Around the Pattern

Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Career Choices

I don’t normally rebut posts of others, but one of the statements I just read in a post didn’t sit right with me and I feel I have to provide another viewpoint. Sam, over at Blogging at FL250 posted about the current state of the airline business and how it might affect the pilots at the major airlines with all the cutbacks being announced and the possibility of more bankruptcies and almost certain layoffs. There are just so many ways I could go with this discussion.

This is one of the paragraphs from his post:

There likely wouldn’t be that many furloughs, displacements, and downgrades this time around except that the mandatory retirement age was just changed, from age 60 to age 65. Now there are far fewer retirements to absorb some of the capacity cuts. The irony, of course, is that those enjoying an extra five years at the top of the pay scale are those least likely to be impacted by capacity cuts. A guy on the top 5% of the list isn’t going to be displaced, much less downgraded or furloughed. I hope the guys staying past 60 enjoy their extra five years. Their newfound freedom to “fly ’till they die” is going to set back a lot of junior guys’ careers at least five years

I understand what Sam is going through, that he has just been upgraded to captain and is now looking at the possibility of being pushed back to copilot or even furloughed. And I understand his frustration with the way our airlines are being run. He’s not alone, but blaming the change in the mandatory retirement age is misplaced blame. Perhaps he should look back to the late 80s when the lawsuits over airline hiring practices violating the The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) were finally settled. That’s when all those over-40 people started getting hired who are now sitting in some of the left seats of the big jets. Or maybe when the airlines started hiring women pilots who are now taking seat options away from him, too. Or maybe its the new work rule changes showing up at the airlines that change the manning requirements for the various positions, such as augmenting long flights with 3 FOs and one CA instead of two of each, reducing the number of captains and stalling advancement .

Why would somebody who has been flying for an airline for 25 years want to continue to work for that airline past the age of 60? Pilots at three of the legacy carriers have lost their pensions and are now relying on the PBGC formula for receiving a percentage of their once-promised retirement (a formula, by the way, that is based upon working until age 65). Pilots at another legacy carrier had their retirement benefits frozen about 4 years ago at whatever they were entitled to receive effective that date. I have met only one pilot so far who meets that “upper 5%” criteria who is still flying, though I have been told there are about a half dozen others at my airline. They are hanging on to see if there will be a buy out that might get them a little closer to the pension they had been promised for so many years.

I’m one of those guys flying past the age of 60. Am I sitting in the top 5% of the seniority list? No, I’m in the top 50%. I was hired by this airline when I was 43 years old, not in my early/mid 20s like some. At about 16 years with the company I finally made captain on a narrow-body aircraft. That was the same month that the company announced 40% pay cuts and new work rules. I saw no increase in pay from the ‘promotion’, but was ‘allowed’ to work an extra 5 days a month to keep the income I had.

I had every intention of retiring at age 60 with a known retirement. The old defined benefit plans were based upon your average income while you were working for the company, an income that was supposed to increase each year as you gained seniority. Your benefit started out at 60% of the average, but that was for 25 years with the company. When I hit age 60 I would have had a little less than 17 years service. That meant I would have earned a ‘partial retirement’, 60% of the 60%. Then the benefits were frozen early at my 16-year point.

I’m flying past age 60 so I can make up at least a little of the security I have lost from mandatory pay and retirement cuts. The vast majority of pilots approaching retirement are looking forward to leaving this business. If the company would offer any kind of incentive to retire early, the line to sign up would be a long one.

Sam, there are a few rules you’re going to have to keep in mind if you’re going to continue with your airline career.

1. Don’t ever believe that in the eyes of your company management you are anything more than semi-skilled labor or that any of the benefits or career projections they have held in front of you will be there throughout your career.

2. Always have another source of income available to you because no matter how long you have been with the company, you could be out of work faster than you can imagine. Ask the guys who used to be at Pan Am, TWA, Frontier, etc.

3. There will always be a line of people behind you willing to do your job for 20% less than you’re getting because they think ‘paying their dues’ will lead them to their lifestyle goals.

Flying is great, it will always be part of my life, one way or another. To be paid for doing something that you love is the goal of any sane person. Yes, you can make a good living as an airline pilot, but it comes with a price. Instability is one of the prices. Get used to it, it’s not going away.

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2 Comments

  1. Tim

    There has been a lot of discussion on the part of those at the bottom of the food chain about how pilots between the ages of 60 and 65 are affecting the careers of those at the bottom of the seniority list.

    In any other industry those that have been with their company the longest have the greatest job security. Flying should not be any different. With pilots now at a parity with other industries with regard to eliminating age discrimination it shouldn’t be a surprise that those at the bottom of the seniority lists would try to cry foul.

    Yours is the first eloquent assessment of the issue of the age 65 rule that I’ve read. Thank you for taking the time to post your counter point to Sam’s emotional and simplistic complaint

    Kudos.

  2. "anonymous"

    Thanks for YOUR input to Sam’s “meward” diatribe and faulty reasoning . I came across his blog as I was researching the impact on some friends to be soon affect by the UAL cutbacks.

    Having been thru it all, and now hearing from some very junior pilots, that their current woes lie with the recent legislation that increased pilot retirement age/retention at the top…I just had to respond to Sam and the absurdity of his remarks as well.

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