For Flight Crew Members, Shuttle Has Its Advantages


For many pilots and flight attendants, the idea of traveling to exciting places around the globe was one of the attractions of flying for United Airlines. So why have some of these folks decided to fly six times a day between Los Angeles and Sacramento for United's new shuttle service?

"I'm home most every night . . . and I could go to my kids' games after school," said flight attendant Kathleen Rudrud, a 25-year veteran of United who volunteered to work for Shuttle by United, which begins operations Saturday. "At this point in my career, I like the idea of staying on the West Coast."

Rudrud's comments were echoed by many of the flight crew members who have chosen to work the relatively short West Coast Shuttle flights instead of more glamorous jaunts to Tokyo or New York. About 965 of United's approximately 85,000 employees will work for the Shuttle.

For United employees who leave the airline's "mainline" operation to work for Shuttle, there are sacrifices.

Dave Ward, who is giving up his job as a United mainline co-pilot to fly for Shuttle, said he will miss the variety of destinations and the opportunity for interesting sightseeing on his layovers. Some of his favorite trips have been to such places as Mexico City, Guatemala City and Fairbanks, Alaska, where, during one layover, he tried dog sledding.

Ward, who said he earns more than $50,000 a year, said he also took a 7% cut in his hourly pay when he joined Shuttle. However, he also said the more tightly scheduled Shuttle flights will enable him to get about 80 to 83 hours aloft a month, enough extra time to offset his hourly pay cut.

The flexibility and esprit de corps of the Shuttle operation--and the chance to be part of something new and innovative--make the change worthwhile, said Ward, 38, a former military pilot who joined United immediately after leaving the Air Force 3 1/2 years ago.

"It's exciting to be right in the center of the changes," he said, adding, "It's refreshing that a lot of ideas they used to kick this off were developed by employees."


Some pilots find the numerous stops common to shuttle flying more interesting than long transcontinental or foreign flights.

"I love takeoffs and landings," said co-pilot Rich Lepman, 40, who is one of the workers involved in designing Shuttle by United's operation. "Flying four hours on autopilot (on a cross-country flight) is fairly monotonous."

But some like the idea of flying cross-country in five hours and then calling it a day. On a shuttle, employees might fly as many as six flights a day.

"My back can't take all that up and down, up and down," said one United flight attendant.

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