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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Freight Nazis

I might have understated the difficulty of being out of work and not knowing if I would ever get another flying job.  I guess I try to forget bad times like that and I think most pilots have the "no sweat"  attitude of down playing the challenges they face.

I remember thinking about the impact all of this could have on my family.  Stress levels were as high as they could be and we had to work very hard to get on the same page.  I thought about the possible difference in my kid's future, if I didn't get back on the pilot track.  What would I do?  I was 44 years old and had never been good at anything else and never wanted to do anything else for the rest of my life.  I did not have a college degree and it felt way too late to start down that path.  

I had the responsibility of 3 other people.  If I had been single, I could have slept on someone's couch and taken a job as a flight instructor.  But, now I needed to achieve a level of income to support the four of us.  My confidence was seriously shaken.

As I said before, I was moping around with a dark cloud over my head for the 3 months of my unemployment.  When I went to the UPS interviews, I took advantage of my learned ability to compartmentalize challenging issues and focus on the problem at hand.  I knew I had to do my best and I felt good after all the interviews.  

Normally, getting a job flying airplanes for a financially solid company, like UPS, would be reason to celebrate, especially after having worked for three shaky, new entry airlines, all of which had collapsed into financial disaster.  UPS had very deep pockets.  If this employer went broke, I would know that I was the problem.

However, there were still lots of dark clouds following me around.  I would be taking a large pay cut at UPS, not just for the first year, but for many years to come.  When looking at the pay section of the contract with the pilot group, you could see that getting back to the income level I had enjoyed at Braniff, let alone Florida Express (remember, we had taken a pay cut when Braniff took over) was going to be a slow climb.  The best possibility was upgrading  but that was a giant unknown.  It depended on UPS's decisions to grow the airline.  I had certain financial responsibilities that could not be mitigated.  Selling the house had taken care of the biggest one, but we still needed a place to live.  Doreen and the kids could not fit on the couch with me.  We are forever grateful for Grandma Ann and the plan was for me to commute to Louisville, while the family stayed with her.

We supplemented my income by using credit cards and were unable to pay the total amount off each month, so we were accumulating high interest debt at very high rates.  At the end of my first year, we had more than $10,000 in credit card debt and I went to the two credit unions I had been doing business with.  One of them, the USAir Federal Credit Union, had been my checking account for almost 10 years.  I tried to borrow $10,000 from each credit union and they would not lend me the money, because my income was so low.

I rode to Louisville with Russ, a young Florida Express guy I had flown with many times, who was also in my new hire class.  He had been notified that he was hired before I was, but I was the oldest in our class, so I was the most senior member.  Russ never got over that and still whines about it, but we had fun on our drive.  

We were going to be flight engineers on the DC-8.  The 8, Douglasaurus or the Diesel, was an old plane, even at that time, but the ones we flew had been modified with newer technology engines to make them more powerful, quieter and more fuel efficient.  UPS loved them and so did all the pilots who had flown them before.  It is a relatively uncomplicated, strong and reliable jet, that can carry lots of stuff and go a long distance.

We started class with a company indoctrination.  UPS had been running its own flight operation for almost 2 years.  Prior to that, they had used several contractors to provide pilots to fly their planes, but the FAA wanted the owner to be the certificate holder.  UPS was learning about pilots and pilots were learning about UPS. Frequently, things did not go smoothly.  UPS was known as the Freight Nazis.  They had a reputation of being difficult to work for.  

I started hearing lots of stories about some of the stuff they had tried to pull.  For a new hire, on probation, this is not a good situation.  Personally, I had always tried to establish a policy of not forming an opinion about a person or company or any entity, based on the opinion of someone else.  I didn't want to show disrespect to the pilots who were telling me the stories, but I didn't want to put a chip on my shoulder toward this employer.  I needed this freaking job, bad as it was, and I also had bigger fish to fry at this time.  

Just for a few examples, UPS likes to promote from within and they were thinking about trying to make their truck drivers pilots capable of flying large jet airplanes all over the world.  They just did not have a clue.  When they broke the code on that one and had to actually hire pilots from the outside, they were not easily able to deal with the facts that these pilots, who actually had the experience to do that, were not going to be easy to push around.  These were people who had flown planes in combat, they were former colonels and generals.  They were people like me, who had other military experience and had been airline captains for years.  We knew the regulations and UPS hated when we put a wrench in their wheels with the regs.  

UPS gave a class in their indoctrination that stopped just short of calling all of us thieves.  One of the stories from those who had preceded me there was that they actually did call them thieves in the earlier classes.  I always said, "I hear what you are saying and respect that, but I have to give them at least one chance to hose me before I get pissed off at them." 

Another thing about UPS, was that they were accustomed to having long term employees.  Most people suffered through the abuse, especially in management positions, because they had a great retirement plan.  They paid less for comparable positions, but the managers were given and could purchase large blocks of company stock, to be sold at retirement for big money.  The stock at that time was private, so the company manipulated it to keep the reward at the end as high as possible.  When they started reviewing the resumes of pilots who were actually available to come to work for them, they were seeing resumes like mine, with 6 employers in 16 years.  In their way of seeing things, this was an indication of a bad employee, who could not hold a job.  If you have been reading this from the beginning, you know the situation.  Airline deregulation, company bankruptcies and many other issues had caused many of us to be "bounce arounds".  Prior to deregulation, getting hired by one of the legacy airlines was like dying and going to heaven.  Afterwards, you did not know if you had made the right choice in airlines until retirement and in some cases, not even then.

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