I think if you were to ask a group of pilots ranging from private pilots to airline pilots if they love aviation, most would say yes. In fact I would say that the word passion might even be a better word. Most professional pilots have devoted their lives to it. They have spent a considerable amount of money on their education and have most likely moved all around the country trying to build their experience levels. When asked how to describe it, the answers may vary. Some love the thrill of takeoff, some the challenges of landing in all sorts of conditions. Some love the uniform and the public view of their job. Some love to hone their skills and learn new things. Others collect type ratings, each one an accomplishment of hard work. Others love the way airplanes look, the way, the way they sound, the way they feel, and even the way they smell. Some love the new technology and some love the old work horses that never seem to change. I have caught myself many a times taking off early in the morning and watching the sun rise as saying I love this time of day while working. Also the success you feel when working as a team in solving weather problems and getting to your destination is another definition of love.
Some pilots love the title of their job which gives them credibility in the eyes of others. There is an age old joke about how do you know if a person is a pilot, and the punch line is that they will tell you. Most of time this is told by someone who is not a pilot and does not really understand that pilots like to talk about being pilots because it lends credibility to them. It says, hey I am not some bozo, I have actually done something hard and accomplished something. But most don’t see it that way and would rather make fun of it, which they love to do. But that is not the point of this article. Because love also extends to the cabin crews, (flight attendants), mechanics, dispatchers, line crews, baggage handlers and customer service agents. They are proud of aviation, they love to be around it. So you may be wondering why I have said all that. I have noticed in my 40 plus years of flying that a lot of pilots and crew members automatically think that passion or love transfers to other parts of company management.
The real litmus test comes when there is a crisis of some sort such as a war, a pandemic or some kind of shortage. Most pilots do not understand that airline management teams manage a company. So when it comes time to trim the work force, park planes, eliminate routes and cut “unnecessary” or non critical positions they do so. I hear it over and over again almost to the point of humor. Pilots assume that upper managers love aviation in the same love language that they do. The short answer is they don’t. They will sugar coat it with endless emails about how their employees are the life blood of the company and how they care for them blah blah blah. But that is part of the management formula for operating companies that cater to human interaction with their customers from various work groups. If you do not tell people that they matter, they will begin to wonder and eventually contemplate if they are employed at the right company. “Love” is different for them or any large corporation, its about money, time and keeping the revenue stream going.
Right now during this pandemic, pilots are getting furloughed at record numbers. If the general public does not get back to feeling comfortable flying around the country, it will get worse and more pilots and crew members will be furloughed. Most pilots take this personally and get angry. Immediately it starts to play with that credibility factor that I mentioned earlier. You as a pilot or a crew member are part of the system, and if you really look at it with your eyes wide open, crew members are line 14 in the budget. We are labor and its just a number when you are talking business. It does not matter how much you love your job or how you think you are entitled to your job, you are a number. Until you put that coat of knowledge on, you will be miserable with the temperature of the industry. Do we have to like it? Nope, it sucks to be honest. But we have to stop measuring our love of aviation and comparing it to those who run companies.
I have seen many unions get all excited over the same thing, stressing that the company owes us this wage or this set of working conditions. They don’t, they simply extend an offer and a set of guidelines in the form of a contract and you either agree or you move on to a different carrier. But somehow we make it an example of the oppressed verses the oppressors which is something that most unions are experts at. To new pilots that are coming into the industry I would say knowing and understanding this is crucial to your mental health as you continue in your career. Most unions will stress for you to write your congressman, lobby congress, protest and strike at major events and let your voice be heard. The fact is (in my opinion) its a waste of time. Congress can only do so much, and eventually they have to let the basics of economics kick in and let companies figure out how to survive like any other business on the planet. It’s not about love so do not let anyone tell you it is, its about money. I have thought long and hard about this, it’s not something I take lightly, but I also think its important to say that I myself have been furloughed twice in my career to the tune of 8 years. Let me emphasize that again, 8 years! I probably been furloughed longer than anyone and have wrestled with this concept for a long time. I have heard every excuse or explanation in the world but the plain and simple truth is, there is no love.
So please do not be depressed or send me hate email or silly comments, this is not indicative to the airline industry alone, it extends to probably every industry out there. Every business has a preservation mindset, and we naturally think that we are a huge part of that mindset because of our passion for aviation. We as pilots and crew members think that our passion is unique because its our own. We have carved out our own journey’s, learned our own life lessons and created our own futures. Keep that mind set but think smarter. Embrace this paradigm shift, you love aviation but aviation does not necessarily love you.
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