“Crew Scheduling giveth, and crew scheduling taketh away.” — FOM SP3100
Or something like that.
This last week, I found out that I was displaced from a trip for training, meaning that a new pilot was to be trained on my trip. Sweet! That gave me 10 consecutive days off WITH pay, and it’s a dream come true for someone who has flown their ass off all summer.
Except, until yesterday, they assigned a last minute trip to my schedule. It’s perfectly “legal” for them to do that. They can assign anything— anything!— to your schedule if it falls within the footprint of the original trip. Since my awarded pairing was a four day, almost anything goes.
I have attained decent seniority in Seattle, which is an increasingly senior base. I don’t get everything that I want, but I’m also not that picky— I like three and four day trips with report times after 9 a.m., because, as you know, I’m not a morning person. Fun overnights are a priority, then credit, and then specific days off. Other than that, it doesn’t matter to me. Weekends are a hot commodity, and I gave up on them; I’d rather have large chunks of time off in between work.
Up until 72 hours prior to the original trip, Crew Scheduling (we call them “Crew Support” at my company, but I don’t think they deserve that title anymore. #shade) has the ability to assign anything, as I said, and WOW did they give me something I hate: a standup. It’s where we are on duty all night, fly the last flight out and the first flight back to base, leaving me with maybe five hours on the ground. It completely messes with my sleep schedule. While I retain the credit from the originally awarded pairing, I absolutely abhor these kinds of trips.
I had plans. I had dreams. I had the world to see! At first, I planned to visit my cousin in Stockholm and then make my way down to Madrid; my old stomping grounds from study abroad were calling me. But then, unabashedly, a better offer came around— a friend invited me to go to Bali. Done! The logistics were in place, and I already have a bag packed in Seattle, waiting for me in the crew locker, wherein I could get off work and bolt for any number of departing jet planes.
But that isn’t the case anymore. With my tail tucked between my legs, bowing to the supreme authority of the Scheduling Gods, I’ll stay in Seattle and cover their flights.
I’ve been on property for two years, eight months, and 15 days. A short time compared to others, I know.
I chose this company, because of its reputation and longevity. And I stand by my decision. In the grand scheme of things, it’s the right place for me, right now. I live in base, love the flying, love the airplane, and love the crews— most of them, anyway.
But I realize, now, that I am a cog in the machine. A number. I drank some Koolaid when I first got here, and I believed that we’re a family— and that is true, in base. I’ve been saved so many times by my coworkers, made wonderful friends and memories on great work trips. I truly adore the people of the company— some of them.
At its core, however, this is a gritty operation that leaves no room for emotions. There is flying that needs to be covered, and pilots must fill that need. I don’t fault Crew Scheduling for giving me a trip— but I do fault the system, overall, for the lack of consideration of hard work.
Last month, I worked 95 block hours. That’s 95 hours of sitting in my seat with the door shut, brake off, and ready to go— but that doesn’t count waiting around for a plane to arrive, doing a preflight inspection, or being delayed for Air Traffic Control. I even went so far as to pick up extra flying that needed to be covered.
So, you could imagine how excited I was to have 10 days off, uninterrupted, with pay— a small perk for a grueling lifestyle. Here’s where you’ll play your What About Me card, throwing down how much YOU worked and how many hours YOU flew. Save it. I’m talking about me.
What I wish the flying public knew, what I wish even my coworkers at headquarters knew, is that this is not a standard job. I have no idea what it’s like to be a local in my own town. I don’t get to meet up with my friends every Tuesday and play kickball; I don’t get to plan a short weekend trip to the mountains or float the river. I don’t know my schedule until a week before the month starts. I don’t know when I’m waking up or when I’m going to sleep. Hell, I don’t even know where I’m going until I get there.
But it’s so easy! You just sit up there! Yeah. I do, and I’m always engaged. While I admit I’m not staring at the controls the entire time, I am always “on.” Scanning, listening, smelling even— so it’s not “just sitting.” Imagine how tired you are after one flight, and multiply that by 14 in four days, sometimes.
Looking to my foundations of yogic philosophy, I fell right into the trap of expectation. I expected them not to assign a trip, and I expected to be en route to paradise tonight. When you allot your energy toward a specific outcome, your suffering intensifies.
With great risk comes great reward, though. I’ve sat in First Class International seats for free. I’ve gone on whirlwind trips at a moment’s notice. I don’t downplay any of this, and I know how it must look from the outside looking in— and I am humbled by this perspective.
But I’m still going to whine about it. I’m a pilot, after all.