As the pandemic appears to be winding down, travel is showing some signs of recovery. Flights for spring break saw some of the highest load factors seen since early 2020, and Americans are itching to avoid another summer of being stuck at home.
Several airlines, including a couple of majors, are showing signs of growth and pilot hiring. United recently announced point-to-point service for several Midwestern cities that are not typically a part of its core hub-and-spoke system. This is a significant departure (pun very much intended) for a company that is so focused on maximizing the hub part of the hub-and-spoke.
Other carriers have also been quietly making adjustments to their schedules as well, and a cursory examination of the announcements shows what was long predicted: Leisure travel is expected to rebound first.
Here’s the best part of the good news, though: Much of this added flying is being done on regional aircraft. That makes sense, because a smaller airplane allows an airline to “right-size” the airframe for the market, which in this case, is relying on zero connecting passengers. If the smaller airplanes fill up, the option always exists to bring in something bigger later or on a seasonal basis. From a pilot perspective, it means more block hours of flying, which means more jobs. Endeavor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta, has begun training new-hire pilots, and is expecting to hire as many as 400 before the end of the year. Spirit and United are also expected to see a net growth in pilot jobs.
This is a stark turnaround from where we were a year ago, when pilots at the majors were sweating out the possibility of a furlough. Fortunately, three significant government bail-out bills have kept the airlines afloat and allowed for some creative solutions to be crafted to minimize any lost jobs. It appears to have worked as advertised. Early separation packages got some senior folks to retire, some retraining costs were saved or totally avoided, and the ability to rebound was kept in place. On my last couple of trips, the airways and radio frequencies were jammed, and it was a great sense of normalcy in a year that has had anything but.
Pilots who are interested in stepping up to the regionals or higher need to be updating applications regularly and touching base with contacts at various carriers. Job fairs are likely to be virtual, if they occur at all. But if they do, that face time with a recruiter will be more important than ever before.
Because it stands to reason that many countries will require a vaccine to enter, getting vaccinated should be a priority for anyone looking to get into the travel industry, and pilots will be at the top of that list. The Biden administration is pushing to broaden the ability for everyone to get a shot by May 1, so if you can get one, don’t wait. The airlines have not specifically come out and said that they will require a vaccine, but at least one as hinted that it may, and they may all require future job applicants to have one. There is no point in delaying what feels like the inevitable, especially if it has the double bonus of both protecting you and gaining a leg up on future employment.
What was threatening to be a long period of recessionary activity is now showing signs of hope and recovery. While nothing is ever guaranteed, the signs are positive, and that’s far more than we could have dared hoped for a year ago.—Chip Wright