“I Don’t Work for You!”: A True Story

I had lunch with a fellow pilot recently, an old friend from a previous job who, like me, is now flying for a California-based charter company. The difference between us is that he’s flying scheduled 135 service, which is relatively rare. Most Part 135 companies fly “on-demand”, while 121 airlines typically operate on a fixed schedule. It’s a pretty sweet gig, actually. He’s able to be home almost every night.

Anyway, my friend — let’s call him William — recently returned to his old company after a short stint at United Airlines. To say he didn’t care for UAL would be an understatement. William related the story of his time there and how he ended up rejecting what many see as the Holy Grail of aviation: a flying job at a major airline.

Let me start off by saying that William is an excellent pilot and human being. He’s experienced and conscientious, friendly and fun, yet mature and forthright. He’s flown abroad, lived on other continents for extended periods, been a CEO, and is an older pilot — not your typical 28 year old moving over from a regional airline. I’m not sure he’d ever upgrade to the left seat at a major simply due to the forced retirement at age 65. Then again, I don’t think upgrading is his goal. William’s just a guy who loves to fly.

So, the story. United called out of the blue one day based on an application William had filed with the company in the distant past. They asked him to come in for an interview. He was subsequently offered employment and assigned to the 737. Partway through training, William called me, wondering if he’d made a mistake going to United. He said training on the 737 consisted almost entirely of computer-based material, many of the instructors were surly ex-Continental pilots, and William had discovered that the Seven Three training program had a notoriously bad reputation within the company.

Worse yet, hand-flying the aircraft at all was heavily discouraged. The autopilot was expected to be turned on at the first legal opportunity and left on until the published limitations called for it to be disengaged. “Yeah, that sounds like airline flying,” I said.

William asked for my thoughts, and all I could say was that if he was happier flying for his former employer, not to let the fact that United Airlines was a “major airline” stand in the way of doing what he thought was best. At the end of the day, life’s too short to be doing something you hate. UAL is probably not interested in employing a pilot who doesn’t want to be there anyway.

Or so I thought. It turns out United is kind of like the mafia: nobody leaves.

Oh, William did resign, and the airline accepted his resignation. He took the time to write a long letter to the chief pilot explaining his reasoning. The hope was that the airline might benefit from his experience in some way, or at least understand his perspective.

A sample flight crew ID badge
A sample flight crew ID badge

A couple of months goes by, and William hears nothing from the airline. Meanwhile, he’s back with his previous employer and had pretty much forgotten about United…. until the phone rings one day. It’s United Airlines crew scheduling. They’re calling to assign him a trip. William patiently explains that as much as he’d like to accept, he no longer works for UAL. Oh, and he’s still got his uniform, company ID, CASS badge, iPad, manuals, and other material. Crew scheduling doesn’t sound surprised by this, and says someone will get in touch with him.

Of course, nobody does. Now if you’re not familiar with an airline ID badge, it’s more than just a rectangular piece of plastic with your photo on it. Crew ID badges will get you past airport security. And the CASS badge will actually get you into the cockpit of just about any airliner so you can ride on the jumpseat. Do you think this might be a security problem? Sure, William quit; but what if he had been fired and held a grudge against his former employer?

But wait — it gets better. A few weeks later, William gets another phone call from United Airlines crew scheduling. They’re assigning him another trip. He once again explains that he stopped working for UAL months prior, and reminds them once again that he’s still in possession of important credentials that a non-employee probably shouldn’t have. They don’t seen concerned.

A couple of days thereafter, he receives a phone call from the chief pilot’s office at United. “Finally”, he thinks, “they’ve sorted all this out.” Nope. The chief pilot is demanding to know why he hasn’t been accepting trips. Sigh. “Because I. Don’t. Work. For. You.” That seems pretty cut and dried to me, but to this day United Airlines is still under the impression that William is one of their active 737 pilots. In fact, he’s still getting company-related emails and phone calls.

Can you imagine the field day Frank Abagnale, Jr would have had with United Airlines?
Can you imagine the field day Frank Abagnale, Jr would have had with United Airlines?

You can’t make this stuff up. It’s like a 21st century version of Catch Me If You Can. Over lunch, William joked that he was half-tempted to accept the trip, put on the uniform, and see if he could B.S. his way through a 737 flight in the right seat. Before you know it, he’d probably be working at a hospital or prosecuting cases as a district attorney. He’d definitely have to start printing his own money.

Eh, too much work.

In all seriousness, though, my lunch with William was eye-opening. He’s told the story to other pilots who fly for UAL and they’ve been as amazed as I was. It seems that entities like United Airlines are really two companies in one: there’s the airline a well-established pilot with good seniority experiences, and there’s the one a new hire pilot like William has to deal with.

I understand how the economics of the airline industry dictate that only a bare minimum be spent on pilot training, but isn’t this getting a little ridiculous? When a company doesn’t even know who works for them — even after being repeatedly told — you’ve got to wonder what else is falling between the cracks.

  78 comments for ““I Don’t Work for You!”: A True Story

  1. john dill
    December 9, 2015 at 2:32 am

    Ron, check the names you used for the friend in the story. I think you slipped up and used his real name once.

    • john dill
      December 9, 2015 at 2:38 am

      Never mind, you fixed it.

      • December 9, 2015 at 6:24 am

        Even the slip-up wasn’t the person’s real name. But good catch!

  2. December 9, 2015 at 3:37 am

    That is a bit scary considering the access that he had…has? The more I read about airline jobs the more I am convinced I would never want one. I think I would be happiest with a small plane giving instruction, or maybe doing flights to backcountry fishing cabins or something. Flying should be fun and I don’t talk to many airline guys that think it is, Capn Aux being the exception.

    • December 9, 2015 at 6:29 am

      Aux loves his job, that’s for sure! And I know a lot of other airline pilots do as well. It’s not my cup of tea, but there are plenty of people for whom it’s still the ultimate flying job.

    • Marty Noonan
      December 14, 2015 at 2:11 am

      I learned to fly in the USAF, flew in Vietnam then all over the world in the C-141A. I flew for Continental Airlines for almost 30 years, taught in the B727, DC10, and B757 simulators. I was a Line Check Captain for the last 12 years of my career on the B777. I enjoyed almost everyday of it. Your friend should have stuck out the training and flew the line. When you fly the airplane, YOU make the choice when to turn on and off the autopilot. Weather, traffic and workload dictated autopilot early use. CAVOK day with little traffic, I hand flew the departure or arrival as I saw fit. You make the career, the Career does not make you. Aviation is best when it is enjoyed, flown safely and efficiently! Sure UA is a big Corporate Entity but once the boarding door closed and we departed the gate, it is our airplane! Enjoy it! Just Saying!

    • Dave Vancina
      December 17, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      I fly commercial very regularly for my job, and often get (make, actually!) the opportunity to chat with the pilots after we land. They generally seem like a pretty enthusiastic lot to me.

  3. December 9, 2015 at 4:20 am

    I almost expected the punch line from this to be a line from Hotel California, the one about you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave… The sad thing is that this tale, unlike the song, is obviously not fiction.

    Fly safe.

    • December 9, 2015 at 6:31 am

      D’oh! That would have been perfect. Can’t believe I didn’t think of it!

  4. Anson
    December 9, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Funny but in 1987, when I worked for United and found my self heavily discouraged by inefficiency and I left after 18 months. My hiring was a quick process, taking just about 1 week. However I recieved a letter in the mail about 2 MONTHS LATER offering me a job with United. And when I notified my supervisor of my intent to leave, he said to me “No one ever leaves United!” I went corporate thank God.

    • December 9, 2015 at 11:19 am

      Automated, “bulk” processes are like that. Another friend of mine had that experience recently with NetJets. She applied, and was subsequently scheduled for an interview. She received a letter thanking her for taking the time to interview and telling her they would not be hiring her. The funny part is that the letter arrived the day BEFORE her interview!

      It’s not just airlines. I’ve had a Marriott Rewards Visa credit card for about five years. For about the past four years, I’ve been receiving large, beautifully crafted, heavy-weight black envelopes in the mail on a weekly basis, encouraging me to sign up for a Marriott Rewards Visa card. I called them a couple of times to say that I already had their card and that they could save a lot of money by taking me off that particular mailing list, but nothing ever came of it.

      The Federal government works the same way. You’re just a number to them. With 351 million people in this country, it HAS to be that way, sadly.

    • Andrew
      December 10, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      I interviewed with United in 1989 with a lot of jet time and International experience. I was rejected and was told that I would get a call later. A few months later they called me back, but I told them they missed thier chance. Best decision I ever made.

  5. Jenn_Niffer
    December 9, 2015 at 8:44 am

    As you can imagine, badging and security is a big issue for airports. There are strict rules in place about what to do when employees leave or when badges are lost/stolen. The airport also gets audited periodically and has to account for all the active badges in the system (their own employees as well as all the tenants). I have to imagine the airlines go through the same thing. I realize nothing is 100% foolproof, but to make no effort to retrieve credentials from an employee who resigned seems especially ridiculous to me! Great post Ron!

    • December 9, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Yes, airports — especially those with scheduled airline service — tend to be rather strict about that. I have a SIDA badge for my home field, John Wayne Airport. About three years ago, I wrote a post (“TSA Follies”) about the airport administration invalidating every single badge they had issued and requiring everyone to get new ones. If you read the post, I think you’ll find the rules are similar if not downright identical for your airport.

  6. Alan
    December 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Understaffing is going to be the name of the game for many years to come at most of the airlines. Crew skeds is under a lot of pressure to staff the flights, although I have not heard of it getting this crazy. It would be so nice if your buddy continued to recieve a paycheck from United….

    • December 9, 2015 at 11:41 am

      That was one of my first questions: “are the direct deposits still happening?” But naturally the paychecks stopped right on time. Funny how that works. When there’s money involved, even the largest and most disorganized companies can take care of business. 🙂

      I feel for crew schedulers, wherever they may work. As I often tell our flight attendants, they have a harder job than we do. As pilots, we’re interacting primarily with machinery and computers which more or less always react the same way. They’re predictable. Schedulers and FAs have to work with people, and they aren’t quite as easy.

  7. El Jefe
    December 9, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Me thinks your story is a whole lot of poppycock. There is no such thing as a CASS badge that will get you in the cockpit.

    • December 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      You are free to believe whatever you like.

      • Joe
        December 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm

        You’ve confused your terms slightly. What you’re calling a “CASS Badge” is a card with a pilot’s Known Crew Member (KCM) bar code on it. Yes, the KCM system queries the airline’s CASS database to verify employment status, but since the start of the KCM program I’ve never heard the KCM card called a “CASS Badge.” Such a name would imply that it’s used for jumpseating, which it isn’t. Semantics…

        • Joe
          December 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

          Sorry, I didn’t read any further down before commenting; I see now that this has been beaten to death. Feel free to declutter by deleting my comments.

          • December 10, 2015 at 12:49 pm

            Haha–no worries Joe. 🙂 It happens all the time.

      • Gbergner@earthlink.net
        December 10, 2015 at 2:40 pm

        Sorry Ron,
        Jefe is right, there is no such thing as a CASS card

  8. Wayne Smith
    December 9, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    No such thing as a cass badge. Doesn’t exist. There is a Known Crewmember scan badge but that will not get you into a cass approved flight deck.

    • December 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Fair enough. I’m not an airline guy and don’t jump seat. Whatever it is, if it’s a badge carried and used by airline pilots, should a non-employee have it?

      • Wayne Smith
        December 9, 2015 at 8:28 pm

        Fair enough? You got a guy telling you he has an airline item that does not exist. Simple as that. The story therefore suffers and/or loses credibility. I’ve got 22 years at a major and have been a Capt for 12. I also, was uniquely involved in getting the jumpseat protocols re established after 9/11. The reference to “Catch Me if You Can” clearly shows a misunderstanding of then and now.

        But to answer your question: No. Any identifying badge, manual, or company credential (s) should have been or should be confiscated. United is at fault for not immediately doing that. Cannot agree more.

        With that being said, keep in mind, your friend signed paperwork, whether he remembers it or not that he understood he is responsible for seeing to it that if employment ceases he is to send the items to the address on the back of the ID. In essence, your pal is violating FAA and well known TSA Homeland Security SIDA badging protocols in continuing the possession of those items. At a minimum he should hand them over to a TSA checkpoint or turn them into the local FAA field office.

        But again, while he might posses those items he does not have access to the jumpseat by virtue of simply possessing a SIDA or an airline ID. It requires a cass authorization that no longer exists for him. Either way, there is no cass ID, badge, credential of any type for the administration of that protocol in airline cockpit access security.

        Not trying to be combative, just stating the facts to a story that had several holes in it.

        • December 9, 2015 at 11:11 pm

          I appreciate the information, Wayne. I don’t think you’re being combative.

          As far as turning in the ID, I’m not sure how well known that protocol is. I have a SIDA badge for my home airport and a company ID, as well as parking passes and other sundry items. I’ve had similar stuff for previous employers. I’ve been in the industry for 15 years.

          I recall there being an address on the back with return postage guaranteed, but that seemed to be more for cases of lost credentials, so that anyone could drop them in a USPS mailbox. When my employment ends with a company, I’ve always returned those items in the manner I was directed by the company. It wouldn’t have dawned on me to take it to an FAA office, a TSA checkpoint, or to drop it in a mailbox. I’d want to know where it was being sent and assure that it got there.

          A couple of years ago I wrote about rebadging at my home airport. My expired SIDA badge was collected by a TSA approved gate guard at the airport, and that ended up causing me all sorts of hassle because the guy never turned it in properly. My point is simply that the process is difficult enough. I expect the onus would be on the employer to ensure they at least attempt to get that stuff back. But either way, if they are still thinking he’s an active employee, the process is more broken than that.

          You know, while I’m surprised by this story, I probably shouldn’t be. I had a government secret clearance, and the OPM hack resulted in my passport, address, employers, fingerprints, family info, health records, financial records, tax returns, SSN, and more all being compromised. There’s a big problem here, and it goes far beyond United Airlines.

        • Boo!
          December 10, 2015 at 10:02 am

          Crew cannot get past the Gate Agent unless their name appears on a roster. Also if he lists for the jump seat, it goes through a CASS approval. I’d imagine he’d get flagged there…? Although if he still gets called from UA to work he might get CASS approval! Yikes!!!

        • Dan
          December 10, 2015 at 5:55 pm

          He may have his certificates revoked and wind up in prison for not returning his badges. That’s his responsibility.

          • December 10, 2015 at 5:56 pm

            You guys crack me up.

          • Wayne Smith
            December 11, 2015 at 6:02 am

            Only, if he attempted to use them in a manner to gain access to a secure area of an airport and/or gain access to a flight deck governed under 121 and the Homeland Security Act after employment ceases.

            Beyond that he has a few pieces of memorabilia. It’s no real biggy so long as he keeps them only for that purpose. If an audit, say for the IAH, DEN, ORD, etc. airports later audit United for the SIDA badge they could be fined for not being able to produce it or show its retrieval. But that would be on them.

            No reason to make more of this story than it really is. In the end, whether it be age, desires, ability, or simply the wrong carrier or type of flying this guy and United were not a fit for one another. And that’s ok. Plenty there in line waiting to be 12 year 737 CAs making $240,000, plus a 16% B fund on top of that, with a full to age 65 LTD loss of medical safety net.

  9. December 9, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    I agree about it being a job pilots don’t leave. All 8 of us from my new-hire class at United 20 years ago are all still active pilots for United.

    • Wayne Smith
      December 10, 2015 at 5:25 am



      One thing I’ve learned is anytime someone, which is VERY rare, who doesnt completely complete initial new hire training it is due to one of two things. The student new hire gets a call from the primary airline that was their first choice and they subsequently leave. Or they recognize they are overwhelmed and see the ‘writing on the wall’ and it’s becoming clear that either airline flying/procedures aren’t for them or they simply can’t keep up.

      Most people are smart enough to know that the training environment is not the line and it makes more sense to ‘corporate and graduate’ then get out on the line and truly evaluate the job/career for what it really is to get a real perspective. The job is 363 days a year and 2 days each year of recurrent s hookup use stuff. To me doesn’t make since to judge the job before the job is tested. Yes, lots of training now, as it relates to less and less schoolroom spoon feeding, for systems, flows, etc. is more on your own CBT training and for some the new way of that doesn’t bode well for the Commodore 64 crowd.

      It’s easier for some to come back and badmouth the industry, the airline, the instructors, or the process than to admit to others that the firehose was leaking around the mouth more than one would like to admit to his friends and fellow professionals. Seen it many times.

      In the end, again, airline flying is not for everyone and considering how low the numbers of training being stopped midstream are very rare. Some question mark (s) needs to be placed on the student too.

      • Wayne Smith
        December 10, 2015 at 5:42 am

        Sorry for the errors in that last post. Guess my iPad acted up. Message hopefully, is understood.

  10. Graeme
    December 9, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    Great Post! You would that by what happened to Richard (pun intended) is actually sometimes the norm rather than the exception. I can tell you three separate times that this instance has happened to me. I worked for a large corporation once and at my resignation I just left. I asked if I had to do anything and they said no. No exit interview, and yes, I still have my badge. Didn’t know who to turn it into because I walked myself out as I was told to. Other times I got job offers from the SAME company I worked for in another state AFTER I already accepted a position with the SAME company in another location (before even starting that position). I can count at least three times that I have gotten a job offer and on the same day I got the “thanks, but no thanks email” “by mistake”

    Like any other giant corporation, UAL, or not its corporate America and it is just part of the machine. . Sure, hats off to the millions of folks that keep airplanes flying, passengers in the back, and its Not just the crew. I’ve often wondered what the crew to other staff ratio was to airlines. You have MX, Accounting, marketing, Ground grew, ticking, sales, advertising, HR, scheduling, training. Anyway, I digress. Bottom line is that in corporate America, you can sometimes bet that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Not always the case but your post doesn’t surprise me the least. Its more common than not! Nonetheless, it is an interesting post!

    Question: With all the thought about security, why aren’t pilots screened? Also, shouldn’t airlines, the ones who hire TSA to take care of themselves, start the security from within? Revoke that employee pass. Sure, pilots had to go through background checks and most pilots are of “good moral character” but it could get lost and get into the wrong hands. At least, those plastic ID badges should be scannable. Even the CEO of my company has to swipe his badge upon entering the building. Each time. Glad you had a few good laughs at lunch.

  11. Wayne Smith
    December 9, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    “Question: With all the thought about security, why aren’t pilots screened?”

    Are you honestly asking or stating an innocently stupid question? Pilots for US 121 carriers are screened continuously. Whether it be random drug/alcohol testing, to random security checkpoint screening to sudden FAA no notice line checks. Everyday we go to work we are positioning ourselves to be screened at anytime with no ability to walk away until that testing, whether it be drug/alcohol, or random security checkpoint initiated.

    • Graeme
      December 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Thank you Tony! This is what I was going to write back to Wayne, who apparently missed the point of the entire article, my reply and others like you commented.

      Wayne, I have nothing to do with the Airlines whatsoever. But I’ll downright say it. Airline Pilots ARE.NOT.SCREENED. I know because I went from a coffee store, with my pilot friend, into his car, where we drive to the terminal and I boarded my flight and he accompanied me to the gate. TSA looked at him and passed him right through without screening. Yes, background checks and the like, but what if I put on his clothes and carried his plastic ID around, then what? Just like Tony said!

      The funny thing is how obvious it is that Crew are indeed NOT screened. You said it best Wayne, (actually you said it three times in one post) when you said they are randomly screened. Like my example, even the CEO has to badge in after taking a poop where I work. Put another way, What if I told my boss that the Very job I was supposed to do, I only did it “randomly” I would probably no longer work there any more. TSA are hired to screen.

      RON, the funniest part of these comments is that all the people who are calling your story fake…only actually make your story MORE credible. 🙂 You’re whole point was no one ever leaves. I’m dying laughing here.

      • Wayne Smith
        December 11, 2015 at 6:17 am

        First of all, your friend did not simply walk past TSA. Now if it was at an airport that has a separate employee entrance, depending on the approved TSA protocols for that airport and that terminal then he’s complying with the TSA requirements. But if he went to an actual TSA security screening passenger checkpoint with you, and not through a KCM access point there, then I simply do not believe you that the TSA simply waved him and his bags through with zero access screening.

        • Graeme
          December 11, 2015 at 6:19 am

          Simply did. TBIT… black Wednesday before thanksgiving. Happened quite a few times really

  12. Gerry
    December 9, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Ron, I worked for Continental for six years and then United for twenty-seven years. While at Continental, though active, I had a somewhat similar experience to that of your friend. As a reserve first officer, I was sent as a flying pilot to Midland, TX. I went to the hotel; and with no further schedule, I telephoned crew scheduling. I said, “I’m at the hotel in Midland.” They said, “Yea, we know, we’ll call you when we need you.” I telephoned the next morning and got the same reply. The following day, same thing. They finally said, “Quit calling us; we’ll call you when we need you.” Thirty days later they telephoned my home and asked my wife where I was. She said, “…in Midland where you left him.” I got my full pay for the month, but it does make one wonder if anything has changed.

    • December 9, 2015 at 11:31 pm

      Wow, 30 days! I had a very similar experience with a charter company, though not quite so long.

      I was a contract pilot, so when they left me in London for an extra week, I was collecting contract pay the whole time. I did check in with them periodically for the first couple days and then just sat tight, figuring there was no way they could forget about me. In my mind I had bugged the heck out of them. But I guess when you’re on the road, it’s hard to know how crazy things get back in Ops.

      Sure enough, they forgot about me! Good for my bank account balance though. In retrospect it was an awesome trip. I caught shows on the West End and enjoyed the city while waiting.

  13. Icarus
    December 9, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    “CASS badge”? Never heard of such a “badge” but I’ve only been a (legacy) United pilot for twenty years.

    • December 9, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      William may very well have used the correct phraseology for the badge when relating the story to me, so the error may be mine rather than his.

      • Wayne Smith
        December 10, 2015 at 4:36 am


        I can assure you that while Shares might have given his name active to crew scheduling, his ID capability for purposes of access to the airplane were quickly revoked upon his resignation/separation. United and CAL went through a merger that had a general lacking of synergies to not eliminate everything. But regardless of the SNAFU of shares info to crew scheduling he most certainly had no ability to get a cass approval.

        Now, to take that further. If he possesses a United current date badge it’s possible he could go thru normal security airport screening and get through without a ticket in hand. But he could not get through unscreened KCM access points. IOW, his stuff would be screened the same as a paying passenger.

        At the gate and only on a mainline United flight, if he presented that ID to a CSR, they would see in his file that the number was inactive. Probably would not get past that point. But if he did, then he might get the JS as he possesses a current ID, medical, passport, and an ATP certificate. But in doing so, he puts himself at a choice/decision of severe federal prosecution if discovered. Keep in mind, this individual, is well known, and did complete a thorough background screening prior to arrival at United.

        The system is not perfect. Clearly. But the flaws are not as bright as the story makes them seem.

        As for airline flying? I’ve had a lucky timed career. Got on, never furloughed. Could have upgraded in 4 years. Waited til 10 to never sit reserve etc. Capt on 757 at age 36. Now 48. Still love the 757, the destinations and the job. For others, it’s not for everybody. That’s always been clear with any direction in aviation. That’s the nice thing about aviation. Tons of options to peak interests and desires. Me? I like time off, good destinations, free travel for family, good LTD insurance, and other aspects of the job. As with any job/profession. A lot has to do with the personality of the person doing it. But airline flying is not for everyone. Just as AK bush is not for everyone. Just as helo flying is not for everyone. But everyone has those choices to make.

        In the end, I’d never seen your blog before. Thanks for letting me in. No fingers being pointed and I’m smart enough to know I don’t know it all. But cockpit access security is a serious matter. And I feel pilots and the airlines, especially United take it very serious.

        Hope I’ve added something to the discussion. Have a great day.

  14. Don
    December 10, 2015 at 1:23 am

    Sounds like he got fired. Even if 737 training was that bad, in a few years he could go to another plane. Think it’s just a nice story to cover up what really happened.

    • December 10, 2015 at 11:38 am

      Nope. Nice try though.

  15. George
    December 10, 2015 at 7:40 am

    Reading some of these comments makes me laugh. “I went corporate THANK GOD” or the job just isn’t “fun”. Folks, I love GA flying just as much as the next guy, but I do it on my days off. If i can sit bunkie on a 777 nine days a month and make 200K+ a year, I’m not too concerned with how much “fun” that is. I have a family to provide for and if I can do it in some capacity that involves flying that’s a bonus. Getting a flying job that’s more “fun” for half the pay doesn’t put food in my kids mouths. I enjoy what I do, but if I need my hand flying fix I do it in my single engine airplane on one of my 18+ days off a month. If you already have a lot of cash or some other great career, maybe I would understand this reasoning. There aren’t many 150K+ jobs you can replace. You’d be pretty close to that number on 3rd year pay (narrow body) after this extension passes. To each his own I guess!

    • David Bonorden
      December 10, 2015 at 11:48 am

      George, you captured my thoughts exactly. I did not think there were many charter pilots making 6 figures. Maybe I’m clueless. Very easy to say, but is that “fun” worth, say, $5K+ (or maybe twice that) per month? No, no PLEEASE don’t throw me into that briar patch!

      • December 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

        You’re not clueless, David. Perhaps you just work in a different segment of the aviation industry. There are a lot of charter pilots making six figures. Of course, “six figures” isn’t what it used to be. 🙂

    • December 10, 2015 at 11:54 am

      I think you said it all with the last sentence, George: to each his own. Everyone has to earn a living, but some people don’t want to work for a company with 82,000 employees. Not everyone gets it, but plenty of people want to be a name and not just a number. For some, the seniority system, unionization, fixed route network, crowded terminals, etc are not what they want. You can make a good six figure salary doing many other things: corporate, charter, cropdusting, or even instructing if the gig is right. I made six figures my first year flying a jet. To each his own, indeed.

    • December 10, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      I would add to Ron’s comment that not everyone needs to make $200k plus a year to be happy. You NEED much less to live a happy life but many of us WANT more than that, and that is okay too. There are tons of great, fun, fulfilling flying jobs outside of the airlines.

  16. Tony
    December 10, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I spent 11 years with a regional airline before leaving to accept a simulator instructor job. When I did I was sent a box and letter requesting that I send back my ID, parking pass, and my iPad. On the letter was a cost breakdown of the amount of money they would take out of my final pay should I not return them; the ID was $50. No mention was made of my KCM badge at all. If I were disgruntled at all I could have just taken the $50 hit and kept my ID, which would have gotten me through TSA security at just about any airport in North America, and could have easily tried to bluff my way on a plane. While not all places would give me access, I know I would have been able to get access in quite a few airports.

    If TSA were actually interested in security vs putting on a nice show, they would make a national ID and passcode system for access to either the sterile area of an airport, or on each jetway door. I have personally bypassed security (not with KCM) and more than a dozen airports…TSA security is for show.

  17. George Mells
    December 10, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Slightly related. In the late ’60s I was employed by a mosquito control agency and while working in a local munincipal dump found a pile of United Airlines policy and procedures manuals. I took a couple samples and showed them to a neighbor who happened to be a United VP for safety. To say the least he was surprised and not happy. Of course this was well prior to 9/11 but hijackings were common.

  18. Für
    December 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Entertaining article but the whole time I was reading was the same as said before, your “friend” was fired. And this whole story is a farce. Probably made up by William.
    I flew for the military and UAL. I had a military buddy quit UAL but it was because of a woman. Then he quickly got hired at Delta after flying corporate for a year. Whew!!
    Btw. Statistics show that the average corporate guy has at least 4 companies he works for. That does kinda suck Ron.
    PS I use the term “guy” and “he” gender neutral

    • December 10, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      I have known William for a long time. I’m quite sure the story was not manufactured.

      What statistics are you referring to? I’ll believe that when I see it. When you say the average guy works for four companies, I don’t even see how it would be possible. It’s no longer possible at all under 135, and even many 91 operators want exclusivity these days.

    • December 10, 2015 at 2:31 pm

      He was fired because no one would ever day quit from the holy of holy airlines? No one has ever been unhappy with a new job and decided it just wasn’t for them?

      I personally know a dozen or so people that quit military flying training because it wasn’t for them which many other people would consider blasphemy.

      I don’t understand why it is so hard to believe someone quit from a job they didn’t enjoy.

  19. Sky
    December 10, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Left UAL thirty years ago for same reason.Worked for two wonderful companies(part91)ever since,never looked back,excellent equipment,home most nights,and more money ,but one of the lucky ones I suppose.Yes its true I left the Holy of Holy too.

  20. Alan
    December 10, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    This story obviously ruffled some feathers out there judging from the responses. Wow…. Anyway…I am thinking maybe we should let the issue of the specifics related to the badge, crew screening, CASS, KCM etc, just be forgotten. I am sure the bad guys reading this can learn those specifics elsewhere but why help them? The arguments about whether he was fired or quit, those amuse me, and I don’t think the bad guys get anything useful out of that. I have worked for 3 airlines, and no one ever ever quit. Yeah right…..

    • Graeme
      December 10, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      I agree with you Alan. Amusing comments at best

    • Wayne Smith
      December 11, 2015 at 6:09 am

      I have read nothing here that is not well known outside of aviation SSI security circles. I would be the first to point that out given my past work in IPA and ALPA in getting changes to JSing issues, as well as, other related TSA, and FAA security protocols.

  21. Sam
    December 10, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Not sure I total believe this.

  22. December 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    I enjoyed reading this and wasn’t as much surprised as others might be. I’ve heard similar stories and I’ve heard rumors about the training on the 37 not being what pilots were used to with subsidiary United. Much has changed at the new United since their merge with Continental nearly 6 years ago.

    You and your readers may also enjoy my stories. I’m a flight attendant and write a few series; “Passenger of the Day” and “Adventures in Flight”, but this month, in the spirit of the holidays, I’m writing a series called “My Favorite Things”. http://www.penguinlust.blogspot.com

  23. ***
    December 10, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    I’ve flown freight, 121, 135 and corporate. Part 121 Major Airline flying is the most brainless, easy and secure job out there. Next thing you know your 65 and if you don’t screw up you should have some money in the bank and you retire better than most Americans. With a little seniority…you can fly to Beijing or Baltimore. If you miss corporate or charter….go do a baseball team.

    • December 10, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      I have to say, I’m impressed. When posting your comment, you didn’t even get past the “name” field without using a four letter word. Well done.

      • Graeme
        December 10, 2015 at 7:55 pm

        He or she kind of dug themselves into a whole. He said you didn’t need a brain to fly 121 so maybe he or she….

  24. Efe
    December 10, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    When I was fired from Turkish Airlines as part of a ‘find someone to blame because someone high up wants heads to roll’ scheme, I had to practically force them to take my all-airports air side access credentials. Nobody from HR was there, no manager to oversee my last moments to make sure I wasn’t taking anything I shouldn’t be, no security to ensure no drama unfolded, etc. In the state they were content to let me walk out of those doors forever in, I had everything I needed to go to the airport just a few minutes down the road and get to any number of prepped aircraft waiting on ground power for their crew to arrive. As you mentioned in the article it only takes a disgruntled employee who feels they have been wronged and who has just enough hidden issues for this to be the final push, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Remember the FedEx incident?

  25. Mule
    December 11, 2015 at 4:31 am

    United, continues it’s winning ways! I believe you could chock some of this up to the merger mainia that is so rampant in our industry. Meaning, they have not been able to integrate their ERP’s and HR functions. This would explain some of the confusion and disfunction. I just pray that ALK stays ALK and none of the “Vampires” that have their eye on them so they can raid and destroy the last great airline.

  26. Becky
    December 11, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Sorry guys I’m just not buying it. I know some guys don’t like airline flying and “crowded terminals” ect, but if you look at the whole package in today’s Legacy airlines, we are talking about a 7-10 million dollar career (assuming you have 30 years) with many guys/gals able to work less than 100 days a year. If you want to be home every night, a little senority can award that to you. United for instance puts 16% of your salary in a 401K and you don’t have to do anything. You could never put a dime in your whole career and you’d still get 16% of your pay. There’s a reason why these airlines have 15,000+ applications. You can hand fly all you want and still have a nice variety. At United for instance, bid the 737 and you can fly into a different airport every trip all year if you want. I guess some ppl just really don’t like airline flying which is understandable, but I can’t imagine there are many places that can offer the QOL a legacy airline can give once you are about halfway up the list and beyond. Bear in mind, it’s a much different landscape today as you can achieve this senority relatively quickly with the way things are moving. In the past, you could sit reserve for 10+ years out of the gate. That I would understand is not for everyone. But I would think for most folks a flying job that allows you to be home 260 days a year with that kind of salary would be more than enough. Like the other guy said everyone has their own priorities. If you love instructing, maybe making less and working longer hours at a small flight school would make you happy. It’s not all about the money, I totally get that. But unless you had a very very good situation to go back to, it seems to me this would be a very tough job to just walk away from. If the guy was truly miserable though then obviously he did the right thing. I wouldn’t wish anyone go through life hating their job every day.

  27. December 11, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Times must have changed. I retired from Continental ten years ago. Never heard of a CASS card. I had to go through security every time I went to the gate. It was the worst part of the job. Remove my boots, open my suitcase and open my flight bag. I can fly free now but have only non reved one time in ten years. I got bumped halfway to my destination.

  28. Dan Eikleberry
    December 11, 2015 at 11:08 am

    I flew for United for 28 years, more or less. The main reason pilots for a major airline don’t leave is… the seniority system! I’m not opposed to it at all, because I persevered and spent my final years as a Captain on the 747-200, 777, and 747-400. But… you don’t get those positions if you leave and try to start over at another airline. There are exceptions — all the third-world (and even China) airlines are so desperate these days they WILL hire you directly into the left seat of a 747 — but you have to get that experience some where, some how.
    As for United, I loved it the first 3 years– and then i was furloughed for 4 years! Ugh! Didn’t like that. But, if I wanted to eventually move up to F/O and then Captain, I just had to hang tight (flew civilian contract test pilot for the Navy) and wait to get recalled. Got recalled in 1984, loved United again… well… except for Dick Ferris and the attitude of United against its pilots (and ALPA in specific). We were forced out on a nasty strike in 1985. Didn’t like United again. Nor for the next 4 or 5 years after the strike — scabs were rewarded at every opportunity, striking pilots were just tolerated.
    I finally moved up to DC-8 F/O. Great flying, mostly to Hawaii. Loved the airline again. And then 747-400 as F/O. Pretty much forgot about the company, just came and flew some great trips, lots of days-off, little interaction with management or the crew desk. Line holder. Loved the company again.
    Eventually moving up to Captain on the 757/767, then 747-200, then 777 and finally back on the 747-400 this time as Captain. Life was good.

    But it all came to a terrible end when United declared bankruptcy, I reached age 60 (too soon to be saved by the age 65 rule) and retired. The company was in a state of confusion about the termination of the pension plan, and there simply was NO processing out! I flew my last trip, (the office staff threw on some niceties, cake, etc, but they did that on their own because they knew me, not a company requirement nor was it management directed), and simply went home. There was no retirement paperwork with the company at all! They simply told me to deal with the PBGC , United washed its hands of all of that.

    About a month later, I got a phone call telling me I needed to turn in my ID badge or there would be a $400 fine. So I could have kept it if I was willing to pay $400? I mailed it in.

    The CASS system did not have any card or badge, but it existed in the gate agent computers of most airlines. You showed up at a gate, (mostly Southwest for me) and they looked you up in their computer. If you were in there, it showed your photo, and the gate agent might allow you to jumpseat. No card or badge beyond your pilot employee ID badge. I can tell you, the DAY after I turned 60, I tried to jumpseat and was refused because I was no longer in the CASS system! I had a full-fare ticket anyway, so it didn’t matter, I just wanted to know if they had shut me out of CASS. They had.

    Captain Dan — Las Vegas

  29. Mule
    December 11, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Becky, some great points. Let’s take a look at the “whole package” that today’s legacy carriers offer. Delta for one, has the most under funded pension of any company in the US. I believe at last report I read it is only % 42 – % 47 of obligations, and American is less than %60 ranking it at #3 or 4. My point is, what happens now should we have another Down turn? who is left for these corporate raiders to merge with to suck the last dollar from? Remember who the first ones they turn too? it’s us, the employee’s and our pensions, which become “unfunded liabilities” remember Hawaiian, North West ( who by the way payed cash for their aircraft ) until the 1980’s and Eastern, TWA. We all fly because it’s our passion, love and dream whether we fly for a Regional, Major, Fractional, Commuter we all have different values, goals and circumstances. If making the big money is someone’s only motivation to become a pilot, that is a sad day for all of us. I would encourage them to go get a job on Wall Street. I hope you don’t take this as negative criticism or condescending, I think we all forget sometimes where we came from and how hard it was to get there.

    All the Best

  30. Bill
    December 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I read the comments and had a different take on the article. I’ve had the “pleasure” of flying ferry, 91 charter, part 135, and have been at a major 121 carrier for 16 years. All of those jobs required different skill sets and lifestyle requirements. I can definitely see why your friend left if he was older and didn’t want to put up with the rigors of being junior with not enough longevity to enjoy the benefits of seniority.

    The training is also different. Airline training is not flight training, but rather procedures training. The focus is on standard operating procedures. It is proven to be the safest and most efficient way to operate an airliner. The simulator focuses on worst case scenarios, and in most cases the autopilot is your friend. That being said, I love hand flying the 737 anytime it is safe to do so. I fly with instructor pilots and they do the same. I also fly a Piper Cub every few weeks. For relaxing fun it’s hard to beat the unstructured environment of the grass strip.

    I can’t speak for United’s policies, but the day your friend was finally taken off the books, his Known Crew Member badge would not work. We were told that the database the participating carriers are in is updated very often.

    Thanks for the blog.

  31. Pingback: View from the Wing
  32. Romlee Stoughton
    December 13, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Hello pilots! It would seem that an official “exit interview” or something like that would be required upon separation from the company. It would be at that point that ID badges, etc…be returned. Do some airlines do anything like that? Just curious.

    • December 13, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      It probably depends on the company. Even within a given firm, policies (and the adherence thereto) undoubtedly varies over the years. Most companies these days have ID badges, prox cards, and other such security related items for their employees, so the concept of an exit interview is probably a good one.

  33. Drg
    December 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    i flew with an FO recently who told me a story about how he got his rejection letter from the airline the day before he got his ” welcome to our airline …. your ground school starts in 2 weeks ” call … Doh

  34. July 18, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I’m a retired United pilot. Didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard a couple of others who got the call from the crew desk with an assignment, months after retirement!
    As far as initial training or Sim training is concerned, I agree with my colleague from Continental.
    Once you are out of the school house, no one is going to get upset with you if you hand fly your leg. Unless of course, you are a lousy pilot like me and make everyone sick in the back! 🙂
    I would occasionally get a puzzled look from a young F/O, watching me hand fly the jet to the top of climb and click it off at top of descent! I would smile and tell them “Auto” doesn’t need practice, I do!
    I did the -135 “on demand charter” gig for 6 years after retirement. It got progressively harder and harder work as we lost more and more younger pilots to the majors. When it was no longer fun, I quit!

    • July 19, 2016 at 8:23 am

      You sound like just the kind of person I really enjoy flying with, Ross! I know what you mean about the pilot shortage in the 135 world. Seems every segment of the industry is scouting hard for aviators these days.

      Even if you never take advantage of the option, it’s always nice to be able to say “sayonara” when you’re ready to leave. I hope you’re still flying in some capacity, even if it’s just for fun.

  35. Johannes Bols
    February 26, 2017 at 10:39 am

    After the Germanwings incident, my love of flying was vapourized. The final element of trust, in the cockpit crew, violated. I will never get on another flight. I’m very lucky, I never have to. But it kinda kills the buzz, knowing mental illness isn’t specific to gender, race, or anything else.

Leave a Reply to GraemeCancel reply


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: