Pilot Shares Insider's View of Airline Industry

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Remember this summer's tawdry incident in which a Southwest pilot obscenely berated flight attendants over his open microphone? He had quite an audience, too -- air traffic controllers and fellow pilots -- as he railed away on the "gays and grannies" in the cabin.

Ever wondered if other pilots share that view? Me too, so I asked one.

Our pilot, who will remain anonymous so he can speak more freely, is a first officer with a legacy carrier (you'll have to guess whether he flies for American, Delta, United/Continental or U.S. Airways). He is also a former military aviator (jets and helicopters) and is still with the reserves.

So, what did he think about the ranting Southwest pilot? His response is terse and to the point: "Such a moron!" Our anonymous pilot then added, "I mean, really, the guy's a total moron." Okay, so tell us: what is the working relationship between pilots and flight attendants really like?

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"Sorry to disappoint you," says our anonymous source, who will henceforth be known as Pilot J. Doe, "but we all get along." And no, this happily married father of two does not view airplane crews as any kind of Match.com of the air. "It's like co-workers in any office; sometimes there are minor squabbles but mostly we're just fine."

In other words, Peyton Place it is not (which reminds me of last week's column and the flight attendant who said whenever a colleague asked if anyone was "getting any", the only thing they meant was sleep). Another observation from pilot Doe on his cabin mates: "When I fly as a passenger, I like seeing the male flight attendants. Most of those guys treat you like a king."

If only the airlines did the same, but our source said most carriers haven't treated pilots as royalty in years. So why did Pilot Doe leave the military to join the private sector? "I was going for those big, fat airline salaries," he laughed. Then along came 9/11, which accelerated the road to bankruptcy for a number of carriers, which in turn led to layoffs and pay cuts.

Okay, pilot salaries are far from pitiful, but some cuts have been incredibly deep. I know pilots who say their paychecks have shrunk a whopping 40 percent in the past few years (and one who made that claim was Hero-of-the-Hudson Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger). As for our anonymous pilot, his first officer salary is about $90,000 a year, but guess what? "If you break it down, I actually make more per hour for my Army Reserve work."

And the ongoing threat of layoffs creates a constant undercurrent of worry. Pilot Doe says some of his colleagues count the number of pilots below them (those with less seniority) to figure out if they'll be spared or let go in the next round of budget cuts.

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