By: John Wims, admin of SWA New Hire Pilots private facebook group
I love acronyms (ILA). I also love sarcasm (IALS). In the grand scheme of things, the fewer the acronyms I have in my life, the better. However, there are certain topics in my professional life that just require a level of complexity that need a description that’s just too wordy for easy consumption. So, this article is intended for you, Mr./Mrs. Southwest Airlines New Hire, soon to be New Hire, wannabe New Hire, 3rd year FO that doesn’t understand what exactly is going in the minutiae of the contract, etc…
Necessary disclaimer: I don’t claim to be a contract expert. I’m usually happy to be in the middle third on the aviation industry intelligence spectrum. As a matter of fact, the only things I’m certain of is that I’m usually ranked in the top 2 of all pilots in the cockpit at any given time, and that I’m an expert on being confused by the contract and its language within. The following article is my simplistic interpretation of our current, hard to read and understand contract as it pertains to exchange of flying, voluntary additional flying, and involuntary additional flying.
Common Acronyms Used At SWA (CAUAS)
ELITT: Enhanced Line Improvement Trip Trade
TT/GA: Trip Trade, Give Away
HOT: Hourly Open Time
POT: Premium Open Time
MOT: Monthly Open Time
DOT: Daily Open Time
SNOT: Short Notice Open Time
SNOTP: Short Notice Open Time Premium
SNOTS: Short Notice Open Time Straight
VPF: Voluntary Premium Flying
JA: Junior Assigned
First, let’s dive into the two basic types of trip trading, ELITT and TT/GA. ELITT, quite simply, is trading trips with the company. Per the contract, “…a pilot may utilize the Enhanced Line Improvement Trip Trade (ELITT) system to trade their flying with open pairings from the Company’s Open Time inventory”. ELITT can be referenced in the contract, section 7.B. The company’s ELITT inventory is finalized after MOT closes out, and is made up of leftover trips from mil leave drops, jury duty, vacation, training pulls, etc… ELITT opens on the 25th of every month at different times for each of the different domiciles, and at the opening bell it’s a real feeding frenzy. Trips are gone within a matter of seconds. And in reality, the highly desirable trips turn into 4 day trips starting on Friday (who flies 4 days? Seriously, those are twice as long as 3 days). I’ve never gotten more than one trip I wanted on the first day, but I do have ELITT alerts set up on my phone when a trip that meets my personal parameters becomes available. I’ve been able to tailor my schedule to my needs for the majority of my time here at Southwest. ELITT is the almighty equalizer for us junior folks, somedays.
TT/GA is trip trading with other pilots, rather than the company. Trip Trade (TT) allows pilots to enter their desired trip request as well as their current trip listed for trade. This is where a SMF resident can trade his/her RDU or MSP overnights for any/all SMF overnights, to be home every night. AM scheduled pilots who prefer PMs will routinely get on TT/GA to make the swap. And this is where you can make small adjustments to your line, like a W/Th/Fr schedule is perfect except for next week because Wednesday night is a school recital, so you trade for a Thursday starting trip on that one specific week. Give Away (GA) is commonly used for clearing a pilot’s board, either for premium pickups or personal schedule preferences. A common practice is for senior pilots to bid the turn (1-day trip) lines or 2-day lines, so they can put those up for give away. This allows them to have a completely free month, for time off or the availability to pick up premium open time trips. Junior pilots can’t usually add a whole other 3-day trip to their line without being gone too much from home or running into FAA limitations, but turns and 2-days can usually be added much easier.
DOT/HOT/MOT/POT is basically referring to the same thing, uncovered trips that are being offered as additional flying opportunities. These trips come from the same group of trips in ELITT, except these specific trips have remained uncovered. In general, pilots can bid these trips at straight pay rates or at premium (1.5x) pay rates. The basic difference in the acronyms is referring to the time these trips become uncovered and when they’ll be awarded. Not a huge focus item per se, a bigger thing to understand about these is that they’re SENIORITY based. If two pilots bid on a trip at premium, then the senior pilot will be awarded the trip*. If two pilots bid on a trip, one at premium and one at straight, it’ll go to the straight bid pilot regardless of seniority. The * is referring to a more in depth conversation about if there are reserve pilots available to fly a trip. Basically, if there are reserve pilots available to fly an uncovered trip in open time and there are only premium bids in to fly that uncovered trip, usually the trip will be assigned to a reserve pilot rather than pay the higher priced premium rate to non-reserve pilots. I say usually, because there are many times that this situation goes very differently and the premium bids win the open time trip and the reserve pilot is kept in reserve. Clear as mud? Good, you’re all caught up now. This will be the section of the article that’ll likely attract the biggest “not necessarily” “well, actually” “not exactly” comments, and that’s to be expected. The open time system is complex, in depth, and not easily simplified. There could be an entire article just on the open time system. The more you play in the open time game, the better you understand it. This was just to touch on the very basic concepts of the system.
SNOTP/SNOTS/VPF is the area of the open time system where I’ve had my most success in my relative junior experience. These are randomly awarded (SNOTP/SNOTS) or first come first serve (VPF). These opportunities pop up randomly and there’s no way to predict them, although I’ve come to learn that summertime thunderstorms in the afternoon and snowstorms in the winter have provided a lot of SNOTP/VPF awards. SNOTP/SNOTS are by definition short notice, last minute changes. These opportunities are therefore much more available to pilots living in domicile rather than commuters. VPF is also usually short notice, so again, commuters often miss out on these opportunities.
“Cash in the chaos” is a mentality that a lot of pilots at Southwest have come to embrace. When things start to go wrong in the system, there’s usually a fallout somewhere downline. That could be open time awards (SNOTP, VPF, HOT, DOT, POT), a reserve pilot being called in, or……. the company’s wild card, the JA. JA happens when a pilot is forced to work on a previously scheduled day off. It pays double, so it’s a great money opportunity, but it’s usually not ideal for all parties involved. The JA happens when a situation pops up inside of 2 hours, so the company can’t do an Open Time Award process or assign it to a reserve pilot (due to contractual limitations). A JA’d pilot can give away his/her JA portion to another pilot, or if they’re too fatigued to work another day they can’t be forced to fly it against their will if it’s a safety issue. Another situation similar to a JA is an unscheduled overnight. This is basically the same idea as a JA, except you can be kept out in the system before coming home to your domicile for an extra night to work an extra day. Whereas a JA, a pilot can land at home, be walking up the jet bridge and get called to either go right back out if they’re legal, or to come back in tomorrow for a new trip. They’re great deals in terms of money, not so much in terms of time off.
In summary, we have a ton of acronyms in our contract at Southwest. And it takes a decoder ring to understand what the contract says (as well as other pilots), then it takes more time to understand the contract in real time as it applies to your personal schedule. There are a million different ways here to make a buck, including trading or giving away trips, open time awards, extra flying, JAs, etc… In the end, I’ll take the confusion, mass hysteria, raining cats & dogs, etc… that comes along with our contract, because that means there are plenty of options for me to improve my QOL and my schedule. I also know that the next contract will have a lot of this language simplified and I can’t wait.