Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 1:39 am

Today in the Denver Post theres an article about a United pilot and his monthly schedule and how he feels about it.

By Greg Griffin
Denver Post Business Writer

May 28 - United Airlines first officer Bruce Graham often doesn't know where he's going next.

On a recent Tuesday morning, he found out it was London.

A United scheduler called and gave him the assignment: He would fly a Boeing 767 the following evening from Washington's Dulles Airport to Chicago O'Hare. There he would spend about 24 hours on layover before departing for London. He would then return about 27 hours later on a flight back to Washington.

All told, Graham would be gone about 70 hours, having flown for just under 20.

As a reserve pilot for United - the airline schedules blocks of time each month and assigns him routes on an asneeded basis - such trips are routine for Graham. But they're not easy.

"It's a tough flight because you fly all night," Graham said. "The hardest part is 2 a.m. when the sun is staring you in the eyes." The trip went according to plan, except that weather delayed the departure from Chicago and the plane arrived in London three hours late.

In London he slept a bit, ate, did some shopping for his wife and spent a few hours sightseeing. Then he flew back, arrived home about 5 p.m. and slept like a rock until 11 a.m. the next day.

"It's not back-breaking work, but from a physical standpoint, it's very difficult on your body," Graham said.

Graham, 34, recently moved from Denver to Virginia so he could fly international routes from Dulles Airport.

Two weeks ago his wife accompanied him to Brussels, Belgium, where the couple had enough time to - you guessed it - sleep a bit, eat, shop and spend a few hours sightseeing.

"Those are the neat things you can do," Graham said. "It sounds glamorous and sometimes it is, but it's tough."

During an average month, Graham flies about 80 hours and is away from home up to 280 hours, including commuting. A typical monthly schedule looks like this: Two days off; four days on reserve; two off; five on; two off; three on; six off; six on. That adds up to 12 days off, but the workdays are long and often spent away from home.
Graham is guaranteed 78 hours of paid flying time but doesn't get paid for additional hours in the air.

For a reserve, "there are fewer guaranteed days off but a chance that they won't call," Graham said. "Some months you work every single day of reserve, and once in a while you only end up flying eight days."

A fourth-year first officer with United, Graham earns $108 an hour, which adds up to about $100,000 a year.
But while he loves his job, Graham believes he should be paid more.

He knows that's a tough sell to the average flying customer, so he has an example ready:

He's paid about $216 for a twohour flight from Denver to Chicago. That's about a dollar per passenger.

"So if you doubled my pay, your $157 ticket would now be $158." Graham also wants United to reduce the amount of time he spends away from home.

"We obviously make more than the average person," he said. " ...- But at same time, understanding where we come from and what the job involves, we would like the quality-of-life issues to be better."

Copyright 2000 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.

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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 4:14 am

Typical spoiled major airline primadonna. Never happy with what they have and are always asking for more.

Ask the typical non sched pilot what his life is like and you will see how good the United pilot has it. A typical non sched pilot will do the same job for half the money.

Why does the United pilot feel he should make more than double the money flying the same equipment as the non scheder. I'd like to hear that argument.

Lazy, greedy, baastard if you ask me.

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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 8:27 am

Because your life, my life, and everyone else's life is in these pilot's hands every day, they are worth every penny of money they make and more.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 11:15 am

You mean your life is in my hands. I am one of those people, and I believe major airline pilots are overpaid.

Maybe my airline needs you as a union rep. You seem to have my income in your best interest.

So your argument is that if I am paid less than a major airline pilot I will have have less of an interest in your well being. I think not.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 11:41 am

Do pilots get paid for time they are away from their family?

I think they should all be paid more, not necessarily because they aren't being paid enough, but the big airlines make enough money to pay them more (look at some of the executives) and they are an important part of the airline.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 12:13 pm

I think there are several ways to look at this issue, a couple of which are:

To become a commercial pilot here in Australia you might spend upto AUS$40,000 obtaining your rating, then you have the "privilige" of working for $0 per hour for 2 or 3 years building up hours b4 a regional or major will look at you. Then you might be lucky enough to score a job.

Then we have to consider the chances that health problems may easily shorten the career of the pilot, so one could easily warrant a higher hourly rate just in case.

Any doctor, lawyer or professional, who takes out study loans in the US which could amount to the same as obtaining their ticket get paid high hourly rates too, I know this for a fact as a friend of mine is a US registered MD.

On the other hand I strongly agree with JETPILOT just because some pilots are paid more it doesnt mean they are safer pilots in general.

From a time away from home point of view, their hourly rate is no better than a mobile mechanic and they have just as much if not more invested in their career.

I'd fly for a major for $50 US per hour if given the chance, but good on em I say, in my business if I could charge my clients double I would!

RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 1:09 pm

I can sypathize with the above United pilot... I'm not sure he should make double the money, but hey, its a free market economy... he should get whatever him (and ALPA) can get from the company. It's no different than paying some idiot $40 million a year to through a ball through a hoop or hit a chunk of cowhide with a wooden stick!

The fatigue thing is real... and there is plenty to gripe about. Anyone who has traveled overseas knows this. Jetlag is a bear and it makes you feel pretty darn crummy. Now trying dealing with these disruptions in your circadian rhythms while trying to manage a complex aircraft in a two man cockpit and you have a really hard job.

In my job as a regional turboprop pilot, I know how he feels. Although I dont cross too many time zones, I fly as many as 9 legs a day in the ever exciting weather of the midwest US. Many times, my overnights are exactly 8 hours, which means 5 hours of sleep if the hotel is close and you are very lucky. Not to mention what the hours of sitting, changing work hours and poor diet forced on you by short turns does to your system (use your imagination!). Many times when I finally get home (only 8-10 nights a month) I am so exhausted that I sleep for a full day. I'm not griping, I love my job, but anyone who calls it easy is a moron.

So, Jetpilot, I guess who ever you fly for must not be that bad schedule-wise, or maybe you're superman. This airline stuff can be taxing work.

RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 2:38 pm

Judging by the time invested into the job and the tole it has on their health and social lifes, I think pilots, like the United one, deserve the money they make and maybe even a little more.

Euro Flyer

JETPILOT, who do you fly for?
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 5:53 pm

I tend to agree with Jetpilot. How many other pilots work harder than the one in question and get paid much less? You know what you're embarking on when you begin your career as a pilot......why bitch about what you knew would become a reality? He should feel priviledged that he has the opportunity to fly a plane for a living and make 100 dollars an hour doing it. I see the same thing in college, the people that have the most are the ones that are always bitching about something. The more people have, the more they want.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Mon May 29, 2000 8:41 pm

I assumed the original poster was refering to all pilots working for all airlines, big or small, so I was refering to all pilots incharge of human cargo. most people would agree that they do not want a pissed off pilot up front while they are flying. Of course now this opens up a whole new issue of the mechanics. They are equaly as important as the pilots, so they should get paid what they are worth also. Oh and don't. forget about the ATC folks who are watching our backs while we are up there.
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RE: Rick

Mon May 29, 2000 11:59 pm

well said
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Tue May 30, 2000 2:15 am

My work schedual is as follows....

Two weeks on, then two weeks off. I live out of a hotel for two weeks straight. No familly. No pets. No Seeing the wife. No memorial day weekends, or christmas or much else for that matter. But I don't consider this a burden on my social life. I don't come home every night and take seeing my wife for granted and then go to sleep in a few hours after watching television. I get a vacation every month. 2 weeks to do whatever I want. To go where I want. I have so much time off I'm bored. The United pilot will only have it better.

I get paid $50.00 per hour on a 56 hour guarantee. After 4 years I may be able to make $60 per hour on the same 56 hour guarantee.

Yes it is a free market economy, and you should make what you are worth. BUT don't complain when you are paid the best in the industry and their are pilots working twice as hard for half the pay.

Major airline pilots make it their business to work less and get paid more even though they already have it far better than anyone else in the business. I think this guy should just be happy he is where he is, and accept that this is what the business is. He already makes more than most doctors today.
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Tue May 30, 2000 3:20 am

I agree!

I hate it when airline pilots begin to gripe about their salaries. They should be happy where they are. I know that I would be! I'm working my arse off to get there.

What other jobs are out there where you don't take work home with you? What other jobs out there give you as much vacation time?

- Neil Harrison
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Tue May 30, 2000 3:29 am

All this talk about pilots being overpaid really sucks when you compare it to a career as an professional athlete, like a baseball player. These guys travel around constantly which is exhausting (like pilots) and then play a game which they would probably do for $50,000 a year. The pilot is left, stuck in a new city with no friends. Tell me this, does a international A340 pilot deserve $150,000 a year, does a major league baseball player deserve $1.5 million a year? The pilot is the more important person of the two right? -Ryan

RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Tue May 30, 2000 4:32 am

Those of you who get on your soap boxes and proclaim that pilots shouldn't gripe about the pay: I hope you are not talking about ALL pilots!

Those of us in the trenches at the regional airline level work rediculous hours for about as much money as we could make at a fast food restuarant (thats NOT an exageration!). Anyone who says that the pay is consistant withthe level of responsiblity for us commuter dogs is an idiot who shouldn't be let out of the house unsupervised.

As for the drivers at the major level, kudos to them if they can get more dollars and benefits. Any increase for them elevates the entire profession. Thank God for ALPA!

Jetpilot: Geez, and I thought my schedule sucked! I'd be looking for a new ride!
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Tue May 30, 2000 4:50 am

Hey ATR...

You work for Chataqua???

And as I sated above I love the schedual. I go to work once a month, and I go home once a month. End of story. 2 travell days a month. You can't go wrong with that. We are based at our place of residence so we don't have to jump anywhere. We get airlined to our assignment.

My point here being if you don't make it to a major then your salary cap is approx 100-150k per year as a senior captain. Which pales in comparisson to 275k for a Delta senior captain. The Delta pilot is no better at getting a plane from point A to point B. But he fits an image. I guess image is everything.

RE: Jetpilot

Tue May 30, 2000 1:14 pm

Yeah, I can see where that kind of schedule might not be too bad.

I fly for Trans States, by the way. I don't disagree with you entirely, but if it takes some guy at Delta to make 275K for the regional guys (who we all know do all the work anyway!) to get a decent wage, I'm all for it.

See ya up there... keep the shiny side up!
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Tue May 30, 2000 1:48 pm

That train of thought isn't working...He makes 275,000 and a trans states captain would be lucky to get 60,000 per year with seniority.

The reason you don't make more is because you don't have a union. The reason the majors are paid so well is over the past 30 or so years their contract have constantly been renegotiated. The contracts getting better and better every few years through ratification.

Pay for training is pretty much gone in the commuters. I believe the pay will shortly follow. In some places it already has.

RE: Jetpilot

Tue May 30, 2000 1:59 pm

Gotta get current with your info there, JET...

TSA pilots are represented by ALPA and have been so for 3 years. We just averted a strike and settled on a new contract that will bring us up to industry average, and then hopefully beyond. What happens with every airline contract ALPA negotiates DIRECTLY effects what happens with us on the gutter end of the business.

I have no problem with what a fella working for the bigs makes. I do have a problem with what I make! Airlines these days are swimming in cash (with a few notible exceptions). There is no reason why the people who are the PRIMARY reason these companies are able to conduct business safely should not share grandly in the windfall.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Tue May 30, 2000 5:21 pm

Your reply is fairly typical for a non-sched operator. I'm sure you wouldn't complain and claim you are overpaid if you were flying for one of the majors. I flew for 25 years with a scheduled operator based in the Far East on a very handsome salary that was the envy of many. After retirement, I flew with a cargo outfit for nine years at the third of my previous salary with conditions not within a shadow of my previous employer. I didn't complain nor envy my previous younger colleauges, good luck to them. One of these days you might be in that position. I hope you make it. Cheers.
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What About The Mechanics?

Wed May 31, 2000 12:40 am

I think the United guy is a greedy Bas**rd too! Now I know what the guys at the non-major freight companies, non-sked's and regionals make and they are grossly underpaid just like my fellow workers.

I get sick of "pilots this and pilots that". Yeah, what you guys do is pretty cool. I dont take away from your training and skill it takes to do your jobs, but their are many others who make this business run well.

Lets not forget about the Dispatchers, Ramp Guys and Flight Attenants too..

Any of you know what a first year Flight Attendant makes? Would you be surprised to know its less than $1000 a month?

JETPILOT and ATRpilot, I feel for you guys too. I know your position and sense your pain. But ya know, in due time you guys could be making that kinda money that the United guy is whining about. And us lowly types will still be down here making our same pityful wage.

What I would like to know is how come airlines can get away with paying mechanics so little?

The starting wage at my airline is around $14 per hour. We top out around $22 an hour. Are we any less important that pilots who make $100,000 a year?

Majors start their mechanics out around $17 an hour for Line Mx. Whats the average starting pay for an F/O on the Fokker 100 or DC-9? A hell of a lot more than that, I assure you.

Most people who work in computers make more than the average mechanic. And I'm sure they are worth the $20+ an hour they make for what they do.

It just pains me to know that Aircraft Maintenance Technicians are considered UNSKILLED labor by the US Department of Labor.

Check out this site that lists mechanic wages

For those of you who do not know, their is a shortage of A&P's here in the U.S. and its just getting worse. Skilled people are leaving the industry to work in other fields that have better pay and benefits. Better working conditions and no more shift work.

At my airline, we have over 20 openings and have been loosing a few guys a month for the past several months. These people were highly trained and now they can't even be replaced with new-hires as no one wants to work midnights in the freezing cold or in the rain at $14-15 an hour.

But please, dont get me wrong. I love my job. I just wish we were paid what we are worth. We're not asking for $100K a year, but $50-60K would be nice.

I sure hope my mom doesnt find out I work on airplanes. She thinks I play piano down at the whorehouse...


RE: SCXmechanic

Wed May 31, 2000 1:53 am

I agree with you, except about the greedy bastard part. Mechanics, dispatchers and flight attendants, though we pilots may joke about and occasionally curse them, are an integral part of the job we do. We couldn't do it without them! All of them, especially mechanics and flight attendants, are overworked and woefully underpaid. I honestly think that it would be appropriate to pay a senior mechanic the same as a senior captain. The wage should be consistant with the level of skill (which I hold in very high regard). I don't think flight attendants should make quite as much as a captain, simply because that position requires less training and no college degree. This is basically on par with the views of the business world outside aviation.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Wed May 31, 2000 3:01 am

Sorry ATR just saw the article on your strike and now realize that you are ALPA. But my statement still holds true. Everytime your contract get's ratified you will be making more and more money.

I'm glad to see you have a contract.

I am not jealous of the United pilot making double the money. I make a descent salary, and I live very comfortably. My ability to make money in the future with a non sched operation is great. I can still make 100K-150K per year with the carrier I'm with now.

My original question still holds. Why does this guy think he deserves more money to be dooing what he's doing.

Were all tired, and fatigued. We're all missing our homes. We're all sacrificing. But we are not all making that money.
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Wed May 31, 2000 8:27 am

One other thing, I'm working with several other mechanics down here in IAH for the summer. These guys are down for 2 weeks at a time and working 70-80 hrs a week.

Myself, I'm down here for the entire summer. Working similar hours and I'm salaried, i.e. no O.T.

We're living in a hotel and five of us are sharing 2 rental cars. So even when we do have time off, we can't go very far cos most ways of getting around are by foot.

Just so you pilots know, your not alone when you spend your days outta town.

Just be glad you dont have to be cooped up in a hotel all summer sharing a car and walking most times when wanting to go out..

And one other thing, Mechanics have hardly any duty regs.. The FAR's say we must have one day off in seven or at least 4 days off in a month. No hourly limit per day....

Again, not whining-just stating facts. We dont mind working long hours and being away for days on end. We just want a decent wage.

I must say in my 8 years working in this business I have been to over 25 different countries around the world and most all were due to me working as a flight mechanic or being based overseas with a cargo outfit.

So their are some benefits.....

Jetpilot, do you guys still have B727's, N8892Z N753AS and N2688Z.

I used to work on those when they were flying fish in the South Pacific several years ago...
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RE: Cockpit Time Takes It Toll

Wed May 31, 2000 8:31 am

I am no longer flying for CAT, but they are still operating N8892Z, and N2688Z. Idon't know what happened to N753AS. I never saw it in the last 9 months.
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Wed May 31, 2000 8:34 am

Jetpilot, email me at

I may have some tips for you if your looking for work on the Threeholler...
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Wed May 31, 2000 8:46 am

Nevermind, I just emailed you... So when you get a minute, have a look...

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