The Ninth Circle of Hell

Every time someone asks me why, with all my flight time and qualifications, I haven’t gone on to an airline job, I just think about stories like this one. Keep in mind, Sam left behind a city he loved, picked up his whole life and moved across the country for this job. All I can say is, I would not have handled the day’s events as diplomatically as he did.

I’ve always said that life is too short to do something you hate all day long. No offense to those of you working in the trenches at a regional or major, because I have the utmost respect for the hard life you folks are leading, but a Part 121 flying job is just about the perfect definition of “something I’d hate”. I swear, if Dante Alighieri was alive today, the Inferno would be set at a domestic airline.

To add insult to injury, the everyday risks to one’s career at a Part 121 airline are not insignificant. Medical certification. FAA enforcement action. Bankruptcy and mergers are but two of the ways one’s seniority (and paycheck) can go from 60 to zero in a heartbeat through no fault of your own. Ugh. The airlines even have their own version of purgatory. It’s called “furlough” and can last what feels like an eternity.

Most of the former instructors I’ve met over the years look back on their teaching days as something they simply had to endure in order to get a “real” job in the aviation world. I am tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the repetition of working with one primary student after another. But the truth is, many of those folks were simply not any good as instructors. They got out of it what they put into it: not much. I feel bad for them, because they’re always looking toward the “next thing” to make them happy. When they’re at an airline, they’ll look toward that upgrade, or the next aircraft, never satisfied with where they are.

I don’t mean to suggest that Sam falls into this category. He seems to be taking the bumps and bruises with a lot more grace than I could ever hope to have in that position. But I have a hard time getting past the fact that, without exception, every single retired airline pilot I’ve ever met has given me the same piece of advice: stay away from the airlines. In what other field would one get such an overwhelming vote of no-confidence from the industry’s most successful veterans?

Come to think of it, I’m not sure why CFIs are so looked down upon. I probably made twice as much money as Sam did in 2007, and worked fewer hours flying more interesting aircraft to boot. The highest performance aerobatic airplanes in the world. Historical, fully restored open cockpit biplanes. The latest in composite glass-panel aircraft. Warbirds. Experimentals. Turbines. Formation flying. The list of aviation jobs out there is pretty long, and I’ve had the good fortune of working many of them. And I choose when and where I work, as well as who I fly with.

The allure of the airlines is a mystery to me. It’s like the ninth circle of hell, except in this version everybody is clamoring to get there.

3 comments

  1. When I was in high school and getting ready to apply to architecture schools the three practicing architects I spoke to told me not to do it.

    When I was getting out of school and starting to look at careers a bunch more told me to look into other fields (graphics design, advertising) if I could avoid architecture any way I should.

    No one told me that about programming, another thing I have looked into and brushed against on occasion. Architects are extremely frustrated artists.

    Oh, and about that ninth circle, personally, I was pretty happy to hear that the road to Hell was paved. I was sure it would be bumpy, potholes and all that.

  2. The airline life isn’t for everyone. Sometimes I wonder whether it really is for me after all. All the crappy things that go along with the good stuff really do take their toll on my ability to maintain a positive attitude sometimes.

    But at the same time, when that cockpit door shuts behind me, I’m pretty happy.

    Being able to do what makes you happy is what makes life fun. Being paid for it is a bonus.

    I’m glad you’re doing what you love to do, Ron!

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