Some pilots for Continental may have made a poor choice in trying to protect their pensions:
Continental Airlines is suing nine of its pilots, reports ABC News, claiming they faked divorces in order to draw down their pension funds before retirement. The airline became suspicious when some of the couples continued living together and all nine couples eventually reunited. Continental believes the pilots became worried about the safety of their pension funds…
It may seem stupid at first, but when looking at the recent history of major airlines and what happens to pension funds, the risk these pilots took seems a bit more tenable.
The real problem for them here, other than being sued by extremely well lawyered corporations, is that these pilots work up to their retirement age, the airlines make a deal to contribute to pensions accordingly except they don’t fund the pensions or the pension is mismanaged. The pensions are so very important because a pilot’s regular salary/wage compensation is not lavish, especially for a profession where one has to get a good amount of costly pre-hire training (flight school, hundreds of hours of flight time to get a commercial license). Yes, our US government insures pensions and the premium is mandatory for pensions issued by US based employers, but the government Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation usually pays much less (54K) than the pensioners are due under that are expected and of course that money comes from taxpayer coffers.
Pilots don’t make that much to start and it typically takes years to get to a point where they can earn a salary to maintain a standard of living above poverty level. Think of the 24 year old, Continental Airlines Flight 3407 co-pilot of the who crashed in Buffalo February 12th of this year. Earlier in her chosen career, she had previously held a second job at a coffee shop and until the crash commuted from her parents place in Seattle to fly out of Newark Int’l Airport.
But I am just a dude up typing this in the middle of the night. Leave it to one of America’s heroes, Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, who deftly landed a plane on the Hudson River:
Just over 10 days after the crash, the pilot who guided his disabled passenger jet to a safe splash landing in New York’s Hudson River in January told a U.S. congressional aviation committee the “untenable financial situation” for pilots and their families leaves him “worried about the future of the profession.”
Sullenberger, who was hailed as a hero for his calm actions on Jan. 15 as pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, warned of “negative consequences” to the safety of the industry without experienced pilots, who have been forced to accept massive salary and pension cuts from airline companies focused on trimming costs.
“I do not know a single, professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps,” Sullenberger told the committee at the time.
I wonder if anyone listens to heroes after we hoist them onto our shoulders to show how much we revere them.
It seems the unions need to push for conversion of these pension funds to something the airlines don’t control in their upcoming CBAs (like some kind of insured, special IRA/401K type deal).