Posted by: Korry | March 22, 2012

Ahhh Vacation!

Ahhh vacation! Time to relax. Time to let the worries of work stay at the “office.” Time to…stay put??

That’s right, this week I’m enjoying one of life’s greatest joys: the “stay-cation.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. I love to explore new cities, taste new foods, and learn about new cultures. But getting on another airplane on my days off? Not exactly ideal. Staying in yet another hotel room? Forget about it! And with passenger loads as full as they are these days, flying stand-by can be more stressful than relaxing.

So with the exception of a weekend trip to Cleveland to visit a good friend, I’m staying put for this week of vacation. I’m catching up on home projects and hopefully just resting up (especially from the unbelievable head cold I had last week that is still nagging me a bit).

In the airlines, vacation is yet another seniority-determined perk. Today, I hope to explain how vacation works in the airlines.

For starters, weeks of vacation accrue with years of service. At my airline, new pilots begin with two weeks and gain one additional week every five years maxing out at six weeks per year.

Vacation weeks are allocated the same way as monthly schedules: by a bid. Each October, we put in our bid for which weeks we want vacation. Depending on how senior you are, sometimes you get the weeks you want and sometimes you don’t. And while you can sometimes trade weeks once they are awarded to you, most times you are stuck with the ones you get.

It seems like vacation bidding would be pretty straight forward. There are 52 weeks a year, each pilot gets a certain number of weeks and the company allocates a certain number of available vacation spots per week. Each pilot would rank the weeks in a desired order and then the computer would go down the seniority list pilot by pilot in each sub-base (base, type of airplane and position on the airplane) awarding the weeks that each pilot could hold.

If only it were that simple. For some reason, however, it seems to be unbelievably complicated at my company. Instead of having one bid, we have a series of bids. With each bid, the company opens up a portion of the available vacation weeks.

In other words, lets assume the company has 15 slots available for vacation during the week of June 1-7 in a particular sub-base. If the company has five vacation bids, it will release three of those June 1-7 vacation slots each time. If the first three pilots bid that week, pilot number 4 wouldn’t be able to hold that week until at least the second vacation bid.

Now, I’m sure this complexity adds some flexibility, but I have never really understood our system. Supposedly, it allows pilots to bid their vacation weeks in a different order over different vacation bids, particularly if they want to take multiple weeks at the same time.

Is your head spinning yet?? Mine, too! In fact, just writing about it makes me confused. And to make things even more complicated, we don’t have to bid all of our vacation weeks. Instead, we could choose to either take the pay for the vacation and not get the days off, or we could choose to reserve a few weeks of our vacation to bid month-to-month for available weeks since we may not know our plans far enough in advance…but that runs the risk of not getting “good” weeks.

Most people probably think that flying airplanes is actually the hardest part of being an airline pilot. I disagree. I think the hardest part of being an airline pilot is just figuring out how to get to do my job! Whether it’s completing all the necessary computer based training or learning how to bid my vacation or mastering the bidding language that is our monthly schedule “preferential bidding system” (or PBS), it’s all extremely complicated.

Thankfully, I get to put that all behind me this week while I enjoy my “stay-cation.”

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  1. […] there I am, enjoying the last few remaining days of my “staycation” when all of a sudden I begin to get bombarded by friends asking what the heck happened at […]

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