Ask the Airline Pilot who just switched from Passengers to Cargo

The thread title says most of it. Some of you might vaguely remember me posting some things in GQ about flying every once in a while.

For those of you that don’t recognize me: I’m a former Air Force pilot who left the Air Force in 2000 to fly for the airlines. I was hired by American Airlines and spent several years there before getting furloughed recently.

A “furlough” for those of you unfamiliar with the term is the loss of your job with a promise to regain it at some future time. All the pilots at an airline are on a seniority list, and when it comes time to trim jobs the pilots at the bottom of the list are the ones who go. We will be recalled to our jobs in seniority order (ie the last pilot furloughed is the first called back, and the first pilot furloughed is the last called back). The furlough can be as short as a few months or as long as several years. What you do with yourself during this time is completely up to you.

I decided to not wait around for the recall. Even though AA is one of the most financially sound “legacy” carriers around, their future is still uncertain.

I applied and managed to get hired at FedEx. (If anyone wants to know about the hiring process I can go into it - suffice it to say that right now it’s a fairly competitive ordeal). I’ve finished training at FedEx and I’m now flying the line.

So, the field of questions is (almost completely) wide open. I will answer any question I can about flying jets, carrying passengers, carrying boxes, why I made the jump to the “dark side”, etc.

I will NOT answer any questions about lousy customer service, why AA lost your bags on flight xxx or anything else that is airline-specific. The only reason that I even mention my former airline is that I no longer work for them - and thus cannot and will not answer any questions about current operations. If you had a bad experience on AA, I’m sorry - it’s probably one of the reasons why I no longer have a job there. But I can’t do anything to fix it.

What I can do is answer any questions you have about flying, schedules, life in general, etc.


What aspects of cargo flying to you prefer to passenger flying? Is there a significant pay difference? Do you get free shipping?


So did you fly C141s in the AF?

I have a buddy who flys for FedEx out of Memphis, he really seems to like it. Hope you do to!

Are you able to fly a bit more “wild” in terms of steeper banks, faster climbs, etc., since the boxes aren’t going to get airsick?

Last question first:

Yes, I did fly C-141s: I was at McGuire from 94-98. If your friend flew out of McGuire I might know him.

So far the flying for FedEx has been great. I live in Dallas but I’m based in Memphis. The commute has been easy so far; FedEx is much better for commuting than my previous airline.
As to the pax vs cargo: There are pros and cons to both.

Passenger pros: Seeing people walk onto my airplane, and getting them where they needed to be. This was more significant during the holiday season: getting a family home for Thanksgiving and seeing the happy reunion in the terminal just made me feel good. Yeah, I spent that night in the hotel with a turkey sandwich from room service, but 100+ people were where they wanted to be. Good enough for me.

Passenger cons: Anyone drunk or angry. When we are delayed, I’m just as late/delayed/angry as you are. For my last 4 months at AA I flew out of Chicago but still lived in Dallas. When our flight is late into O’Hare not only do you miss your connection, but I miss the last flight to Dallas and get to spend an extra night in Chicago. Trust me, I’m trying to get you there just as fast as I can.

Boxes pros and cons: They don’t complain, and they don’t compliment. I can have the worst landing ever or the best landing ever, and I hear nothing from the back. People can and do get sick which requires us to divert; boxes don’t get sick, but sometimes they catch on fire which causes us to divert.

The biggest con to flying boxes: no flight attendants to talk to. For those of you with the dirty minds, I do mean just talking! Sometimes talking to other pilots gets boring; the perspective that F/A’s bring is often refreshing. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now I miss having people to BS with in the back of the airplane.

As to pay: it all depends on the airline. At one point United Airlines had the highest paid pilots; now they are WAY down the list. The highest paid 737 pilots now work for Southwest Airlines, believe it or not.

One thing unusual about airline pilots is that we are paid by the hour. It seems archaic for such a profession, but that’s the way it is. The rub is that we are limited as to how many hours we can fly.

Also, flying hours only encompasses the time from blockout (pushback from the gate) until block in (taxi into the gate). Any other time, such as checking the weather, inspecting the airplane, etc is unpaid. When you are sitting at the terminal and watching the First Officer (F/O) doing the walkaround inspection of the aircraft, realize that he is not on the clock yet. No one gets paid until the airplane leaves the gate.

Most major airline pilots work/get paid for about 75-80 hours/month. This is flight time, and is significantly less than the TAFB (Time Away From Base, or Home). Depending on the trips, a pilot who gets paid for 80 hours may spend 300 hours away from home. Time spent in a hotel room is not paid for (except for per-diem at $2/hour).

After saying all that, FedEX has a very good pay scale. In fact, I’ll make more in my 2nd year at FedEx than I would have made at my 5th year at AA. (That’s the other bad thing about airline pilot jobs - you can’t transfer and maintain the same level: you start at the bottom of your new list).


I get a HUGE discount on shipping with FedEx now. However, I got a big discount with FedEx when I worked for AA, and I also got free travel on AA (including my GF and parents).

Overall, the travel benefits with a major carrier are worth a LOT (I went to Paris, London and Buenos Aires with my [ex] GF and rode First Class), so I can’t discount them. However, since we’ve broken up I’ve found little need to he missing benefits.

Preview is your friend!

gotpasswords…sorry, I didn’t see your post.

We are limited speedwise just like anyone else is: 250 knots below 10,000 ft, and the airplane specific speed limits above that.

But yes, we can be a little more “aggressive” during the approach phase. For example if ATC vectors us a little tight (ie too close to the airport) and then asks if we can accept a visual approach…in the passenger world you would consider how aggressive the approach would be (ie speedbrakes, rapid descent, lots of rolling, etc). With boxes, you just judge if you can make the airfield or not…if you can, you accept the clearance and go for it. If you make a lot of adjustments while maneuvering to final…who cares?

It’s not “wilder” flying, it’s just flying closer to the capabilities of the airplane.

Way cool. Hope all works well for you.

I have tried to get into Fed-X international during the night hours… Bawahahahaha, if your tail # does not have FE in it, ‘need not apply’ … LOL One busy place at night.

What equipment are you on? Would you rather be out in the woods on smaller equipment or do you want DC-10 international stuff? Can/will you say what area of the country you are running?

In general, are your ramp weights ( if on big iron ) more on average than when hauling souls?

Does the lack of so many lives in your hands at once allow you to be more … ummm … relaxed or less tense? Not that it changes your professional approach to flying but in that it does or does not affect your … I don’t know, say ‘stress’ level?

I remember when the Falcon 20’s were just starting and wondering if it ( the idea of pvt pkg hauling ) would work. LOL Boy, did that idea work…

Do you know if any of the old “SMB Stage” pilots got on with them and are still there. I knew a few of those guys.

Glad you are still in the flying business. Many guys in your situation are not so lucky. Airline flying while low on the seniority totem pole is tough.

What are the physical requirments for transporting cargo? I’ve actually treid looking this one up but can’t find an answer regarding eyesight…

I’ve heard Alaska needs pilots. any idea how difficult it would be getting a job transporting cargo into Alaska as opposed to anywhere else? I’ve always wanted to go

GusNSpot, I’m the lowest of the low right now…a 727 flight Engineer.

I did the same job at AA for 18 months so it’s not unusual to me; in fact the job itself is actually really easy. Hell, when the weather is bad it doesn’t affect me: all I can do is say “Wow, guys those crosswinds are REALLY strong. Good luck!”

Right now my plan is to stay on the 727 and get some seniority. I’ve been offered a Line Check Airman job when it comes open, which I will most likely do. The LCA job will let me keep my seat seniority but get paid for a higher position (like MD-11 First Officer). Yeah, it’s a good deal.

The 727s we fly at FedEx are about the same weight as the ones at AA, but they carry more revenue cargo. The passenger planes carry around all of those seats whether anyone is in them or not - that costs money. An empty FedEx 727 weighs about 12,000 # less than an empty passenger 727. That 12,000# can be filled with cargo and the airplane flown with waht would be an empty passenger load but it makes money for FedEx.

Of course, it means that I wake up at 0140 so I can be in place at 0240 for the scheduled pushback of 0340.

Yeah, the early morning stuff sucks.


As to the concern about “Lives in my Hands”…


The answer is NO.

My “perspective”, my “view”, my “concern” has never changed.

My concern has always been to get ME back home.

Yes, ME, my boring white skin.

But fortunately my airplane has ALWAYS been attached to ME, so when I get myself home, I get everyone home.

If I arrive safely, so will you.

JoeSki there are no specific “Cargo” vs “Passenger” physical requirements.

Alaska Airlines is indeed hiring pilots right now…however the requirements are fairly high…unless you have more than 1,000 hrs PIC jet, I wouldn’t bother applying…

OK folks…it’s 1 AM local time.

I’m suspending all answers until tomorrow morning. What time I eventually respond depends on how long I sleep…I love not having an alarm clock on my days off!

Don’t let my schedule prevent you from asking questions…I know that many (if not most) Dopers do their surfing from work, so that many of you will be seeing this for the first time on Thursday morning.

I promise to be back before the close of business on the East Coast on Thursday.

Fly Safe!

I’ll skip any questions since I have no desire to fly airplanes for anybody. I will just say, though, that I would prefer cargo. Who would want to screw around with passengers and their ills and complaints? If you drop one in a little hard on landing the cargo will never sneer at you.

Pesky things, questions - keep popping up when you least expect them…

Doesn’t Fed-Ex get flight benefits with the other airlines? I know that there is a “pass” agreement between my airline (Frontier) and Fed-Ex. I assumed you guys could nonrev on most airlines.

Does AA still fly 727’s? I thought Champion was the only US carrier hauling folks around in 27’s. I sure miss those long slow take-off’s! There’s nothing quite like riding in a 727!

Well, not my thing, but as long as the sandwich was over 18, I guess there’s no problem there. :smiley:

This may be along the same line, maybe not. I have been a bus driver and I have been a truck driver. My personal observation is:


Just my 0.02.

Is all your flying at night? How different is IFR day vs. IFR night? (I’m a VFR PP-ASEL who took IFR ground school but hasn’t persued IRF certification)

Do you commute on a FedEx Plane? How much seating is there (I’m guessing 3 seats in the cockpit and maybe a couple of jump seats)


Do you have any advice for a 16 year old kid who wants to be a pilot such as yourself?

I lived in Hawaii at the time smoking was disallowed on domestic flights.

I am terrified of heights

I am terrified of flying. I don’t even like airplanes. It takes several stiff drinks for me to be able to board. (I’m sure drugs would work, also, but I’ve never had any at the right moment.) When I drink, I really want an cigarette.

When I was bitching about how much I needed a cigarette while flying back to Georgia, my dear husband kindly told me that, as far as he knew, the pilots could still smoke and maybe I could go up there with them. I decided if only one person on the plane could smoke, I wanted it to be the pilot if he wanted one. Anything to keep that man happy. If he made it home, so did I.