In the days when United Airlines was flying high, Patrick Downey exulted in being paid to live his passion. When the former Navy pilot went to work for United in 1999, he felt he landed his dream job, one that would provide a comfortable salary to make a happy life in McLean with his wife and two daughters.
But in a round of cuts, Downey first took a 30 percent hit in his paycheck and then, last November, he was furloughed.
Patrick Downey and Michael Rosario are former United Airlines pilots who now do construction work. United is expected to cut even more jobs.
(Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
Today the 40-year-old pilot has a new life. He runs a small contracting firm with another pilot, building decks, refinishing basements and remodeling interiors.
"I love aviation. I miss it terribly," Downey said in a recent interview. "But there's a huge price to pay to be a pilot."
Yesterday's decision by Delta Air Lines pilots to accept a 32.5 percent pay cut because the carrier is in dire financial straits is the latest example of turmoil in an industry and a profession.
"It's been stressful, but I'm doing what I always wanted to do," said Keith Rosenkranz, who has been a Delta pilot for 14 years and flies out of Dallas-Fort Worth.
He remembers staring out his window in high school to watch planes take off from the Los Angeles airport. Then 15 years later, he looked through a cockpit window at his old high school.
"That's when I knew I made it," said Rosenkranz, 45. "I'm being paid to fly planes."
So even with the most recent pay cut, Rosenkranz, who spent almost nine years in the Air Force and time in the first Gulf War, is loyal to his company. More than 2,000 pilots are below him on the seniority list, so his chance of being furloughed is negligible. But his salary will drop from $190,000 to about $128,000. And he knows his pension will be about half of what it would be if he were 60 and retiring now.
"I've always lived within my means, so I can continue to live the same lifestyle I have," he said. "I may not have as much money as I would like to invest, but if I were to live day to day I'd be just fine."