Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Bad Week For MD-80 Drivers

At AA, we pilots spend the entire month trying to keep our trips intact as much as possible and to end up the month with as many hours flown as possible. That's because we only get paid for the hours we fly. We have no trip guarantee like most other airlines. The general public often seems to be under the impression that airline pilots only work about 40 hours a month! Not so. At AA we work about 80 hours a month. But those are hours actually spent at the controls. So when you see an AA pilot walking through the terminal, at the gate, checking weather online, or even in the bathroom, he or she is not getting paid. We only get paid when the airplane is moving. There is no pay for any of our time spent before a trip, during a layover, or after a trip is over. There is no pay for time spent at hotels, riding airport shuttles, clearing customs and immigrations, flight planning, gate changes, or anything else you can think of. There's no extra pay for flying on holidays or weekends either.
Now I'm not complaining...It would just be nice if people would realize that the airline pilots life is not as most people perceive. It's not all that glamourous. Now it's still a pretty good job most of the time but this last week was a difficult one for the MD-80 line pilots at AA. I'll explain later.

After last weeks thunderstorms in Dallas destroyed my work schedule for the week, I had hoped that the remainder of my month's flying would go smoothly. But then came last Wednesday and the MD-80 groundings.

The week started with a turnaround to Columbus, Ohio and back. That was an easy day with great weather and a good view of Columbus from the downwind to 28L. In the upper left corner you can make out the Ohio State campus.

For years now this old Sud Aviation Caravelle jet has been parked at CMH. It used to be painted in Airborne Express colors and looked pretty good, but it now looks like it will die a slow death on the ramp.

The following day was another easy one. DFW to El Paso and back. No issues that day either.

The next day brought a three day trip. The first day was only one leg from DFW to Detroit. We launched behind this Lufthansa A-340 bound for Frankfurt.

On the morning of day two when we arrived at our gate, we saw that our flight to Chicago and then on to Tulsa had been canceled. What was up?

Our crew tracking folks advised us that we had grounded a bunch of MD-80's for hydraulic pump wiring harness inspections. This sounded bad....and it was. The MD-80 is the backbone of American's fleet. We operate 300 of them. A grounding of any portion of the fleet would be a scheduling nightmare.

We ended up dead-heading back to DFW and spent the night there with the understanding that we would complete the third day as originally planned. But late that night I received word from our scheduling folks that our flights on day three had also been canceled. So my three day trip ended up consisting of only one leg of actual flying and one dead-head leg. So we lost our planned pay for all those legs that were canceled.

Now multiply what happened to us many times over for the hundreds of other MD-80 pilots that had the exact same thing or even worse happen to them this week! We had crews stranded all over the country for several days. Some even got stuck in Mexico and Canada. (However, I don't feel too bad for the crews that got stuck in Los Cabos or Puerto Vallarta).

Typically we can make up for the loss of pay during a given month by volunteering for trips that come available through sick calls, mis-connects, cancellations, weather, or whatever other reason. But in this case, our month is almost over and most of us won't be able to make up the time and will end up with a much smaller paycheck.

And the company will not kick in and pay us for all the time we lost. Unfortunately that's just the nature of our union's and company's relationship these days. It's not a very good relationship but hopefully we can improve on that the next time our union negotiates a contract. Time will tell.

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.


gordboehler said...

Great Blog, being an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Air Canada's Jazz I am sometimes responsible for those groundings of Aircraft but I did not know that you only get paid when you are starting a leg. Interesting,
I must check into how our Pilots
get paid.

Teller said...

Gezz, Len. I thought about you when I saw the news about the groundings, I'm sorry to hear it turned out like that for you guys. We don't have trip rigs or duty rigs either, and it screws us sometimes too, but nothing like this. I hope everything gets sorted out quickly!

Len (Barfbag) said...

Hi Teller,

Yeah, this was a rough week. But all the 80's are back in the air again and life goes on. I wonder what will happen next?