In most industries, paying your dues is simply part of being a junior member of your profession. You put up with low pay, long hours and are forced to bend over for those who have been there longer than you. In aviation, paying your dues is serious business. Every guy who came before you had to suffer a little, and as a result you’re going to be suffering too.
While suffering may be blowing the whole situation out of proportion (depending on your definition of true suffering), it’s going to feel like suffering after your fifth day on the road and fifth flight for the day. I’m currently a reserve pilot, with very low seniority in my base of Chicago, meaning I generally work to fill in the gaps and pick up the scraps of flying that get left on the floor. Imagine the worst analogy you can about what is actually in a hot dog: the filling would resemble my schedule. Being on reserve means I don’t have a built “line” of flights I’ll be flying for the month, but rather days “on” and days “off.” I don’t know what I’ll be doing on my on days, but off days are mine (usually) to waste as I see fit.
Flights others didn’t want, or that come open at the last minute are what I get to ask for, and even then I’m not guaranteed to get those. One option while on reserve is to simply be available, either at the airport or within two hours of it, open and ready to fly should crew scheduling need you. The past two days I’ve had the pleasure of being on “ready reserve” at the airport itself, starting at 05:30 each morning, and ending at 13:30 each afternoon. A full eight hour day of lounging about O’Hare and eating Manchu Wok until my pants don’t fit. That is, unless my phone rings.
If you’re prepping to spend the day at the airport, be sure to bring things with you that you can fill the hours with. Daytime TV isn’t the greatest, so bring a book or a movie to take your mind off the ticking of the clock. Yesterday, I managed to keep myself occupied until it was time to work, and I typically spend my days at the airport in this fashion.
Right off the bat, at 530, after getting off the train and into the airport, I find a computer and sign in. This lets crew scheduling know that I’m there and ready to be used. It also starts the clock for my paycheck, thus why I never forget to do it. I then move on and grab some OJ and hit the crew room where I spend a little time updating my Jeppesen charts. It seems like the revisions never stop coming and we’re required to have our approach plates and enroute charts up to date every day. With the FAA cracking down on us recently I feel very motivated to stay on the ball.
By this point I’m bored as can be so I work my way down to the gym at the Hilton and try to get moving to wake myself up for the day. An hour of cardio and a little weight training later I’m a new man, and I head back up to grab a smoothie for a little post-workout boost. I meander around the United terminal for awhile, people watching and stretching my legs some more. I always try and take a few laps around the airport terminals when I’ve got time to kill- it helps keep my body in motion and my mind active.
Facing another four hours of airport appreciation time, I decide to find a corner to hang out in and work my way through a USA Today. This being the day after the election, there are plenty of articles to keep me busy. As I’m getting started on the crossword, my phone rings- it’s crew scheduling! With eager anticipation I accept the call and listen- they’re having me work a flight to Baltimore in an hour and a half, sit in Baltimore for four, then deadhead back to Chicago. If you’re doing the math here, you’ll realize that this means a long day. By the time I get on the flight back to Chicago from Baltimore, I’ll be at the twelve hour mark for the day, making this a nice fourteen hour day by the time I’m finally done. Ouch. Granted, I’ve been sitting on my hind end for the majority of it, but that doesn’t make it any more fun.
Fast forward past an uneventful and pleasant flight to BWI, I start thinking of how I could get home sooner tonight…
The only reason I’m staying in Baltimore for four hours is because my airline doesn’t have any return trips until then. United, on the other hand, has two more Chicago flights going out in that time. I start walking towards the United terminal and call crew scheduling to being hatching a plan.
Crew scheduling agrees to release me in Baltimore- meaning my work day is over and I’m no longer a pilot on the clock. I’m just a guy trying to get home, and it’s up to me to do it. United has good news- the next flight is wide open and they gladly list me as a jumpseater. Since they expect me to not have to actually ride the jumpseat in the cockpit because there are a plethora of open seats in the back of the plane, I beeline for the men’s room where I change out of my uniform and into something more appropriate for the bar.
This is where my day looks infinitely up- it’s time to grab a beer! Since I’m no longer on the clock, I can act like a civilian and enjoy some seasonal Sam Adams before catching a ride home. I decide that even though I’m low man on the totem pole, I’m absolutely happy to have the job I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for (almost) anything in the world.Posted in Pilot Interviews | 3 Comments