Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Decision

In the summer of 2010, one of the most celebrated athletes of our generation, LeBron James, was faced with the biggest decision that any NBA free agent had faced in recent memory. Would he resign with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, or would he jump ship in hopes of more lucrative endorsement deals, and, hopefully, a better chance at winning a championship?

What those who follow the NBA closely never saw coming was what ultimately unfolded: in a meticulously planned national television event, LeBron James proclaimed his decision to unceremoniously ditch the Cavaliers and sign with the Miami Heat. Using despicable phraseology that would ultimately tarnish his reputation beyond reconciliation, James would later admit that the entire process could have been handled with more grace. Watching from my living room perch, I made a mental note to handle future big decisions just like LeBron, only the exact opposite.

In my last post I spoke of the interview process as I began to transition from a flight instructing position in Atlanta to my first airline job. Despite getting an offer from the first company, I felt the need to continue the recruitment process and interview with another company, my hometown Pinnacle Airlines. After all, I love sports, and who doesn't love to pretend that they are a highly sought-after free agent like LeBron James? It was nice to be shown affection for my flying abilities and to be wooed by multiple companies, especially considering how poorly my flight instructing company treated me. The interview offers poured in: all together, I received letters from four companies seeking my piloting services, a humbling yet rewarding experience for how hard I labored throughout 2010.

A few weeks after receiving American Eagle's offer, Pinnacle called with their offer, igniting what would become some of the most agonizing and flip-flopping few months of my life. I had a decision to make. For those who know me well, it's something I'm not very good at. Longtime readers of this blog may recall my favorite motto, I guess we'll see what happens. I've used that more times than I care to admit since November.

I spent virtually all of the early winter months poring over the websites for each company. I asked friends, family, fellow pilots, even homeless people, what I should do. I solicited advice from those I respect the most, and each time came back to the same miserable conclusion: I had no idea what to do. I read internet forums and spent inordinate amounts of time daydreaming and visualizing myself flying for each company. Worse yet, I seemingly made final decisions on several separate occasions, even going to far as to text friends that I'd finally made a decision and was really excited about it. I went back and forth, changed my mind, talked myself in and out of one company, then started the whole process over again. Overnight, I had become John Kerry.

I don't know what the big deal was. One of my worst characteristics is that I am a worrier. I think I was terrified to making the wrong decision. I would wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling for hours. Looking back now, it's ridiculous, right? After all it's not like I was Truman weighing the consequences of the atomic bomb. This was supposed to be a good thing: an airline job, something I'd dreamed about forever.

I resigned my position at the old flight school, packed up my apartment and headed home to Minneapolis still not certain which job I'd take. I wanted to have the chance to talk to key people face to face. I wanted to benefit from another grueling cross country road trip where I'd have plenty of time to think. Mostly, though, I think I just wanted to procrastinate.

There were certainly appealing aspects to each: with Pinnacle, I could potentially be based in my hometown, meaning a 5 minute drive to the airport each time I'd be scheduled to fly. With American Eagle came the opportunity to work for a well-respected and very successful company. I didn't know what to do. I wished I could have BOTH jobs.

Both companies wanted me to start training on January 17th. Since I am not talented enough to be in two places at once, I finally had a deadline to make my decision. I would have to tell someone no, which is one of my least favorite things in the world to do. A few days after Christmas, while relaxing at home and finally spending some time NOT thinking about what to do, my cell phone rang: it was American Eagle, with an offer to begin training two weeks earlier than originally slated. In the airline world, seniority is everything, and the opportunity to move up 50 pilot slots was dangling in front of me. The words flew out of my mouth: "I'll take it!", I exclaimed, and in an instant, I was now the lowest number on the 2,900 strong American Eagle pilot list.

Less than a week later, I sit in my Dallas hotel room trying to muster up the courage to dial up Pinnacle and inform them of my decision. I used to think that life was unfair, but this process has now shown me that life is in fact completely fair: I would have never made it as a great athlete, because I would have completely self-destructed during the college recruitment process.

Throughout this blog I've been fairly candid and revealing in many of my posts. Hopefully, those still following this enjoyed that, but unfortunately, due to the nature of my position flying paying passengers around, and union restrictions being what they are, I'm going to be scaling this thing back a bit and generally share more of the boring and mundane aspects of my career. Also, regulations prevent me from saying anything about our company, so from this point I'll now refer to it as Big Bird airlines. Simple changes, but necessary ones if I want to keep writing. (quick note: anytime you have a chance to make up random names for companies involving Sesame Street characters, you really have to do it.)

I started this wild ride back on July 6th, 2009. Less than 18 months later, I'm sitting in ground school learning to fly a jet. My only regret through this whole process is that ESPN didn't televise my decision.

See you all in few weeks!


  1. Congratulations Gabe! That is awesome. So will you be calling the DFW area home for the next few years, or is there a chance you could still be based out of MN?

    I hope you keep posting regularly to allow me to live vicariously in your fun job while I crunch numbers at my desk.

  2. Gabe, glad to hear from you again! And so thankful you have been able to confidently choose a direction to go. It's stunning how quickly your life has changed, and I applaud you for going after your dream! Your writing's fantastic, I do hope you'll continue to share. Congrats on being an officially employed PILOT :)

    OH and your comment made me giggle... you'd be amazed at how many people think we should try for "just one more"! :)

    Happy New Year!

  3. Great job man! Amazing to watch your progress. On 7/6/09 I was almost a year past my first solo, a PPL flying for fun. Today, I'm still a PPL flying for fun and have only logged an additional 75 hours or so. You've really shown just what you can do when you put your mind to it. Best of luck in the new job flying Miss Piggy around.

    Oh, and Cub ride. Offer still stands. Lemme know if you're ever overnighting in DAY or CVG.

  4. I chose not to go with the airlines back in the 60s, and went corporate instead. The airline business is all about numbers, not skill.

    Good luck with the airlines - I think they are much better today!


    All Things Aviation

  5. Gabe, I was just wondering how you are doing! Hope things are going well!

  6. I miss your blogging, Gabe! You're such a creative & funny writer. Hope you are doing great!

  7. I've just read your articles and I appreciate the way you put your experiences and ideas into blogs. I'd like to read more write-ups from you and I recognize your greatness in terms of being a successful pilot. I hope your the airline you've chosen will still allow you to make time for your blogs. Thanks for sharing this one. Good luck on your decision!

    James David teaches people how to buy single engine airplanes & has a passion for the Cessna 170

  8. Nice article, thanks for the information.