Flying Cheap …The Regional Lifestyle?

The CRJ-200 – My husband’s birdie

My pilot wife friend Melissa tipped me off on this upcoming Frontline special: Flying Cheap

Quoting the Frontline website:

From producer Rick Young —

The crash of Continental 3407 outside Buffalo last year, killing all on board, was big news, as any commercial crash is. But like many who were fortunate enough not to be touched personally by the tragedy, what most caught my attention was the news that followed. The co-pilot had been making less than $16,000.

While I knew the airline industry had been struggling through tough times since 9/11, I sure didn’t know that some of the folks that fly me around are working second jobs and overnighting on lounge room La-Z-Boys. And I didn’t know that regional airlines, once thought of as puddle-jumpers, had grown so fast that they now account for more than half the nation’s daily departures. We are on our way to becoming a regional airline nation.

If you missed this big industry shift, that’s understandable. Most flights today still carry the codes and colors of the major airlines. But over the past decade, fewer and fewer of the majors are actually flying those planes. That job is increasingly outsourced to small regional companies with names most of us hardly know. Continental 3407 wasn’t flown by Continental, but by a company called Colgan Air.

The rapid growth of airline outsourcing is part of a fiercely competitive industry that keeps airfares affordable for many. And that’s good for consumers. But the crash of 3407, and the year-long investigation that has followed, raised significant questions about the safety practices of regional operators like Colgan. So it seemed a good time for FRONTLINE to journey into the world of the regionals and see what the insiders had to say.

In this clip from the film, you’ll hear about the lives of regional pilots, crash pads and the pressures that outsourcing brings to bear — “pilot pushing” as its called in the industry. Two former Colgan pilots agreed to speak publicly for the first time, and so we flew to California and sat down for long, amazing interviews. While their stories were in many ways surprising, we knew they weren’t unique. We’ve spoken with many regional pilots, both former and current, and most all shared similar concerns about what’s happening in the airline industry.

The full expose will be showing on February 9th. But even from this 10 minute snippet, you’ll see and hear some pretty harrowing facts…poverty wages for newbie first officers, crazy crowded crashpad conditions, the realities of duty time vs paid flight time, company efficiency quotas, the reasons why so many people commute. I’m a little perturbed that the video infers that all regional pilots are low time and underexperienced…but that’s a pretty common media angle.

It will be interesting to see if the special mentions anything about pilot families, and how the commuting lifestyle affects family life. I don’t deal with the physical fatigue my husband experiences after his fourth 16-hour day in a row, but to say I’m immune from emotional fatigue would be false. I do know the existing duty FAA guidelines are currently under revision, and things can’t stay at the status quo much longer. And this includes bargain-basement airfare.

And now for some light entertainment…

Skymall Birthday Wishlist


I love to shop, but not in the traditional “Let’s go to the mall and have a girly shopping spree heyday” kind of shopping. As soon as I was old enough to help my mom clip coupons, I gained mad discount bargain shopping skills. I am true to my brand loyalties, despite buying most of my stuff at discount retailers and thrift stores. Growing up, I was a sucker for the “As Seen On TV” commercial products (I still am, if the recently acquired SlapChop in my cupboard is any indication). I’ve been shopping online since the late 1990’s, and get better prices on the things I do buy that way. Although I don’t do much shopping from catalogs, I have had a longtime guilty pleasure obsession with SkyMall Magazine.

Nothing produces a case of the “Gimmes” more than Skymall. It’s a brilliant airline marketing tactic…fill 136 pages with exciting and unique products, and provide each passenger with a copy at arm’s length. I usually ban myself from even pulling the magazine out of my seatback pocket, knowing that I will launch into greedy materialistic consumer mode before I hit 10,000′ altitude. But on my flight back from Memphis this weekend, I indulged in a little SkyMall fantasizing. In honor of my upcoming 30th birthday (in 17 days), here is my Skymall wishlist:


Magellan Aluminum Wallet $29.95

I’ve never actually purchased something directly through Skymall, but I have found the items on eBay and purchased them for much less (I still don’t know why people pay $30 for an iPod charger when you can get one for less than $3 on eBay…) If these gifts are out of your price range, you can also check out my Amazon Wishlist…and I say this in the least greedy, “I’ll still be your friend regardless of the gift” voice possible. I like presents, but I like friends more. Stay tuned for details on my upcoming 30th birthday bash on February 5th…

Just for fun…comment and tell me what your SkyMall obsession items!

Apology to those who think I hate Embry Riddle

Just to clarify:

I meant no disrespect for Embry Riddle in my previous post regarding “The Bachelor – On The Wings of Love.” Personally, the only exposure I’ve had to ERAU is listening to the cockpit experiences of my husband and his pilot friends. When they hear about how “Grandpa Moneybags paid for my training at Embry Riddle,” its hard for them not to feel some resentment. Those typically are the same captains who make fun of my boys for living off of peanuts, pretzels, and Biscoff cookies (because money for their student loan payments trump a healthy meal). These loan payments often exceed their take home pay, and they went to the least expensive flight school they could find.

I do not doubt that Embry Riddle graduates gain an excellent education there, regardless of how it was financed. Maybe some of your ERAU grads who sent me hate mail will understand my perspective a little more…and will be kinder to your fellow pilots who trained in a less prestigious program.

Tender Tennessee Christmas?

Since Taylor has been with his airline, he’s had relatively good luck with having holidays off. Sometimes he’ll miss an “eve” but make it for the “day,” or part of the accompanying weekend. For Thanksgiving, he had three days off. He flew in to ONT Wednesday morning at 4 am, and flew out of LAX Friday morning at 4 am. It is difficult to spend so much time commuting, especially because it typically involves pickups/dropoffs at early and strange hours. Since he’s been in MEM, he’s had much better luck jumpseating on FedEx than on Delta….and those flights are usually during the inconvenient hours.

Last week he got his December schedule, which made us happy and sad. Happy because he has 16 days off (for the first time since he was domiciled at DTW). Sad because he is scheduled on 4-day trips over both Christmas and New Years. He’ll be overnighting in Nashville Christmas Eve, and Knoxville New Years Eve. It doesn’t make sense for Rosie and I to fly out to be with him….he’s flying multiple legs December 24, 25, 31 and January 1. My first (sarcastic) thought was “Another tender Tennessee Christmas,” a song I love off of Amy Grant’s Christmas album. Amy makes it sound so idyllic…for Taylor it will mean nights alone in a Hampton Inn or Fairfield Inn.

Come on weatherman,give us a forecast snowy white.
Can’t you hear the prayers of every childlike heart tonight?
Rockies are calling, Denver snow falling,
Somebody said it’s four feet deep.
But it doesn’t matter, give me the laughter;
I’m gonna choose to keep

Another tender Tennessee Christmas,
The only Christmas for me.
Where the love circles around us like the gift around our tree.
Well I know there’s more snow up in Colorado
Than my roof will ever see,
But a tender Tennessee Christmas is the only Christmas for me.

Every now and then, I got a wanderin’ urge to see
Maybe California, maybe tinsel town’s for me.
There’s a parade there, we’d have it made there;
Bring home a tan for New Year’s Eve.
Sure sounds exciting, awfully inviting,
Still I think I’m gonna keep

Another tender Tennessee Christmas,
The only Christmas for me.
Where the love circles around us like the gift around our tree.
Well they say in L.A.it’s a warm holiday;
It’s the only place to be.
But a tender Tennessee Christmas is the only Christmas for me.
(Ohh, you know I wanna be home.)

The "F" Word


Oh my heck. We just got word that Taylor’s airline have decided to start the furlough process. Hopefully Taylor’s up enough in seniority that it won’t affect him, but still…it’s scary. Keep your fingers crossed and knees bent in his behalf.

*Update: After scouring the company website, airline pilot forums, and a few news websites, it looks like the brunt of the company structure changes will be administrative. Right now 50 administrative employees between the 4 bases, including base managers, have been laid off. No specific pilot furloughs have been officially announced, but that’s the talk in the bowels of the crew room. Taylor’s got about 300 FO’s below him, so we’re safe for the moment.