October 12, 2009 — Weâ€™re on the descent from 20,000 feet in the air when the flight attendant leans over the elderly woman next to me and taps me on the shoulder.
â€œIâ€™m listening to Lady Gaga,â€ I say as I remove just one of the ear buds. I know not this Lady Gaga, but her performance last week on SNL was fascinating.
â€œThe pilots would like to see you in the cockpit when we land,â€ she says with a southern drawl.
â€œDid I do something wrong?â€
â€œNo. They have something to show you.â€ (The last time an employee of an airline wanted to show me something it was her written reprimand for eating an in-flight meal without paying for it. â€œYes,â€ she said, â€œwe have to pay for our own meals on board now.â€) The plane landed and I stepped into the cockpit. â€œRead this,â€ the first officer said. He handed me a letter from the airline to him. It was headlined â€œLETTER OF CONCERN.â€ It seems this poor fellow had taken three sick days in the past year. The letter was a warning not to take another one — or else.
â€œGreat,â€ I said. â€œJust what I want — you coming to work sick, flying me up in the air and asking to borrow the barf bag from my seatback pocket.â€
He then showed me his pay stub. He took home $405 this week. My life was completely and totally in his hands for the past hour and heâ€™s paid less than the kid who delivers my pizza.
I told the guys that I have a whole section in my new movie about how pilots are treated (using pilots as only one example of how peopleâ€™s wages have been slashed and the middle class decimated). In the movie I interview a pilot for a major airline who made $17,000 last year. For four months he was eligible — and received — food stamps. Another pilot in the film has a second job as a dog walker.
â€œI have a second job!,â€ the two pilots said in unison. One is a substitute teacher. The other works in a coffee shop. You know, maybe itâ€™s just me, but the two occupations whose workers shouldnâ€™t be humpinâ€™ a second job are brain surgeons and airline pilots. Call me crazy.
I told them about how Capt. â€œSullyâ€ Sullenberger (the pilot who safely landed the jet in the Hudson River) had testified in Congress that no pilot he knows wants any of their children to become a pilot. Pilots, he said, are completely demoralized. He spoke of how his pay has been cut 40% and his own pension eliminated. Most of the TV news didnâ€™t cover his remarks and the congressmen quickly forgot them. They just wanted him to play the role of â€œHERO,â€ but he was on a more important mission. Heâ€™s in my movie.
â€œI hadnâ€™t heard anywhere that this stuff about the airlines is in this new movie,â€ the pilot said.
â€œNo, you wouldnâ€™t,â€ I replied. â€œThe press likes to talk about me, not the movie.â€
And itâ€™s true. Iâ€™ve been surprised (and slightly annoyed) that, with all thatâ€™s been written and talked about â€œCapitalism: A Love Story,â€ very little attention has been paid the mind-blowing stuff in the film: pilots on food stamps, companies secretly taking out life insurance policies on employees and hoping they die young so the company can collect, judges getting kickbacks from the private prison industry for sending innocent people (kids) to be locked up. The profit motive — itâ€™s a killer.
Especially when your pilot started his day at 6am working at the local Starbucks.