The dreaded airline furlough is a euphemism for being laid off, but with an option to return to work when the company's needs allow it. My furlough forced me to make some fundamental decisions about how I was going to conduct my life in the future. Little did I know how important those decisions would become years later.


Depending on the airline you have signed on with and the general financial state of your airline, the furlough may or may not be a way of life. At Eastern it was inevitable that I would be furloughed (the airline, the Air Line Pilots' Association, and everyone in the world, it seems, was aware of that fact except me). About two weeks before the actual furlough, rumors were circulating wildly and then in the mail came the familiar registered letter from Miami informing me that I was excess baggage for the time being. Unlike being laid off in the civilian world, an airline pilot retains his seniority number during furlough and is recalled in seniority order before any new hiring takes place. No one had any idea of how long the furlough would last and the estimates ranged from a few months to many years. As it turned out, the latter estimate was closer to reality than the former. Once again, I was abruptly separated from flying. This time, though, I decided that although I loved flying and would go back when recalled, I would never again be dependent on flying to eat or keep a roof over my head. This would be hereinafter referred to as Rule 1.

Rule 2 involved ALPA. The Air Line Pilots Association is just a fancy name for a union. Yes, they do a lot of work to promote air safety, but what they do best is protect their bank accounts. ALPA might also be better known as the Air Line Captains Association, because the union was dominated by senior captains looking out for their own good. When I was furloughed, I had about two weeks of accumulated back vacation pay coming. I was quite astonished to find out that I was paid at the rate of an Electra Second Officer, not at the rate of a B-727 Second Officer. In fact, I wasn't even licensed to be an Electra Second Officer. The FAA requires separate Flight Engineer licenses for turbojet, turboprop, and recip aircraft. I was hired to fly the 727, I flew the 727 for over a year, and I was given my back pay at Electra rates. This may not sound like a big deal, and probably on the global scale it is not, but it was a matter of principle and of money of which I was now in dire need. When I tried to find out how such a mistake had been made, I was informed that it was not a mistake, it was a deal made between the company and ALPA. So, Rule 2 was that ALPA was not necessarily my friend and hereinafter I would treat ALPA very circumspectly. (I have often wondered if ALPA had any idea, or cared, how much damage that penny-ante little stunt did to their credibility amongst the 300+ pilots who were furloughed.)

My formal education had been in electrical engineering and I had practiced that trade in the other jobs I had held. I was fortunate enough to find a small company which was building what would now be called "personal computers", although they were not intended for sale to a general market (too bad, if only we had known then what we know now). This was many years before IBM introduced their first "PC". I found the work and the people in the company interesting and enjoyed my new-found career.

I pretty much put Eastern out of my head and directed my energy to the task at hand: trying to help a small company survive in the economic jungle. I learned a lot back then about designing CPUs and computer memory, finally putting to good use some of education my parents had paid dearly for.

Things developed well over the next couple of years and I was beginning to wonder if Eastern would ever recall me. I spoke from time to time with some of the other furloughees and tried to keep up with the latest rumors, so I wasn't entirely surprised when the usual registered letter showed up from Eastern informing me that my services were once again required. I view of Rule 1, however, I exercised my right to delay my recall. I was given the option of returning to Eastern immediately, or waiting until the next recall. Reasoning that I was in the very top of the seniority block which was originally furloughed and that if Eastern was really getting in better financial health, there would be more recalls shortly. I also reasoned that I would not lose any seniority by delaying recall and that if I went back immediately, I would just be right back on reserve. In fact, I ended up delaying my recall for almost two more years. When I finally did go back, I maintained a consulting business to keep myself current in the real world.

Revised: 24 March 1999