Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Loyalty, And How I Define It.

Dad's Retirement Flight, Sept. 30th, 2006.

I woke up this morning and heard this on NPR while I was getting ready for work. My father has worked for many years as a pilot, first in the United States Navy and then as an Captain for the now defunct PSA, which then became the oft financially troubled US Airways.


LISA NAPOLI: Three weeks until Election Day and the Associated Press crunched the latest numbers on election fundraising. It looks like the Democratic challengers in some close Senate races are raking in the dough. In some states, they've even got more money than the incumbents. The AP points out that the filings aren't the whole story &mdahs; most candidates are receiving financial support from their parties.

Time now for more of our midterm election series, The Real Agenda. Those politicians are spending that money they've raised on all manner of media. But are they offering any solutions to problems people say they care about? We've asked for perspectives from some of their constituents. Like Jonathan Hobbs. He's a pilot and he's stayed with US Airways through a merger and two bankruptcies.

JONATHAN HOBBS: I chose to stay for a good reason: I had no choice. I'm almost 50 and married with three children. Two of them were heading off to college when US Airways second draconian pay cut sliced my salary in half.

I considered applying at other airlines but I've seen firsthand that decision can be foolhardy. Switching airlines is an unpalatable and irrational option.

Pilots who switch companies, regardless of flight experience. start over. Period. You loose all seniority accumulated over your career and join the ranks of interns and clerks.

At 50 years of age you get to celebrate Christmas in a cheap Philadelphia two-bedroom crash pad, a time zone away from your family. You get to eat a cheese steak and beer chaser with a dozen 20-year-old new-hire reserve pilots discussing Britney Spears' sex life while “Blue Christmas” plays in the background.

Besides, I've grown accustomed to eating my meals in the dusty familiar confines of a US Airways cockpit.

I've hung on and survived. And that's more than I can say about many of my peers. It has been a terrible journey, much too difficult for some. There were personal bankruptcies, household moves, divorces and even suicides.

But what do we have here? US Airways is having a profitable year. Finally, those of us who sacrificed income, retirement and nearly every benefit it took three decades to achieve can bask in some comfort and security.

But I remain guarded. I've seen the dark side, more than once. It could all change in an instant; fuel prices could skyrocket, the economy could lay an egg . . .

There are few certainties in life. But one is the employees at US Airways deserve a break. And two, if we're profitable for the entire year, the corporation is contractually required to share those profits with us.

I'm sure they'll enjoy passing out those checks as much as passing . . . kidney stones.

NAPOLI: Jonathan Hobbs is a pilot and novelist who lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina. In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli. Enjoy your day.

Watching the airline industry change in ways that were often personally damaging to our entire family (I have an uncle who is also an ex Naval Officer and commercial pilot) has been hard for me. When I was a kid, pilots were looked up to, not just by their passengers but, it seemed, by their employers who treated them well based on their safely carrying people to their destinations. But things have changed, for a variety of reasons, some obvious (September 11th,2001) some maybe not so obvious to the uninitiated (the Southwest fare wars, JetBlue's cheap seats and boutique airlines like them who are basically, re-doing the PSA model my Dad was hired into as a young man- talk about ironic).

It's been hard to watch my Dad, who is a proud man and a great father, get dumped on while the CEOs of this company (and many like it) gallivant off with the pensions of thier hard-working employees. That's right. These millionaires who've run the compnay into the ground still get paid, while the employees who make the place run get the shaft. All of it- a lifetime of work and the savings promised for that work? It's gone. It's almost comical at this point, except it's also sickening to realize my dad has no pension anymore. So when people whine that there's no food on long flights, it's hard for me not to want to punch them in the face and say "That's because you wanted a cheaper fare, asshole. Take your pick, my Dad and the men & women like him's 401Ks or those peanuts you'd have bitched about regardless? Now go shut up and watch a re-run of King of Queens half-wit."

My Dad retired early this past month. He flew his last commercial flight on September 30th, 2006. And I just wanted to take a second to say that he is one of my heros, and I am so proud of all he put up with to take care of my Mom, brother and I (and the stupid basset hound, but who's counting). That repsect and thanks goes out to all you other old school airline employees, men and women like my Dad- I appreciate you and the work you've put in in this trying time.

This one's for Captain J.T. Barber and his Charlotte based flight crew, too. I love you, Dad.

1 comment:

Lacey said...

Amen to all of this, cuz. Watching our dads get crapped on by the airline industry has been incredibly hard. And like you, I fucking want to punch people in the face when they start talking about the "poor service" or "lack of quality" in some of the major airlines. What the fuck do you expect?!?

Anyways, thanks for writing this.