Just when he should be reaping the rewards from a lifetime of commitment, Capt. Jim Trapp is downsizing his life, selling his home and considering a new job. After 20 years as a USAirways pilot, the writing — he says — is on the wall.
"The consensus amongst my peer group is that we won't be around much more than another two or three more months," says Trapp.
The nation's seventh largest airline is strapped for cash andleaning hardon employees to climb out of its second bankruptcy in as many years.
"Well, in the last couple of years, since 9/11 primarily, I've lost about 40 to 50 percent of my income," says Trapp.
Analysts are concerned that USAirways, ATA and Independence Air may not survive 2005.
"We are probably going to lose a couple of airlines," says airline analyst Terry Trippler. "We're going to have to."
Despite a $15 billion taxpayer bailout, the entire airline industry is in danger of collapse. The problem? Too many airlines offering too many cheap seats, and often selling those seats at a loss.
Like USAirways, United is also in bankruptcy protection. Delta just won a billion dollars in wage and salary cuts from its employees, with pilots alone surrendering 32 percent of their pay. While Continental Airlines is stable, outgoing CEO Gordon Bethune says competing airlines are cutting their own throats.
"I've got a suggestion that a pre-frontal lobotomy would be helpful for a lot of them," jokes Bethune. "But it doesn't help to be critical. I would like to see a rational thought process as we price and produce our product."
With airline employees working for between 30 and 50 percent less than they did just a few years ago, many are taking second jobs just to make ends meet. Some fight attendants are even packing their own food for three and four day trips, so they can avoid buying food in airports and hotels. Others gathered in Washington recently for a rally to protest a dramatic drop in quality of life.
But Capt. Jim Trapp is resigned that the airlines may never fly as high as they once did.
"You know, I'm tired of this," he says. "I'm tired of this wear and tear. I'm tired of the emotional strain."