I was hurrying to my gate this morning after just barely missing my first shuttle by a minute. Seeing as how I had to wait 15 minutes for the next one, I was late. On my walk through the terminal, my sim partner for next week saw me and hurried up to meet me. We talked a bit about the sim, about me being late, and then he asked...
"Have you heard"?
"Pinnacle filed for bankruptcy."
Ugh. I hadn't heard anything. Seeing as how I was in New York for fun over the weekend, I hadn't heard anything, hadn't watched TV in over a week, and had no idea about anything aviation. But stinkin' Pinnacle is the latest to join the ranks.
Well, five legs later, I find myself in a hotel room, so I decide to read up on the news. Sure enough, Pinnacle has declared bankruptcy...but what is more, they are actually going to be CUTTING FLIGHTS. That's huge. The Colgan side is done by the end of the year. That means our very own will be on the streets. Many American businesses declare bankruptcy but operate as normal. Pinnacle will actually take away airplanes over the course of the next nine months. It's so frustrating.
Because this is where it gets personal...
My first phone call for an airline interview was from Mr. Chuck Colgan himself. I've talked to the guy personally on a couple of occasions. I've sent him personal emails. After talking the first time, he told me to build up my hours some more. I never knew what a blessing that would be a couple years down the road.
I applied again about a year later after building more time. This time they wanted to interview me! But so did three more regionals (I couldn't get a job for years and then everyone wanted to interview me!). And wouldn't you know it, the only time they could interview me wouldn't work out for me (with another interview I had scheduled). But I tried to make it work! I literally tried to set up two airline interviews in one day, one being with Colgan!!! But it wouldn't work. So I only interviewed at one of the four places and took the job.
But Colgan wanted to interview/hire? me. This is how close it came to me hearing this news.
It gets even more personal. They hired one of my friends. A guy I trained with in Kansas. A guy I lived with. A guy I've chased thunderstorms with, played pool with, studied with, flown with, laughed with. He flew the Saab for Colgan, then transferred over to the Dash 8. He's been there two years now...we just talked a few weeks ago about how he is making good money...livable wages finally.
Just a few weeks ago!!!
He went to the airlines a year before me, and he will be spit out a year after I joined. It's so frustrating. I texted him tonight after I found out, and he's taking it pretty hard.
It's a very large possibility that he may be put on the street. He just doesn't know yet...and probably won't for some time...but it's not lookin' good.
It gets even more personal.
Pinnacle is getting rid of their entire turbo-prop fleet...the very types of planes that I fly! The Saab's are being parked! The Dash's are being parked! The most fuel-sipping airplanes are being closed up...for good. How is this possible? We have once again reached 2008 passenger levels (finally), and airlines finally showed a profit! But we've also reached pre-recession gas prices again...back above $100/barrel. It's 2008 at the airlines all over again.
Have we learned anything?!
The CEO of Pinnacle takes a huge bonus and less than a month later his company files bankruptcy. I don't get it.
What a nasty, nasty industry.
Men and women with more experience than me are most likely going to be hitting the street in the near future. Men and women with tens of thousands of dollars invested in flight training and making less than many high school only grads will now be with no job. The very airplanes they fly are being put to sleep, sent back to the creditors, and who knows where they will land.
For those that stay in the industry, they are forced to move elsewhere...to the bottom of a pilot pile somewhere. On someone else's seniority list. No matter that you have been working hard for two years and building up seniority. You're done. Go work for someone else, and start fresh. On the bottom. On reserve. Making first-year wages. Ugh. (To put it into perspective, a Colgan/Pinnacle pilot if laid off would go from making $35,000/year and having a decent lifestyle to being on call and making $22,000/year). It's just not pretty.
Many will walk away and never look back. Sometimes we envy them. They've been looking for an out from this industry for months now, and this just made it easy. It's hard to walk away when things are decent. It's beyond easy when a furlough is around the corner.
The airlines suck. There's no other way around it. It's nasty, nasty business. An article today reported that 43 airlines have declared bankruptcy since September 11, 2001. And what is more, with Pinnacle AND American/AMR/American Eagle in bankruptcy, too, that means that 25% of our regional airlines are in bankruptcy. Unbelievable. 1 out of 4!
Tonight I'm happy to be where I'm at. I'm happy to have flown five legs today. I'm happy that I have a job. An airline job.
I'm sad, though, because these are my people. Because I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that that could have been me. I am one of them. And it sucks to hear about the bad news happening to our own people.
It just hits home. I have one friend flying for American Eagle...wondering about his future. Another flying for Colgan, knowing that his airplane will no longer be flying in December. It's heart-breaking. It's demoralizing for both of them. And it's scary for all of us. No one is ever safe.
Yeah, in the most humble of ways possible, these five legs today were beautiful. It's an honor to fly, and I must not take it lightly. Tonight I'm even more thankful to fly, even if I realize that everyone else around me makes more money than I do. I'm still an airline pilot, and I'm still employed.
And tonight that is seen in an even different light.