Monday, August 17, 2009

Pigs CAN fly

Originally written (started) on June 30, 2009

Good afternoon again fine readers. This setting finds me looking out the hotel window at a gray and white sky, tall grass and trees in a field, and jets whizzing by. Unfortunately we're situated too close to the Detroit Wayne County Metro Airport (DTW), incidentally at the same airport SWA stays at, on a long overnight. It's rare when we have a hotel in a downtown or urban area where it's lively with people and things to do nearby, but I've stayed at worse places.

We had an early show in Burlington, VT (BTV) and an early finish here. I was going to nap but drank too much coffee settling into my room, so I'm now processing my latest trip thus far in my mind, and filtering what's been in my heart and spirit lately.

It's day three of a six day stint, a very long trip. I managed to catch ZZZ's by 10 PM last night, a pretty good feat for me, and have another 5:15 AM showtime tomorrow. Even though I've been doing this airline gig for nine years now, I still have to exercise discipline to get appropriate rest, and am still trying to improve in that regard. A wise, gray haired Pilot would advise me that it's one of the marks of a true professional. And I would agree. Professionals evaluate how they operate, continuously try to improve, and evaluate their attitudes from time to time as well.

And just what kind of attitude should a professional airline pilot have? It's a point of consternation for me currently. Many in my company would have a vastly different answer than the one our management would. More about that later, let's let it stew a little.

On the first day, after two enjoyable round trips involving flights to two pretty, renowned, and expensive Massachusetts islands, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, my First Officer and I said goodbye to our Flight Attendant, as we were getting a new one for the next two days. We took our scheduled long snooze and meal break and walked to our new aircraft for the flight to our GSP (Greenville-Spartanburg, NC) overnight. I retrieved the paperwork and noticed the last name of our new FA, 'Pig', with an extra g. I kid you not.

Airline crews perform essentially the same tasks over and over, so we look for and enjoy things which are out of the ordinary. Showing my FO her name, it was then 'on', a stream of pig and hog jokes, that is, while waiting for her to arrive. Sorry, but in my flight deck, joking around and wordplay are fair game, but all in good taste and in keeping respectful of others. We never kidded or joked with her about her name in person, of course, but I'm sure she had heard this snort of thing before.

It turns out that she is another great gal to work with, and to have as a partner in our cabin. As a new flight attendant, she flew with 'Neil' and I through changing weather systems, turbulence, rain, clouds, circling approaches, and maintenance delays, and never squealed once. Seriously, she has a lively personality and treats the passengers very well. She has been with our company for a while, working the ticket counter and gate, and transferred to the flight attendant ranks recently. In spite of tragedy and trials in her personal life, and a unique and challenging last name, she has a good attitude. That can make all the difference.

Here's a great quote on attitude from Chuck Swindoll, a widely broadcast Christian Minister:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

Incidentally, tonight I'm now back in the same spot I started this post in, looking out the hotel window in Detroit, with clouds and a few thunderstorms in the area. I guess I'd better finish this now while I'm enjoying this "deja' vu" moment.

A disclaimer: Firstly and most importantly, I sincerely appreciate the service and sacrifice many of our pilots have taken in working for our union, to improve safety, and to produce and maintain the work contract we do have. The working results of this shows in the safety, pay, work rules, benefits, and quality of life that we enjoy, which is better than most other regional airlines. Secondly, for legitimate mistreatment and pilot union contract violations, we have the capability to file grievances with the company in an effort to correct and compensate for violations, and our union has done this many times, and will continue to do so.

There are reasons I have security as a union pilot. After completing a probationary period, it is more difficult for the company to terminate my employment; it's kind of like being a tenured professor. Pilot unions also operate on the seniority system. This means I can expect to be compensated on the negotiated payscale according to year of service, aircraft, and position. Awarding position, aircraft, schedules, and base is in seniority order also. I know that other pilots with less seniority than I won't be paid more than I will or will be able to outbid me in schedules and basing.

But flying as a unionized airline pilot is like driving on a two way street. To make it work the best, you should be willing to drive in both directions. Yes, we have job protections, but I believe we have a responsibility to the company to not take advantage of those protections and behave as less than professional in the eyes of management. This means, among other things, not sacrificing customer service standards, and holding others accountable as we are best able to when they fail in meeting those standards. This is a tough part of the job, because in the regionals we don't get enough of the customer service support passengers deserve.

This job has another advantage which others don't, and pilots can and sometimes do take for granted and take liberties with it. We are basically unsupervised, excepting that the Captain is the defacto supervisor of his or her crew. The big bossman isn't in the office three cubicles down the hall, he might be three states away. Uncaring Pilots sometimes take advantage of that and perform their flights at a service level less than they should.

"I'll act like a Professional when they treat me and pay me like one" is one phrase heard on line. Another one is "they only pay me to be a pilot". Unfortunately, these phrases can be heard to be uttered at most other major airlines, no matter what the pay, benefits, days off, and airplane. I wonder how a pilot's bad attitude would improve if he knew his Domicile Manager was a passenger in his cabin.

It turns out that pigs can fly, in more ways than one.

I believe that too many of our pilots at my company and others have an incorrect working definition of 'professional' in the term professional airline pilot. Angry and bitter at the company over perceived and sometimes legitimate mistreatment toward them by crew scheduling and management, they carry a bad attitude wherever they go. A selfish mindset and a heart attitude of unforgiveness toward the company is typical for these pilots. Often they basically don't care about providing good customer service or projecting a professional image. They try to get back at the company by performing their duties at a bare minimum performance level. This only produces more unsatisfied passengers, and hurts the performance and reputation of the airline. I grow very tired of this negative attitude because it is contagious, it divides the pilot group, and it reduces pilot morale.

We are told in the scriptures that this attitude is the 'way of the world'. Exodus 21:23-24 establishes partial guidelines as the Old Testament and Old covenant way to recoup for personal injury. The basic principle is an "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". But Jesus Christ not only brought in the New covenant, he IS the New covenant. If you are a follower of Jesus, as I am, the 'new rules' apply, lived out in the Love of God, toward him and toward others.

Jesus taught about revenge in Matthew 5:38-42: (NLT) "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow."

My bible commentary says this isn't natural, it's supernatural, and that only God can give the strength to love as he does. Supernatural, indeed, as it seems illogical and to be an attitude of giving up strength, and submitting to the authority. However, as far as your livelihood goes, your employer is your authority. Jesus followed his own advice, and did plenty of giving up his strength, submitting to authority, suffering of his own, and loving his enemies, as he said to do later in this passage, in verse 44.

Regional airline pilots talk about getting paid 'slave wages', and I agree that some correction is still warranted in the industry. Supply and demand in our free market economy should take care of that, one would think, but in reality it is a different situation. There are other important elements to consider when the flying public is involved, mainly that of safety. The low wages regional pilots earn is an issue being scrutinized now by the US Congress.

(Before this, another disclaimer: I strongly dissaprove of any modern version of pure slavery, period.) In biblical times you could be put into slavery very easily to pay off a debt, or for other reasons. Biblical wisdom decreed that a master should treat his slaves fairly and not be cruel. Today, for example, a fisherman on TV's 'Deadliest Catch' (which I like a lot) is an employee, but the day to day function one has (especially a 'greenhorn') is similar to that of a slave, when viewed in terms of the employer-employee relationship. The guidance from I Peter 3:18-25 can be applied to this concept: "You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

He never sinned,
nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
who always judges fairly.
He personally carried our sins
in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
and live for what is right.
By his wounds
you are healed.
Once you were like sheep
who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
the Guardian of your souls."

Is it right to act like only as much of a professional as one is paid? I don't think so, I don't think it honors God in the best way possible, and it doesn't honor and model Jesus Christ for others. I can thank my Savior and Lord for my definition of 'Professional' and 'good attitude'. My relationship with him and his words from the good book have and will continue to transform me.

All Praise, Glory and Honor, to Him!

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