CEO of the Cockpit #5:
Bring Lawyers, Guns, and Money

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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.

The 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 Oversight Committee."

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 limbo."

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 wheels?"

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.

"Dude…," Jerry began.

Dude your own self, I reply.

"I see you are going over your opening offer to the government," he continued.

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 — that 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 beers.

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 tan?

  • 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 bodies.

  • 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 income.

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.