Monday, February 7, 2011

Working the Line - An Airline Career's Meaning

My friend was so excited about the recent profitability of a prospective employer that he could hardly contain himself. His long and painful search for work was heading into its ninth month following a sudden furlough and here at last was a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the aviation tunnel. He worked in the travel industry and had for the past 25 or so years. Despite several conversations to steer him in to a more sustainable profession at least during this most recent ten years of turmoil he resolutely believes there is a future, his future, in the air.

Few industries or professions offer the rewards of the travel industry or the airlines in particular. Hotel workers get free nights but typically only the management staff can afford the airfare to get to the better properties around the country. I would not necessarily imagine too many front desk agents having the ability to take time off in Tahiti at the St. Regis. Airline employees, however, get the kind of perk the rest of the world can only dream of: free or significantly reduced air travel to just about any place on the planet with a runway.

Except places like Tahiti just about every destination on the planet has a full spread of hotels from no star to five star accommodations. That means that anyone from the chief executive to the guy driving the lavatory service vehicle can hop on a plane to Paris or Australia for little more than the cost of a weekend at home. On top of that, the hotels and cruise lines who depend on the airlines to bring customers to their properties and party ships offer attractive discounts as well.

That's a lot to no longer be a part of; more rewarding, however, is the work itself. To be a part of a larger thing that links people, places and products together all across the planet is to surely find great personal satisfaction in each day at the office, be that office a cube at headquarters, the cockpit of an airplane or operations control, the very nerve center of the whale. There is a realistic sense of connectivity to every flight, be it Chicago to Omaha or Los Angeles to London.

This type of work can be defining, even all consuming. Sadly, several hundred thousand employees have lost their jobs in this industry since September 11th. As glamorous as the airline game may be it suffers the boom and bust of every economic cycle like few other industries in existence. Where once it was unthinkable for major airlines to fold, Braniff went first in 1982 followed by Eastern in 1989 and Pan Am in 1991 with nearly every major carrier since then either in and out of bankruptcy or swallowed whole by one of its less wounded peers.

Airline workers in general have been held to flat or reduced incomes for nearly a decade in a business that collectively has lost money since the Wright brothers yet still they soldier on. There are few other jobs out there and certainly none like those related to air travel. Jet fuel runs in the veins, though, and my friend, like so many of his airline brothers and sisters, believes to his core that air travel is too essential to the world we live in and that good times - and hopefully good salaries - will return.

With flight benefits suddenly the niece's 8th birthday back home doesn't have to be missed, the sorority reunion an affordable given and a visit to the home country of the foreign exchange student a no-brainer! With all things being equal wouldn't you like to do the same job you have now, conference calls and all, only for a major airline with the chance at getting away anywhere in the world just about any time you wanted?

Gotta go!

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