Inspired by Joanna's post about commuting questions (which was a few months ago but still on my mind), here are few thoughts about things to consider before you commit to commuting to base.
Is your family prepared to live with a grumpy, stressed out pilot beginning the night before the commute to work? Where he starts to check flight loads obsessively on his phone, tries to devise second and third options to getting there, and generally takes out his panic about getting to work on you or tries to engage you in decision making when you are busy doing everything else? And carries on woefully about everything he still needs to get done and how early he has to get up tomorrow? Every week.
Are you willing to have even less time at home? Night before and day after commutes suck up even more precious time off. Three day breaks get whittled down to 26 hours at home between bad trips.
Can you afford a crash pad? Or multiple hotel overnights a month? It's nice to have the security of a crash pad, knowing you can stay any time. But it might be more cost effective to just shell out for a crew rate hotel room when it's needed. Monthly schedule changes ensure that you never get the best deal for the month.
Are you ok with using up all the available paid time off to cover trips that he missed due to missed commutes? Meaning there will be months when he's off with no pay.
How many other pilots are doing your same commute? Commutes from former or reduced bases are tough because there is a lot of competition for seats to get to work. Nobody else wanted to move either. Commuting from popular vacation destinations or airports close to them ensures that every other industry family is also trying to fly in and out on the same seats. We are two hours from Orlando and get lots of people who fly here and drive there. With some major cancer resources in our city, we also get a lot of medical traffic.
How many flights per day are there to your base? If A were commuting to ATL, we'd be set- there's nearly a flight an hour. However, to A's base there are only 3-4 per day. Which means night before commutes, commutes when he slips in 10 minutes past his show time, and commutes when he gets in 6 hours prior to his show time and then incessantly pesters me via smart phone because he's bored.
How many alternate routes are there? Can a two (or more) leg commute be done? Fly to a nearby base and rent a car one way? Fly overnight on a cargo carrier? We've had to resort to all of these options...
How long can your pilot stay awake? If he flies in overnight, he won't get much, if any, sleep. Can he then make it flying a full day the next day? I have seen A stay awake for 36 hours straight, without any extended blinking, at movie marathons with friends so I have some faith. Skirting the new rest rules is sketchy, but if it's the only way to get to work to get paid...
Does your airline have a good commuter clause and do you know the ins and outs? Do you have to show proof of flights? Can you pick up the trip later on if you miss the first legs? Can you volunteer for something else?
Last month, A ended up missing out on two trips for two different reasons. His first commute cancelled because there was no FO to fly the plane here and back (thanks pilot shortage!), which meant he couldn't get to work. He tried to work with crew scheduling to pick up the trip later on but was told that the whole trip was cancelled because they didn't have any reserves to fly the trip. So he was left high and dry. And so were all the passengers. The second trip (which was consecutive) he was on the plane and it was delayed for mechanical issues. While he was waiting on the plane, another flight to his destination from his company boarded and departed on time. But the Gate Agent wouldn't let him off his plane and delay the other for a few minutes to so he could switch planes. His flight ended up cancelling, as did his entire trip. Way for the company to shoot itself in the foot on that one.
Despite all the pitfalls, we continue to deal with commuting because we like where we live and it just seems like too much effort to relocate somewhere we don't like. The future may bring changes but for now, we are stuck where we are.