by Jason Depew, TPN Staff Writer
Welcome back TPN! We just decided that commuting is a terrible way of life. (If you missed that discussion, go read Part 1 of this series here. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/give-a-hoot-dont-commute-part-1)
Although you acknowledge my arguments, you may believe that you’re a magical and unique flower entitled to special treatment in life…and you may choose to commute anyway. (I know a certain bozo who decided to set sail on that exact boat, despite being the guy who just gave that advice.) This part of our commuting discussion looks at some of the reasons why it may be worthwhile to commute anyway.
For me, these reasons primarily center around family. What’s more, I assert that we need to do a better job of considering the idea of sacrifice in this part of our discussion…especially with respect to military service.
Briefly: I admire and respect the men and women who sacrifice to serve our country. There are some very bad people in this world who want to kill us so that they can gain power or money. They pervert the beliefs of good people and send them after us. Someone needs to fight against that kind of evil, to the point of killing the bad guys. I did exactly that for more than a decade and I’m proud of my service! Doesn’t it feel great to wage a righteous war against evil?
I believe I’ve conclusively demonstrated that the airlines pay far more than the military ever could in the long run, but I’ll also be the first in line to say that money isn’t everything. From one perspective, I applaud anyone who chooses staying in the military over an airline job because he or she finds military service truly, and honestly fulfilling.
On the other hand, though, at the risk of you calling me an unpatriotic jerk, I ask you to consider for a moment what sacrifices your family has had to make over the past decade or two for you to enjoy that deep, personal fulfillment.
Most military spouses have a tough time finding a decent job because they move around so much and live in terrible places where opportunities are limited. It’s almost unheard of for a military spouse to pursue a real, fulfilling career because the frequent moving and bad locations work against them. Every time you deploy, it’s an additional hardship for your spouse to work. Potentially, every iota of personal fulfillment you enjoy in your righteous Crusade for America comes at the cost of the exact same kind of fulfillment for your spouse.
He or she will never admit to that. He or she might say, “I wanted to stay at home with the kids anyway.” You’ll hear about how proud he or she is of you and why that’s what matters the most. Maybe he or she did get to build some sort of career that offered satisfaction, but was it as fulfilling as what you got to spend all those years doing? If you take a minute to be truly honest with yourself, you should be able to realize who has sacrificed more in your relationship.
The same goes for your kids. They work hard to establish lives at school, make friends, get onto sports teams or clubs or musical groups…only to start again every few years (or less.) Every time you got promoted and moved to your next dream assignment and felt your chest puff up with pride…it was a really horrible gut-punch of a year or two for your kids. If you’re lucky they grinned and bore it well and made “Welcome Home!” signs every time you came back from a deployment. That doesn’t mean they loved the sacrifices they had to make for you.
In this light, I assert that it’s worth commuting to an airline job if you can give your spouse or your children the opportunity to pursue a truly fulfilling career, or a more stable life…even if it’s just for a few years. After a decade or two of reveling in your own personal fulfillment at the cost of their sacrifice, it may be the absolute minimum you can do.
With some open and honest communication and advanced planning, your spouse may be able to find a great opportunity at a major airline domicile, precluding any need to commute. (Assuming you can get hired at that particular company.) I continue to assert that this is your best option.
However, your spouse may be better off at a job nowhere near a major hub. Your kids may want to finish school wherever you ended your military service or your time with a regional airline. In those cases, I say it’s probably worth commuting to your new airline job for a while. (More considerations on timeframe later.)
I also know a lot of pilots who want to live closer to parents, on one or both sides of the family. Sometimes the pilot or spouse is just very close to the parents, and want grandparents active in grandkids’ lives. In many cases, the parents’ health isn’t great and the pilot and/or spouse helps care for them. Sure, you could move your parents to a hub city, but sometimes they won’t want to move away from a home of 60 or 80 years. If family is a priority in your life, commuting may be worth it to live by your parents.
In discussions about family, it’s easy to forget about those pilots who don’t have a family yet, but might like to. Let’s do better for them here today. If you’re in the market for a future Mr. or Mrs., I say pick your favorite airline hub and look for someone who already lives there.
However, you may already be in a relationship. If you aren’t ready to move your significant other to your new airline hub and settle down, you’ll be looking at a commute for work or a commute for love. That’s a tough choice!
I don’t want to be cynical, but I feel like most of us go through at least a few relationships that don’t work out before we finally find “The One”. If I were in your shoes, I’d consider renting at my airline hub and seeing how a long-distance relationship works for at least 6-12 months. It gives your significant other time to get used to the idea of being with an airline pilot and gives you both time to see how things are going overall. When you revisit after a few months, you may find that you’re ready to commit to a full-time commute, or move your sweetheart to the domicile to be with you…consolidating your whole life in one fell swoop.
On the other hand, I’ve seen people move to undesirable locations and even buy houses with a boyfriend or girlfriend, only to break up a few months later…stuck somewhere that no longer makes any sense for them. This is always a nightmare. Don’t rush into things!
Although I feel that family is one of the few things that could make commuting worthwhile, there are a few others. One might be that you have a dream location in mind.
My brother-in-law visited Colorado as a kid and fell in love. He knew he was going to move back there after college and did. He picked a job in Denver and is living happily ever after. Denver is an easy choice for an airline pilot with United, Frontier, and others right there; however, it could have just as easily been Montana, Arizona, or Costa Rica. If you have lifetime-level aspirations to live in a specific location, you can make a commute work. I recommend renting there for a year or two to make sure that you can handle the commute before buying a forever home and settling down.
Along with dream locations, dream hobbies or side-gigs could help dictate where you want to live. Is it your dream to live on a sailboat? Have you always wanted to go back and coach your old curling team at U of A Tucson? Did Windward Performance promise you unlimited part-time work on their GosHawk project in Bend, OR? One of these, or something like them, could be an acceptable reason to commute in my book.
Taxes could also be a slightly less noble reason for choosing to commute. If you’re planning to go all-out and make as much money as you can for a while, you may want to live in a state with little or no income tax (which only helps as long as you have property and shopping plans that minimize your other tax burdens.) If you’re going to fly out of Atlanta, you could live in Tennessee. If you’re going to fly out of Denver, you could live in Wyoming or South Dakota. Depending on your income and the state’s tax rates, you might be able to buy yourself a confirmed seat to work for every trip and still save money. (California anyone?)
At this point, I’m honestly hoping that many of you are unconvinced. As great as any of these reasons are, I feel like the vast majority of us can happily find a way to not commute. However, if you’re still leaning toward commuting, I offer a couple important considerations:
First, commuting doesn’t have to be forever. If your location is based on school for your kids, you can probably move in less than a decade. Your spouse’s job might not even keep you stuck forever. He or she might be able to move up to a job at your airline’s hub, or hit a point where it would have been natural to retire anyway.
It’s also important to realize that as an airline pilot, you have the potential to hit an income level where any money your spouse makes may be a relatively small percentage of your household income. If your spouse is a school teacher, he or she will top-out at roughly 10% of 12+ year captain pay at a major airline. At that point, it only makes sense for your spouse to continue in that job if he or she gains major life fulfillment from it. If he or she doesn’t love the job, or it’s high-stress, your entire family will end up suffering for nothing. One of the mixed blessings of our current hub-and-spoke airline system is that major airline domiciles are at large cities rife with opportunities. If your spouse has valuable skills, I assert that there’s a good chance he or she can find a very fulfilling job at one of those hub cities. You may only need to commute long enough for your spouse to remain current in his or her job while searching for that more fulfilling opportunity. Since money won’t be as much of an issue for your family, your spouse should feel free to explore even lower-paying jobs that come with better fulfillment.
The more openly you can discuss all this with your spouse, the better you can set yourselves up for future success. Identify the hub cities you have to choose from and help your family focus job and/or school hunting in those locations.
If you’re only going to commute for a few years, don’t buy a big, expensive house and do a temporary “settle-down” Rent something affordable, save for a future down payment, and buy when you finally move to a hub.
In our industry, seniority is everything. We hate the idea of moving from one company to another and “losing” a bunch of seniority in the process. I wouldn’t do this on a whim; however, I assert that there’s nothing wrong with giving up a good job at a good company if you have a confirmed job at a new good company in a place your entire family will enjoy without you having to commute.
You’d be surprised to hear how often this happens. My indoc class had a pilot from United at it. I know of other pilots who left for other companies. I’ve heard of people just not showing up for class at Southwest, FedEx, and others. The pilot shortage is real, and retirement rates are just starting to pick up. I assert that, at least for the next few years, you could switch to a completely different airline and still enjoy amazing career/seniority progression. The sacrifice of a few thousand seniority numbers would be more than worth-while in exchange for never commuting again.
Forcing yourself to agree that a commute doesn’t have to be forever is the first step to making it bearable. However, there are some other strategies that can also help. Join us for Part 3 where we’ll take a look at some more.