Invariably when I'm at a dinner party, restaurant, or nearest strip club and the question, "What do you do for a living?" comes up you get a wide variety of answers.
"I'm a plumber," says one person.
"I do a little freelance consulting," says another guy.
"I'm working my way through college," says the stripper.
It seems that most time, except in the strippers case, the conversation stops there and we move on to other pleasantries. However, I always get asked the same question without fail...
"What's your route?"
I usually want to say something smart like, "I only do Del Rio...I'm the only pilot
trained at my airline to find it."
However, I'll let you in on a little-known aviation secret. Promise not to tell anyone? OK, if we can keep it between you and me, here it goes....
Airline pilots have no set route.
You see, everything in the airline world is based on scheduling demands of the airline itself. Want to go to Chicago next Christmas or Cancun the following Spring Break? The airline already has flights that are scheduled to go there - otherwise, how would you be able to book and pay for your tickets months in advance?
However, the story for individual crew members is quite a different tale.
Pilots don't actually know where they are flying to until the month prior. Usually around the 5th of the month we put our requests in for our next months schedule, with results published about a week later.
The airline uses a system called seniority.
If you have been at the airline longer than any other pilot you have your choice of flights before anyone else. If you were hired just a day after the most senior pilot, you'll be junior to him (or her) and have to select your schedule after he did, leaving you with less and less trips as you work your way down the pilot list. Indeed, nothing in airline scheduling is merit based.
They say seniority is like climbing a ladder naked. You look down and see nothing but smiling faces, yet you look up and see nothing but assholes.
There are a lot of assholes until it's my turn to pick my schedule. Usually by the time everyone else has selected their flights, or schedule, the only thing left over is London or Paris. You see, every time we cross the Atlantic it's a three day trip so you want to ensure you're maximizing the flying for the time you're gone.
A London trip will net you about 15 hours of flight time (also known as pay time, since we are not paid unless the engines are turning) while a Rome trip will bring in a more respectable 19 hours, since it's further away.
As your tenure at the airline increases and more pilots retire, you'll soon be working your way up the seniority ladder. It's not uncommon for a pilot to begin his career flying winter trips in the Ohio Valley and end it, 30 years later, flying 747s to China.
The flip side is true as well. It's not uncommon for a pilot to be flying 747s to China, then as a result of an airline bankruptcy and job loss and he switches airlines, only to end his career flying winter trips in the Ohio Valley.
So what's my route? I don't know, get back to me next month and we'll see what flights I've been assigned. Until then, while I'm at a dinner party, I'll stick to my old stand-by, "Del Rio."