“Happy Birthday Honey! I received my furlough letter today.” Not exactly the birthday present I think my wife of three weeks would have appreciated. So I decide to wait a week or so to not spoil it for her. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming, but still, no reason to ruin an otherwise happy day.
It was 2004 and I was flying the CRJ for Independence Air, formerly Atlantic Coast Airlines(ACA), based out of Dulles, VA. That summer ACA had gone “independent” from its regional roots and begun the new low fare airline, Independence Air. You know, the one with the blue bubble jets. Smart pilots started bailing from the sinking ship shortly after the first furloughs but others, like me, held out hope. Well, they were getting shiny new Airbus and I was nearly half way up the seniority list. Whether for hopes of flying one of those fancy new planes or fear of facing another aviation interview I still can’t say but I stuck it out. The furloughs started out at 50 per month and doing the math I figured I had 5-6 months before the ax found me. Needless to say I was quite surprised in December when the number of furloughs jumped to 650.
Although I was familiar with the 10 year bust-boom cycle of the airline pilot career I probably felt a bit invincible having survived 9/11 with my job intact, especially considering I was only hired in April that year. But there was no way of avoiding this one, and my number had come up. Co-workers with PIC time were able to apply to Major Airlines who were hiring again but for me with none, starting over at another regional was about my only option.
Having been a model employee and pilot I suppose I had some expectation that as long as I kept my nose clean and passed my training events life would be great. Never having worked a “real job” before I was extremely naive and set for a shock when reality smacked me square in the face.
When I decided to be a pilot it was during one of those “fog a mirror” phases and I decided to get past the spending and on to the earning as quickly as possible for the cycle reversed. I found an instructor at the local FBO and blasted through my licenses and ratings from instrument to CFII in just under a year.
Back then I felt like some kind of genius by not wasting money on a useless degree that wasn’t even required. Now, however, I wasn’t feeling so smart. I knew I didn’t want to be an airline pilot anymore but what other skills did I have: none.
Let me tell you about my brilliant idea. I was going to sell insurance. I know, I know, boring. But I figured, it didn’t require a degree, I didn’t need any start up money, any Insurance Company will hire you, and what attracted me most; I didn’t have to convince anyone to buy anything. It was REQUIRED. Either their mortgage lender, their bank or the government mandated they have it. I just had to give them a better alternative.
Long story short, I couldn’t sell ice water to a nomad in the Kalahari Desert. It didn’t help that my office was right under the approach path for the airport and every day as I struggled to lift the phone to start my daily grind cold calling I would hear the jets roaring overhead and I began thinking “that could easily be me.”
To be continued…..