Archive for covid-19

“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Pilots.”

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline pilot blog, airport, aviation, crewlife, pilot with tags , , , , , on June 18, 2020 by Chris Manno

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I doubt Willie and Waylon couldn’t pass an FAA administered flight crew drug test, and their “mamas” knew that, the song notwithstanding. But what about the rest of us?

Sure, airline pilots realize the challenges and constraints put on them by the profession, including constant flight evaluations, performance monitoring (any other profession data-stream and archive performance for analysis and critique?), invasion of privacy (any other professions require annual disclosure of  physicals, mental health, arrests and convictions?) and recurring random drug and alcohol testing.

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Enter Covid-19. which dwarfs the above career threats we’ve all accepted, endured and tolerated up until now.

Rewind just six months in the U.S airline industry and the picture was much different: the mid-1980s hires, pilots who are now nearing mandatory retirement (another unique airline pilot reality) which would create a massive pilot shortage across the airline industry. “If you get hired today,” the siren song went, “You’ll be a captain in five years.” Massive seniority catapult, the retirements were supposed to be.

Pilots at regionals felt they could be picky about which major airline they hire on with: I have a friend who flew for Comair for over ten years, waiting and adamant about only working for Delta Airlines eventually. After three years at Delta–when he could have gone to several other carriers years earlier–he’s now on the street for at least three years.

Another friend at Emirates reports their pandemic-mandated pilot cuts weren’t done strictly by seniority–rather, management took the opportunity to boot dozens of pilots with attendance records and other personnel issues the airline didn’t want to deal with ever again. Not furloughed–terminated.

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And many snooty pilots shunned the quiet financial dynamos like Spirit, Frontier and JetBlue, holding out for a marquee carrier like United, Delta and American, only to witness their peers who DID hire on with these powerful Low Cost Carriers upgrade to captain and enjoy a job security despite the pilot cuts (some are still hiring pilots) even as the “snooty pilots” are furloughed by their own carriers, with recall nowhere in sight.

No matter who they are or where they came from–the military, regionals, corporate, cargo or general aviation–all airline pilots have taken a beating, weathered harsh early flying jobs, invested unimaginable sweat equity, personal sacrifice, and expense, just to call an airline cockpit home. Now this.

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Me and my USAF pilot buds.

Ex-military pilots who maintained an ANG or AFRES connection may be able to get back onto active military service once again, but even that’s with drastically reduced pay and much more demanding flying in terms of time away from home and family, much less the risk involved in military versus civilian flying. Other may be able to make their “side hustle”–if they have one, into a financial lifeboat for the near term.

Yes, pilots laughed at me when I fought my way through 65 on-campus graduate hours to earn a PhD as they enjoyed their boat/motorcycle/airplane/toys, but I’ve been teaching at a university for the past 17 years and just upped my class schedule, mostly for the additional income.

I know several pilots who struggled through law school while flying fulltime and at least now have gainful employment despite the dried-up aviation opportunities. Others have real estate licenses, teaching credentials and I even know one first officer who’s on track with a management training program at a major box store chain. Not what we expected, but smart because it pays the bills.

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But it all comes down to this: if you want to be an airline pilot, beyond the many unreasonable demands of the industry and the government agencies that oversee the licenses required to hold the flight privileges, the fundamentals of personal and financial disaster lurk just below the thin veneer of airline pilot reality: flying is a great career–until the career vanishes.

I’m rooting for the pilots still clinging to their seniority lists despite reduced flight hours and the defacto pay cut that produces. I’m hopeful for the smart pilots who had the foresight to hire on with the Low Cost Carriers who are poised to dominate the airline biz in the post-pandemic years ahead. And I’m empathetic to those pilots who were simply victims of a very capricious airline industry, despite the rosy predictions of only a few months ago.

For everyone else: “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be pilots.”

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Covid-19 and Air Travel

Posted in air travel, airport, aviation, travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2020 by Chris Manno

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First, know this: your crew doesn’t want to share the contagion any more than you do. And second, the FAA is doing as little as possible to ensure your safe, contagion-free flight. And finally, much of the solution will require a level of passenger compliance that has largely disappeared from today’s flying public. Let me explain.

Congregating is the essence of air travel: boarding, seating, in flight and deplaning are all mass motions by multiple humans, including passengers, staff, and crew. Aircraft manufacturers have crammed as many seats into passenger aircraft as possible and airline schedules demand minimum turnaround time between flights. Simply put, flying is a time-sensitive crowd activity and your crew is part of the crowd. We want to use the best and most protective protocols and procedures, but that depends on both regulation and enforcement: we as crew want to be protected, and to protect you.

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Which brings me to my second point: the FAA is deliberately dodging their responsibility to mandate and enforce best practices pandemic mitigation in air travel. The first very lame dodge from the FAA was that they are “not a medical or health organization.” And yet, the FAA mandates medical exams, analysis and waivers for every commercial pilot flying an airliner. The sidestep when confronted with passenger and crew health in the FAA jurisdiction of air travel is a leadership failure at the highest level of the FAA.

And the final point: passengers. Passenger compliance with air crew directives is at an all-time low in the thirty-four years I’ve been an airline pilot. People simply will not be told what to do regardless of regulations designed to protect everyone aboard. What are the chances that passengers will followed new and rigid spacing requirements during boarding and deplaning? And what would be the point anyway, given that after boarding, passengers will sit literally shoulder to shoulder with other passengers anyway?

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And for those passengers already demanding the airlines deliberately limit capacity, flying with empty seats: are you ready to pay the higher fare resulting from limited tickets sold on your flight?

Clearly, the answer is threefold, but only two of the critical actions fall on passengers and crew. The first two items are compliance and patience: passengers and crew must adhere to spacing and protective gear requirements, masks must be worn (and, at some airlines regarding crews, masks and gloves must be permitted for crews) by passengers and crew. Compliance cannot be optional, and crew authority must be the final word. No exceptions, no excuses.

But regardless of this very real pandemic threat, the final piece of the puzzle, regulation and enforcement, is presently lost in the bureaucratic and leadership failure of the FAA. So, when it comes to pandemic safety, there’ll be neither FAA regulation nor enforcement, so rest easy.

But when it comes to the spread of the pandemic through air travel, while the FAA remains asleep at the wheel, buyer beware.

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