The Pilot Experience
There is a demand amongst airline management teams that is getting a fresh look and its called the Pilot Experience. And to be honest, its not just for airline pilots either, it extends into flight attendants, regional airline crews and even down to flight instructors, charter pilots and the like.
Yes there is a pilot shortage, but what about when there is not?
Everyone knows there is a current pilot shortage (as of this writing 2023). But real focus is now on retaining pilots and crews so that airlines do not have to absorb the large costs of training. Early in aviation, training was viewed as a fixed cost, now it is under more scrutiny as ever since the price of fuel is so high.
So how does one do that? The answer may very well lie And looking at crew recruitment practices. From time to time airline hiring fluctuates which is totally normal, we call that a cyclical environment. When a healthy economy dictates increased demand, the airline industry hires and expands. When the economy is in the toilet things go in the opposite direction. However a few select airlines have taken a hard look at a longer term approach at retaining pilots and flight attendants, that's a fancy way of saying let's create a destination airline. That means an airline that will attract crew members to apply and stay for the remainder of their careers. This does many things.
So what brought on this new approach? One of the factors that management noticed (and I would say finally) Is that pilot new hire classes would start out with a set amount of pilots attending and then somewhere in the course of time before they graduate those same pilots bail out to go to another airline.
Here's the best part, someone finally asked why. Why is a powerful question and it rarely gets asked. The reason why can be part of the fire hose mentality of running an airline. Daily there are many fires that need to be put out and management finds itself a bit ragged in trying to do so. Not to mention the fact that most airline management executives don't work at the airport so they can be out of touch with their target demographic. So when they started asking why, interesting answers became available.
The "why" of pilots leaving before class is over
It was assumed over the course of time that pilots went to other airlines because of the equipment that other airlines flew was more desirable to that particular pilot. And that is not necessarily the case nowadays. If you ask a set of senior line holding pilots what is most important to them, you may be surprised to find out that quality of life is a big concern. How big the airplane is tends to run at the bottom of the list.
This is not going to apply to every pilot however it is a significant response. So what do you do with this information? First of all you have to address whether your airline is “destination" And by that we mean is this somewhere that a potential candidate can check all the boxes of their pay rates, base assignments, trip segments, and management styles.
What we have found is thanks to the union, pay rates are very competitive and also very similar across the board at most major airlines for the most part. A huge factor lies in where the pilot is based. We have yet to run into anyone that enjoys the life of commuting to work. So oftentimes, a pilot will choose an airline by how close the base is to where he or she actually lives.
This is one factor that was overlooked because base assignments were based on traffic and the cost of starting new crew bases. For example, if a new crew base costs about $2 million to start up, the old way of looking at that was purely fiscal. Now that $2 million can look pretty inexpensive when you have 400 to 500 pilots leaving during initial training each year to go to the bigger and better deal for them. Or even more when you look at the number of pilots that did not consider an airline solely on the crew base to choose from. So how does that lead to the new pilot experience? Let's take a step backwards.
The welcome period
Generally when a pilot gets hired and starts their indoctrination class the first week is pretty exciting, especially the first day. There's lots of hoohah about being part of a new crew experience and how wonderful it is to be at such and such airline. This quickly wears off into day two and three when it's time to get to work to learn the exorbitant amount of material that is required for new hires. It can be overwhelming at times. During this work focus time a lot of airlines simply abandon the shiny new prospect as a valuable addition to the airline and they become “just another”
Employee appreciation goes deeper
This actually is a very good wake up call for HR departments to realize. There are some airlines that are taking this a step forward and creating what we call the pilot experience. Basically this means an increased level of appreciation for someone new joining your team. This involves thought and process. It has to be more than one day of coffee and cupcakes when a new hire is received into the ranks of employment.
A Good example
Below is a few examples of the extra steps that some airlines are taking to make sure that pilots are feeling the love and appreciation, and more importantly A vital part of the team. A new higher gift is a good example. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be well thought out. One company gives out what they call a new hire gift which is usually a framed aircraft photo with their name and aircraft assignment, plus some sort of company promotional gift like a cup that is personalized or shirts, jackets, bags, luggage tags and or plaques.
When you personalize something it makes a huge difference. Subconsciously we all love seeing our name added to something special, it triggers an emotional response. It creates the first level of loyalty. And it also creates a series of gratitude in some people. And that is an excellent starting point for getting people to stay. And when people stay, costs go down.
The new normal
So now airlines are looking at expanding their crew base offerings and combining an increased awareness to making new hire pilots, flight attendants, and operational crews feel like they are a vital part of the airline family.
"Family is a tough word to sell when it comes to the airline business".
It is a brutal industrial sector that has been known to eat its young at any particular point in time in regards to volatility. Competition is now starting to gear up in this regard and has become aware of what it takes to attract and retain talent, no matter what the role.
You will see more and more airlines increase their crew bases and increase their hospitality factor in regards to appreciating their employees. This is the new normal. The new normal is a real approach to culture.
Culture has been a catch phrase and basically one of those terms that sounds good on paper and looks fantastic in the media but is rarely practiced. With today's new focus and all types of culture this has become particularly important.
There are a few of you that are probably reading this and saying hey this was an interesting article but it really is just a sales pitch because your company just so happens to provide all of these things.
And to be honest with you that is not far from the truth since we do make a growing number of these items that are purchased by airline programs. Having been in the business for over 40 years gives us a unique look at how this evolved over a long time span.
However what you won't hear is the feedback that we get from recipients of these types of items. It makes a difference when you see a video of a new hire welcome speech, it makes a difference when you see a brand new set of captain upgrades proudly displaying a plaque with their name on it that they have just “earned” by their seniority and hard work.
It makes a difference to know that when a flight department purchases an item, it becomes a cost that the airline can write off, and that makes it much more of a desirable effort to kickstart.
Yes we do manufacture these items however the very best part of being a provider is knowing that we added value in a system that generally lacked and increased awareness of employee value. How do we know that? We know that because when we make a retirement plaque for a pilot that spent 35 years in an airline, and they call us to give us feedback, that's a telling sign. People don't call companies to tell them how much they love something. People don't leave glowing feedback for something that had minimal impact on what they spent their life doing. That's the best part of this whole deal it's making a difference.
If you are in charge of an airline experience program and want to learn more please feel free to reach out to us and ask us about our wholesale program that is designed by pilots and flight attendants for airline crews. We can custom create the exact item that will help you with the experience or culture you want to create at your airline. Help us help you in changing the airline industry.