-Mart, the quality of their bags is in question anyway.
"Yes, but don't you think that $3,500 is a little steep for a bag on
The cost of everything is constantly going up. Last year, for example, my
suitcase deduction was only $2,200. Plus, this year's suitcase has all the
"evildoer thwarting technology" bells and whistles. For example, if
an evildoer tries to break into my suitcase while I'm napping in this lounge
chair, a transmitter in my bag instantly uplinks to a satellite in
geosynchronous orbit. The signal it sends is quickly forwarded to a security
company based in Bridgeton, N.J. They, in turn, will call out local law
enforcement and a swat team will descend on my Dad's house in Florida because
they think he has fallen in the tub and can't get up.
My rambling finally got the desired result and Karl went away muttering
under his breath.
Even Airline Captains Have To Pay Taxes
It looks like my contribution to society this year will come to a little
over forty grand depressing if you think you are paying for Congressional
pork barrel projects. I always prefer to be inspired and think that I am
funding a Marine Corps rifleman who is prodding a terrorist with the business
end of a bayonet while I sit here in my lounge chair.
There is nothing that promotes world peace better than an armed Marine and
I am all about world peace.
Someone kicked my chair from the side and I am shocked to see my friend
Jerry standing there in a pilot uniform. The reason I am shocked is because, in
over 20 years of being in this company and two decades of being Jerry's
friend and classmate, I've never seen him in a pilot uniform. He is usually in
golf clothes and is non-revving to Maui or someplace to chase the little white
ball and to take large sums of money from fat men with bad hair implants
wearing gaily-colored pants with stretch waistbands.
," Jerry began.
Dude your own self, I reply.
"I see you are going over your opening offer to the government,"
I look on it as my final offer, Jerry. I don't want to live in a country
where the government would question the integrity of an airline captain. Look
here at the financial hardships I've had to undergo.
The CEO's Thinking On Tax Deductions
Jerry pulled up another recliner and looked on as I revealed my tax worksheet.
Last year was bad for airline pilots in general and this airline pilot
specifically. First, our careers came to a screeching halt in September
is if we still have a career. Thousands of us are out of work due to terrorist-induced furloughs. Next, like many of my fellow airline pilots, I made a lot
of really stupid investments. They all lost money.
A retarded monkey with a dartboard could do a better job of choosing
investments than I did, but, since there were no mentally challenged simians
around, I had to make all the decisions myself, leading to disaster.
My housekeeper had to quit due to some sort of immigration paperwork
misunderstanding. Yatisha couldn't produce a green card and had to be sent
back to her home country. Now where am I going to find another person that is
willing to work for a dollar and a half an hour?
Jerry nodded in sympathy.
"You think you had setbacks?" he said. "Last year, the IRS
disallowed my golf cart rental fees and wouldn't let me deduct the cost of
country club bar tabs. How the heck am I supposed to get ahead in the golf
business if I can't buy a round of drinks?"
I saw Jerry's point. A government interested in data about my children's
schooling, how many people from foreign lands I'm sponsoring by allowing to
them to live on my property (and mow it) and how many dollars I sent to the
Air Line Pilot's Association Political Action Committee should have enough
class to allow Jerry to write off a few thousand dollars' worth of post-round
The Business Needs Of An Airline Captain
We looked over the list of my pilot-related deductions for this year's
return. They included:
The expense I have gone to to buy a decent handgun. Large groups of
people in this country expect me to be packing heat the next time a hijacker
knocks on my cockpit door and what Johnny Carson once said is true: "You
can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word
alone." Even though the government has said they will never allow me to
be armed in the cockpit, I think a few thousand dollars' write off for me to buy
a heater is appropriate.
The cost of my paint ball combat game outings is clearly in holding with
the spirit of self-defense training. Ditto for my health club membership fees.
How do they expect me to defend freedom without proper weight training and a
Next, since I am in the aviation business and am expected to keep the
greasy side down and the shiny side up, I think the $6,000 I
spent on the P-51 check-out is totally deductible. Also, I plan on including
the expense I incurred buying first-class tickets on another airline for our
vacation in Europe. How does the IRS think I can improve our service if I
don't sample the service of other airlines?
Training to scuba dive might help me on my next visit to the Bahamas, but
I think the expense ought to be at least partially borne by the federal
government. This is only fair. Every year at recurrent we have to undergo
training in ditching techniques along with instruction on how to wear and use
life vests lest we find ourselves in the drink. Obviously, any ditching
training for us North Atlantic flyers is pointless if you get wet out there
you'd die of hypothermia before you could say: "pass the flare gun."
It makes about as much sense for me to train to scuba dive for this scenario
as it does to put on a life vest that will only serve to help them recover
It is obvious that any money spent by an airline pilot
to learn a
foreign language ought to be deductible. After all, we travel the world and it
is nice (especially in hostage situations) to speak the local lingo. This year
I am taking it one step further and am deducting all expenses pertaining to
the French cooking lessons I've taken in New Orleans.
The company has been very concerned lately about our layover security.
Rightly so in view of recent events. Because of this I no longer head out to
cheap bars in bad areas of town when I or my crew are laying over. We only go
to classy clubs and first-rate restaurants. This leads to a great increase in
the amount of money we spend on food and drink. I think it is only fair that
the government share this burden with us working-class pilots.
Other layover expenses should be a total write-off for airline crew
members and I intend to a least try to do so this year. For example, on a
recent Phoenix layover my crew and I decided to clear our heads by renting
Harleys for the day and ripping up the desert. You might think the hundred
dollars I spent at "Rent a Hog" was frivolous, but you weren't in
the back of the jet later that night as I tried to shoot a CAT III into
Detroit. Call the money a mental fitness fee. I call it a legal deduction of
Why Can't The IRS Understand?
Jerry had, for some reason, fallen asleep in his recliner while I was going
over my deductions with him. I prodded him awake with my pencil and asked him
how many audits he had endured over the years.
"Four, counting last year," he said.
There you go
not only are airline pilots expected to support armed
Marines with our taxes, we are we expected to (yet frowned upon for doing so) support people
from third-world nations who only want to live in our country
and operate our lawn equipment. We are ridiculed and accused of tax
fraud when all we are trying to do is fly the population of this great land of
ours to their destinations.
Lastly, we also are expected to financially support
thousands of CPAs and tax attorneys! You'd think all the divorce lawyers we support would be enough, but noooo
As I finished my diatribe, I noticed that a mechanic had entered the room and was
headed my way. We were all surprised to learn from him that the engine did in
fact need to be replaced and shipped to our corporate headquarters via flatbed
truck for "debirding." We were released to deadhead home and would
kill no more waterfowl that day.
I said goodbye to my friend Jerry, noted a $200 tax
consulting fee to Jerry & Jerry CPA in my expense log and went to get my
seat in the back of the homeward-bound antique subsonic three-holer.
| With apologies to Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote The Autocrat of the
Breakfast Table, and P.J. O'Rourke, who penned The CEO of the Sofa.