Understanding the Commuting Lifestyle – Part 2

BogiDope, F-15 and MD- 10.

Part 1 of Understanding the Commuting Lifestyle generated some great questions and commentary for the BogiDope staff.  We focused on the how to commute and highlighted some of the benefits and challenges associated with that lifestyle.  We received questions from lots of folks who asked, “What’s best—commuting to my airline job or commuting to my Guard or Reserve unit?”

The bottom line is that the flexibility of commuting is one of the great benefits of having the two best part-time jobs in the world. However, everyone’s situation is different.  In order to help you make your choice, BogiDope has listed the three possible options that will help our readers to determine which option is the best for them.

Option One:  Live in Domicile AND your Guard or Reserve Base

Without question, living in your airline domicile and your Guard or Reserve base is the best option.  This is the holy grail of airline and military flying; it provides the greatest amount of flexibility, time at home and potential to maximize your income.  If you are lucky enough to enjoy this happy scenario, it won’t matter if you are on an airline on-call schedule or if you’re able to bid a scheduled line of flying; your life will be full of flexible options because both of your jobs will be just a short car ride away.

Having more time at home is probably the greatest benefit of achieving collocated airline and Guard or Reserve jobs.  When your airline trip ends you just jump in the car and drive straight home.  Unlike someone who commutes, you won’t have to finish your trip and suffer the slings and arrows of fighting for a jumpseat to get home.  In some instances this can save anywhere from one to two full days of traveling on either side of a trip, making your scheduled free time truly free.  Bidding a reserve schedule is a common lifestyle enhancement strategy used by major airline pilots who live in domicile.  A reserve schedule will require you to be “on call” from home (normally a 1-2 hour call out if on “short call”).  The benefit to this is that you can live out your 12 to 14 days of airline “work” at home going about your normal schedule as if you were off, but being careful to remember to keep your phone nearby.  This way of life works well for some; they bid reserve and get paid a normal month’s salary for sitting at home or working only a handful of days—short call reserves are typically the very last pilots to be used to cover an airline schedule.

Living at your Guard or Reserve base affords you the ability to go in and fly your military schedule and be home that same day.  It is quite possible that by creatively bidding reserve at the airline and living at your military base, you could only go into work when you have to execute your military flying.

Maximizing pay is the goal of every pilot.  It is possible to collect a full month’s paycheck from the airline and the military for doing little more than sitting at home on call and working your mandatory days at the Guard or Reserve—all without ever spending a night away from home.  Since you won’t fly many days on an airline reserve schedule (most of the time), you can pick up extra trips on your scheduled days off for premium pay.  Airlines call this a draft, open time or green slips—no matter what they call it you’ll be getting paid one and a half to two times your normal rate for the extra flying you are doing outside of your monthly bid.  This can be a huge paycheck enhancement!

Making your home near your airline domicile and Guard or Reserve base is by far the best case scenario, but it is rarer than you would think; there aren’t that many airline crew bases collocated with Guard or Reserve units.  A couple of options that come to mind are Memphis and Atlanta.  There are many pilots who fly for FedEx that are also pilots in the Tennessee Air National Guard.  Some Delta pilots who live in Atlanta also work at Warner Robbins Air Reserve Base (south of the city) or Dobbins Air Reserve Base (north of the city).  Geography governs here; if you want to enjoy this exceptional lifestyle you can’t be too picky about where you will end up.

Option Two:  Live at Your Guard or Reserve Base and Commute to Your Airline Job

If you are considering commuting this is probably the best option.  In fact, it is the most common strategy employed by airline pilots who also fly for the Guard or Reserve because it offers a greater degree of geographic flexibility.  Airline pilots are generally going to be away from home anyway while they are at work; if you must commute, it’s better done on the airline side of your professional life because you’re planning on traveling anyhow.  This way, you can maximize your home time during your work with the Guard or Reserve.

When you live at your Guard or Reserve base, you’ll generally work your 8 hour day for the military and be home for dinner—kind of like a regular nine to five job.  While it isn’t perfect, it is still a decent situation; you’ll only be commuting to one of your flying jobs.  If you plan creatively and manage to pick up 30 day orders with your unit multiple times per year, you can find yourself with a lot of time at home while working both jobs. Only you know what the work/life balance needs to be for your family, so plan accordingly.

The bottom line is this: most pilots are already gone when they fly for their airline job.  So live at your Guard or Reserve base and take advantage of additional orders and the monthly routine of working a Guard or Reserve job. This will keep you home with your family most nights.

Live in Domicile and Commute to Your Guard or Reserve Base

This is the least commonly employed of all of the options because it tends to be the most inconvenient. Airline pilots who commute to their Guard or Reserve job are most likely bidding a reserve airline schedule or are senior enough to hold out-and-backs, affording them a good chance to be home each night.  This allows pilots then to commute to their Guard or Reserve job with little impact on their work and family balance.  Holding out-and-back schedules tends to be something reserved for more senior pilots; junior reserve pilots are often used for multi-day trips and their schedules tends to be somewhat unpredictable.  This can make family plans a bit uncertain.

Most Guard and Reserve flying jobs require six days of work per month to stay current and to be a contributing member to the unit. Accommodations are not normally provided when you are working for the Guard or Reserve (depending on the type of orders).  This means you will have to pay for a hotel room while you are executing your military duty. It is common for airlines pilots to have crash pads in domicile but not at their military installation.

While this might not seem like a bad option, you’ll be making the assumption that your airline job will afford you maximum time at home. This is a chancy proposition—it only takes a few airline trips and a drill weekend for this lifestyle to cause friction at home.

Be sure to talk through the options with your family to help you decide which option works best for your unique situation.  Avoid the double commute!  BogiDope does not recommend anyone commute to their airline job AND their Guard or Reserve job.  This model is not sustainable and will quickly wear you down.  Remember that you are lucky enough to have the best two part-time jobs in the world, so make it as easy on yourself and your family as possible.

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