Monday, October 12, 2009

Pilots on Food Stamps

The route to becoming a pilot in Canada is slightly different than in the US. Because there is less of an isolated area in the US, low time pilots are exploited by regional airlines and paid exessively low amounts of money to fly relatively large (30-75 seat) aircraft. In Canada, the regional airlines do pay more than in the US, however, entry level and 'tier 3' type airlines still pay very low amounts of money.

On the one hand, the question is - well why should airlines pay any more than they need to? There are pilots that are willing to work for that pay. I worked as a substitute teacher when I lived up north, but that was only on days off, and even then, I could afford (just barely) to live comfortably as the cost of living was very low when I lived up north (i.e. I only paid about $250 a month in rent).

The problem is the perception that airline pilots are rich. Once you make it to Air Canada, everything will be solved. Getting low pay is just paying your dues. In Canada, the major airlines still offer a pretty good rate of pay and life style. In the states however, things are different, the major airlines have not been hiring and they've also been drastically cutting salaries. Honestly, if I lived in the US, I would not become a pilot.

From Michael Moore's blog:

Pilots on Food Stamps
By Michael Moore

We're on the descent from 20,000 feet in the air when the flight attendant leans over the elderly woman next to me and taps me on the shoulder.

"I'm listening to Lady Gaga," I say as I remove just one of the ear buds. I know not this Lady Gaga, but her performance last week on SNL was fascinating.

"The pilots would like to see you in the cockpit when we land," she says with a southern drawl.

"Did I do something wrong?"

"No. They have something to show you." (The last time an employee of an airline wanted to show me something it was her written reprimand for eating an in-flight meal without paying for it. "Yes," she said, "we have to pay for our own meals on board now.")

The plane landed and I stepped into the cockpit. "Read this," the first officer said. He handed me a letter from the airline to him. It was headlined "LETTER OF CONCERN." It seems this poor fellow had taken three sick days in the past year. The letter was a warning not to take another one -- or else.

"Great," I said. "Just what I want -- you coming to work sick, flying me up in the air and asking to borrow the barf bag from my seatback pocket."

He then showed me his pay stub. He took home $405 this week. My life was completely and totally in his hands for the past hour and he's paid less than the kid who delivers my pizza.

I told the guys that I have a whole section in my new movie about how pilots are treated (using pilots as only one example of how people's wages have been slashed and the middle class decimated). In the movie I interview a pilot for a major airline who made $17,000 last year. For four months he was eligible -- and received -- food stamps. Another pilot in the film has a second job as a dog walker.

"I have a second job!," the two pilots said in unison. One is a substitute teacher. The other works in a coffee shop. You know, maybe it's just me, but the two occupations whose workers shouldn't be humpin' a second job are brain surgeons and airline pilots. Call me crazy.

I told them about how Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger (the pilot who safely landed the jet in the Hudson River) had testified in Congress that no pilot he knows wants any of their children to become a pilot. Pilots, he said, are completely demoralized. He spoke of how his pay has been cut 40% and his own pension eliminated. Most of the TV news didn't cover his remarks and the congressmen quickly forgot them. They just wanted him to play the role of "HERO," but he was on a more important mission. He's in my movie.

"I hadn't heard anywhere that this stuff about the airlines is in this new movie," the pilot said.

"No, you wouldn't," I replied. "The press likes to talk about me, not the movie."

And it's true. I've been surprised (and slightly annoyed) that, with all that's been written and talked about "Capitalism: A Love Story," very little attention has been paid the mind-blowing stuff in the film: pilots on food stamps, companies secretly taking out life insurance policies on employees and hoping they die young so the company can collect, judges getting kickbacks from the private prison industry for sending innocent people (kids) to be locked up. The profit motive -- it's a killer.

Especially when your pilot started his day at 6am working at the local Starbucks.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bring Out Your Dead

“Is this turning into a dead blog?” writes the comment. (I'm reminded of the "Bring out your dead" Monty Pyhton Sketch from The Holy Grail - "I'm not dead" - "yes, you are!" - "No, I'm not, I'm getting better!")

The answer is complex. I would definitely not call it dead, but I will admit that it has been sitting silently on the backburner for quite some time. It hasn’t been out of laziness or lack of interest, but I will say there’s been a lack of inspiration on my part.

There are a number of pilot blogs on the internet that are of a very high quality. Some pilots have a great ability to write interesting, technical but personal blogs about their job and reflections on life that, because the spend much of their time perched thousands of feet above the earth by themselves with their thoughts, make for great blog entries. This solitude while experiencing the wonders of flight essentially cries out for a cathartic blog post to share the experience. It has been quite a while since I have been flying, and as a result, I haven’t had quite so many of these experiences.

It seems a little strange really: I have a book which outlines how to become a pilot and be successful in the industry, yet it’s now been quite a while since I’ve flown. So what’s the deal?

I think that on one hand, not flying and not working in the aviation industry makes for a challenge in trying to promote my book and add blog posts. I don’t have the ability to be inspired by an event that occurred while I was flying and I don’t get to meet as many people in the industry and talk flying (which would also spread the word about my book and give me ideas for a blog post or possible changes to the book in the future). On the other hand however, I think that it offers me a unique perspective on the industry and the career as a pilot – both pros and cons.

I’m currently articling to become a lawyer. I graduated law school in May, passed the Nova Scotia bar exam and now have to finish my 12 months of articling (like an apprenticeship) and then I’m a real lawyer (fancy robe and all!). It’s been interesting to compare the steps involved in becoming a pilot verses becoming a lawyer. There are standard norms in each profession and it’s interesting to see what one profession does as compared to the other. I’m also good friends with Anne Berndl, author of “So, You Want to be a Doctor, Eh?” so I get a pretty good idea of what’s required to become a doctor as well.

There are some things that are great about aviation:
-the fact that you have to work your way up;
-the fact that you need to take the initiative to get your own first job and those that are not able to do so will likely not stay in the industry (as opposed to getting a bunch of people who don’t like their job, but it was easier to just get a job then do something else);
-the fact that you use many different routes to train; and
-the fact that, while you don’t believe it at the time, the lower time jobs with their experiences and stories are things you will remember your whole life.

There are some things that I think should be improved:
-the fact that the entry level pay is so low;
-the fact that everyone excepts this because they want to get to bigger and ‘better’ aircraft, but that life isn’t as good as it used to be;
-the fact that there isn’t an official apprenticeship stage and that even after spend tens of thousands of dollars on a licence, you’re still just a dime a dozen 200 hour wonder.
-the fact that there’s a disconnect between the costs of the new super expensive University and College aviation programs and the actual skills and low pay of the first few years in the industry. It’s really hard to pay back $90,000 in student loans when you’re making less than $20,000 a year!

This blog isn’t dead. Keep checking from time to time and when I am feeling inspired, I will write.