Friday, August 31, 2007

The Morning News...Who Knew?

From the morning news...

--Airport men's rooms: who knew about this foot-tapping business? Next time you're in a men's room stall with a bouncy 2/4 tune, maybe a Sousa march, going through your head -- well, just watch that foot-tapping, pal. On the other hand, soon-to-be-ex-Senator (Family Values) Craig did plead guilty almost two weeks after he was arrested, which would seem to be sufficient time for reflection on the ramifications of being busted for engaging in lewd behavior in public, rather than humming "The Stars and Stripes Forever." (Play it!) Senator Craig blamed the nattering nabobs of negativism in his local newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, for giving him so much stress that he was forced to solicit sex in a men's room. Repeatedly, so it seems. By the way, nice going at the Idaho Statesman. It's good to see a local newspaper that still knows how to do serious reporting. It's a newspaper owned by the McClatchy chain, in case you were wondering. [Don't miss Jackie and Dunlap's colloquy on the topic on Red State Update.]

--Mother Teresa and Princess Diana (or "Diana, Princess of Wales" as the preternaturally prissy insist on saying) : So sue me, but in my book the two of them were narcissistic wack-jobs. Please spare me the hand-wringing over Mother Teresa's newly reported crisis of faith. Better she should have had a crisis of conscience for her own behavior, such as hanging out with crooked dictators and wickedly exploiting the poor and sick as a propaganda tool for advancing extreme fundamentalist religion while posing (with great success) as a holy person. As to Princess Diana ("Diana, the Princess of Wales"), she was the only person in the world who ever made me feel sympathy toward Prince Charles. Spare me the supermarket floral bouquets. Sorry she died while carrying on with a slimy playboy in Paris 10 years ago, leaving two children. That was very sad -- but let's put a lid on the endless weeping and gnashing of teeth. Shoot arrows through me.

-- I know It's the Week Before Labor Day and Everybody's Phoning It In: But Sweet Jayzus, what is this guy on about?

--And finally, a note that arrived in the e-mail this morning from a pilot, forced into retirement, per regulation, at the absurdly young age of 60:

"My Funeral Flight (by Capt Keith McCormick)

I recently completed my last flight as pilot-in-command of a United Airlines B-747 from Sydney, Australia to the San Francisco International Airport. I was the senior pilot at United Airlines, with 38 years in the cockpit, and required to retire after this flight because of the FAA Age 60 rule applicable to all United States Air Transport Pilots flying for U.S. carriers. Since November 23, 2006, pilots of foreign carriers, even U.S. pilots working for foreign carriers, are allowed to fly in/out of the U.S. until Age 65. However, U.S. citizens are not allowed to command a U.S. carrier aircraft beyond age 60, period. Age 60 is the "new age 40" we are told, but not the eyes of the FAA or Congress if you are a U.S. citizen.

It's been a long journey, this airline life. At age 10, as I bumped down a grassy farm runway on my first airplane ride, courtesy of Dave Reece in New Providence, Iowa, and I was immediately hooked on flying. I even helped push the big red airplane back into the hangar behind his barn. At 13, I made an application to be a pilot for Braniff Airways. Braniff quietly responded I should get an education, preferably a college degree in Engineering. As I was taking flying lessons all through high school, some of the strongest memories I have are the smells: gasoline, grass, pilots smoking in the small airport shack, walking along the railroad track from town to the small airport, strolling down the grass runway when it was too windy to fly. By the time I was 14, I could identify, by the sound of the engine, the type of airplane flying over my bedroom at night. By soloing on my 16th birthday, teaching college students to fly during college, I graduated with an Aerospace Engineering degree in three years of college with enough flying time to possibly get on hired by an airline.

Hired by United Airlines in 1969 at age 22, it's been an interesting ride. Furloughs, mergers, failures, consolidations, recessions, the 1970s oil crisis, blizzards, war, airline crashes, controller strikes, airline strikes, ESOPs, 9-11, SARS, deregulation, thunderstorms, marriage, three children, international expansion and incessant safety training; the airline scarcely looks like the airline I knew when propeller airplanes were old and I was young. The bankruptcy of United changed the paradigm by enormous proportions. At age 60, even though holding a renewed First Class medical certificate in my hand and the FAA announcement the Age 60 Rule is no longer justified on safety grounds, I can no longer fly for United Airlines under current FAA regulations even though 96% of the foreign airline pilots fly to age 65, including flights into and out of the United States.

Time for my last flight, now. What is this painful feeling I have? I get up, get dressed, head for the airport, and go through the motions of flight preparation. But I am empty inside. I dread this; this part of my life ending that has been so big, so rewarding, so"".. me. My mother and father died in that small Iowa town ten and twenty years ago, respectfully. Now, I find that I have that same feeling on this final day of flying for United. It is like waiting for my parents' funerals to be held. The viewing at the funeral home and meeting friends and family to grieve our loss was bad enough. The dread of the approaching funeral at the church was worse. Daybreak on the funeral day inevitably was to come; the clock just kept ticking and would not stop. You cannot stop it. My mind was numb and I was not feeling anything. I was just going through the motions. Just thinking of the dreaded change in my life about to come because my parent(s) are no longer here to talk with me, always willing to help, and always THERE. My wife sits with me and is silent; what can she say to make them come back, to make this not my last flight? Mercifully, the funerals came and we returned home to contemplate our loss. Mercifully, this last flight, my funeral flight, will end too. The people around us are laughing, talking and carrying on without any recognition of what's happening in our life. Life goes on all around us even though I feel I am dying inside.

The purser flight attendant gives me a black cardboard box containing chocolate and a well wishing card signed by the entire fifteen member cabin crew. How sweet. We agree NOT to tell the 350 passengers this is my last flight on the 7800 mile route back to San Francisco. Such an event would burden me with saying goodbye at the aircraft door three hundred fifty times. I couldn't take that. "You don't look 60, you look like you are 40" is mentioned over and over. Graciously, I nod and thank the speakers.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy was meant to "save" United Airlines. Labor and management resolved to "share sacrifices" and save the company for future generations. UAL pensions were handed over to the PBGC early in 2005 and United survived. Twenty five months before my retirement, my planned pension was reduced to just 18% of the pre-bankruptcy amount. Now, my pension from the PBGC totals just 12% of my pre-retirement annual pay. Substantial health insurance and income tax are deducted from the PBGC payments, further reducing the amount received, and the PBGC payments have no COLA provisions as health care and taxes go up per schedule and inflation. Fifteen years from now, with modest inflation, my monthly pension will barely pay the electric bill. Although I am required to retire at age 60 by Federal regulations, I am unable to collect Social Security until almost age 67. There is no exception for impact of Federal rules from differing agencies. Can anybody live on that? The United Airlines CEO received over 100 million dollars post bankruptcy and I receive 18% of planned retirement - some shared sacrifice.

After the final landing in SFO, the three First Officers each shake my hand and say "Good Luck". They know. None of them offer congratulations. It would be inappropriate. We haven't talked about it, but they know. They each have a chance to save for their retirement because the law will change for them, but not for me. They each have between 15 and 25 years to plan for retirement, accumulate savings through tax favored policies, and make family decisions. Two and 1/2 years was not enough time for me to make any substantial recovery or effective savings plan to cover the enormous pension loss. Nobody can change it. I will never recover the lost 72% of my pension.

Virtually all pilots I have recently flown with in my cockpit will fly to age 65, except me, under proposed FAA regulation changes. "it's just going to take time to change the rule," the FAA says. The FAA denied my request for an exemption to bridge age 60 termination and the pending rule change to age 65, perhaps by only a month or two in my case. A friend of mine, a UAL pilot having just completed his last flight before his 60th birthday, committed suicide in front of a fire station in Denver on the last day in June, just one day before his forced retirement from United and one day before his company paid life insurance would terminate (another bankruptcy concession). The location was chosen because he didn't want to make a mess at home, we are told. Several other pilots have similarly taken their lives after forced retirement, some from United, but no one wants to talk about them.

I am gone now ... that love of flying is not a part of my life anymore. I wonder how many other people have experienced this feeling. Amputees? Widows and widowers? Divorcees? Bankruptcies? Farmers? I notice how life continues around me, like after those funerals I can never forget. Passengers fly, couples laugh with their families and friends, incessant news programs on the television report on hurricanes, crimes, Middle East fighting, weather, and Congress goes on vacation rather than vote on Age65. Life goes on. There were legislative bills before the Senate and House in July 2007 to change the Age 60 rule to Age 65, but Congress didn't think it important enough to save the few of us caught "in-between". The law will change soon enough to capture most of the pilots still flying and allow them to continue to do so. News reports, put out by press releases from industry and unions, say the laws are going to change; but not in time for us. The 2,000-5,000 pilots turning age 60 between November 23, 2006 and effective date of the new law will be lost. This an acceptable loss and we apparently do not count? The outgoing FAA Administrator thinks so. My once strong and proud union, the Air Line Pilots Association supports the change but is clearly dragging their feet. Further delay of the new law benefits the younger pilots, now a majority of ALPA members, who vocally want us out of their way. PAC money is spent by ALPA to delay the new rule with further "consideration". My airline employer refused to help the older pilots by requesting exemptions from the FAA or offering alternative interim employment awaiting the law change. My funeral flight is at an end. Happy Labor Day 2007. Not all can celebrate.

(Captain McCormick retired from United Airlines, after 38 years in UAL's cockpits on numerous aircraft, because of the Age 60 rule. Captain McCormick resides in Florida with his wife, and is currently looking for employment.)



Robin said...

res Teresa/Diana Outside of the fact that I entirely agree with you, "My but aren't we grouchy today! (insert laugh emoticon)

That was a very touching story regarding the pilot. I have a longer story regarding failed pensions, there are no heroes - management, unions, members. And the results are as you described.

Robin said...

I do not know how many United pilots still own shares in their company.
Perhaps if they all showed up at the next shareholders' meeting and made their views on the excessive benefits paid to the senior management, and on the sacrifices extracted from everyone else, something might get done.
But probably not.