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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

F.A.A. Pilot Family Care Act

Pilot Fatigue
Mental Health
Aviation Safety

These are among the hot topics in the aviation industry. As they should be. NASA has done numerous studies on fatigue and napping. The FAA finalized their Fatigue Ruling for commercial airlines. The National Mental Health institute discusses the serious impact of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. We question if pilots are Flying Drunk with Fatigue: 17 hours awake equals an alcohol level of .05. There are not enough hours in a day to read all the research that points to one statement:

Pilots should not fly fatigued.

We have the research. We’ve watched the impact. One would think we have advanced to a level of understanding of how important rest and mental health is for pilots. But we have a long way to go. 

As many of you know I have been Sitting Bedside in the Hospital while my husband has traveled through hell over the previous three weeks. He’s a fighter and I have been instrumental in his survival.
Everyone needs an advocate. And when we go through challenging times like this, we shouldn’t have to worry about our jobs. But as the weeks continued and there was no release date in sight, I called my Chief Pilot “Support” Center, to determine how much sick leave I had, and asked if I could use my vacation.

CPS (Chief Pilot Support) told me that I had 150 hours of sick leave, and should use that before vacation because we renew our sick bank in June. And then he said….

CPS: Wait. Who is in the hospital?

Me: My husband.

CPS: You can’t use your sick leave while your husband is in the hospital. 

Me: But I am sick. I've been here every night. I haven’t slept in 3 weeks!

CPS: Sick Leave is for when you’re sick, not your husband.

Me: But I am sick. I can get a doctor’s note.

CPS: This doesn’t pass the Sniff Test. You better call your Chief Pilot in Seattle.

Then he hung up and pulled me off payroll.

Shocked? I was.

I would expect the support center to support. It's hard enough for pilots to ask for help... we are fixers ... so when we do ask for help, we need it. Second, did he expect me to go fly a plane after being awake for 3 weeks?

Was he Thinking?

I don't think so. As it turned out the person in charge of my Chief Pilot Support Center is not a pilot. He also missed the memo that it's against company policy, FAA rules, and safety to fly fatigued. The point is... at this time of the equation, I was sick. Nobody can live under stress like this and not have their health compromised.

I could have called in sick and not told him what was happening, but that is also in violation of my company's, and my, core beliefs... "Tell the Truth." I never imagined the support wouldn't be there. All I wanted to do was give up my vacation and not use sick leave.

Thankfully I found support in Seattle.

I soon learned that Washington State had passed a law for this type of situation with the Washington State Family Care Act which enables a person to use their sick leave while caring for seriously ill family members.
  • How many pilots are forced to go to work when their head is someplace else during a time of crisis?
  • Do you want them flying your plane?
  • How could an airline manager force a pilot to choose between paying the pending medical bills and their mortgage with hundreds of lives in their hands while stressed and fatigued, or stay home and care for their spouse, child or parent?
  • Where would that pilots head be? Not in the plane.
Have you faced a situation like this?

It's sad that our government has to mandate laws for companies (or rather individuals running departments) who do not have compassion or exercise common sense to do the right, and legal, thing.
Thankfully I am protected, which enabled me to take the safest and most humane course of action.
NOTE: It's been brought to my attention that California has the same law. Please check with your state to determine if you have this law, and if not... get it on the books.

Nurturing verses Working

It's true that women have more of a nurturing mindset, and understand the power of being there. Men, on the other hand, financially fix things. They show their love by providing. Most male pilots (and we know that more than 96% are men) would go to work to make sure they could pay their bills. But is that where their heads would be? What about the woman who is faced with caring for her elderly parents or children? These responsibilities traditionally fall in the woman's lap.

We need to do something to make sure a pilot is not forced to fly when they have family members in crisis or they are going through a divorce. All airlines should have the Family Care Act in place. Is this something the FAA should mandate?

Your life is in your pilot’s hands. You want their heads in the plane. What comes of this is another chapter in Flight For Control’s sequel… Flight for Safety.

Are you in favor of a F.A.A. mandated family protection act, similar to the Washington State Family Care Act , that supports pilots who need to be someplace else than in an airplane during the event of a family crisis? I am.

Support the creation of the

F.A.A. Family Care Act

Something to increase safety, when flight managers don't get it.

This post was written for three reasons:
  1. Aviation Safety:  To fix what's broken.
  2. To realize even the "BEST" companies in the world can have people saying the wrong things.
  3. Inform people in Washington and California of their rights, and hopefully more states will add this law.

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene


  1. What an ordeal, Karlene. I'm SO glad you brought this to light, and love your idea for an F.A.A. Family Care Act. Just looking at those pictures of pilots sleeping in chairs made my neck hurt and my body ache. It's not a good way to do business!

    1. Thanks Linda. I think it's the best way. And something that could increase safety overnight.

  2. That's terrible :/ I'm glad you were able to get the support you needed in the end though.

    1. Thank you. Support was in my backyard all the time. It just never occurred to me that my 630 a.m. call would uncover such a huge snag in our fight against fatigue.

  3. Karen, is the F.A.A. similar to the FMLA? FMLA is a federal mandate to companies with so many employees ... Usually larger companies. My mother used the program several years ago to care for my father after he broke his neck. I think it is very clear in what your employer can and can not do in circumstances such as these. And I agree, it is sad that the government must make such mandates but of course, because there are dishonest people in the world, not doing what's right, companies are forced to take a hard stand. Sad though, especially in your profession, when the lives of so many are in your hands. Very similar to the medical world, I would imagine. Look at what residents are put through.

    1. Thanks April. FMLA is available, but I believe without pay. We do have the right to leave and do what it takes, but if we have to pay bills...that isn't a good option.
      Did your mother remain on payroll during FMLA not working?
      Yes... it is sad. But laws are written for the dishonest, unethical and ignorant people. If everyone behaved properly... we wouldn't need them.
      Thank you so much for the comment.

    2. Karlene (not Karen - darn smart phone), Yes. My mother did remain on payroll using first her sick time and then vacation. Of course she was not in your industry but I don't know that they laws very by profession. She is a certified payroll professional (despite retiring) and is up to date on the various laws, etc. I will quiz her to see how the program works and send you a note.

      My best to you and Dick. Hope he continues to make progress and you'll be back in the air doing what you love in no time!

    3. Yes... that's what we need. The ability to stay on payroll using sickleave and vacation. She could be where she needed to be, and not worry.

      Hopefully we can get this fixed one day. Thank you so much for the comment and good for your mother, being there.

  4. Karlene, you're a great pilot, but I wouldn't want you to fly after 3 weeks with minimal sleep. It's unsafe. For you and your passengers.
    The law of WA and CA should be copy+pasted by all the other 48 states.

    I would want to know why the CPS thought it would make a difference if you were the one laying in a bed at the hospital, not your husband? Either way you would have been ill, in some sort, fatigued or sick. Lack of sleep could have occurred either way, so it just doesn't make sense!

    1. Thank you so much. I wouldn't want to fly like that. In hindsight, I should not have been driving either. Yes... copy and pasted to all states. Let's do that!

      I am with you. The entire time my husband said, "I have the easy part." Until you're in this situation, it's hard for people to understand. But they should. Common sense?
      Thanks for the comment.

  5. WOW! That really makes me mad. Incredible. Maybe it is the dominant male mindset of our industry, but when did people become so insensitive and unrealistic? I'm happy you have the protection to stay and take care of your husband. I'll look for something like this on the books in Colorado but I didn't see it at a cursory glance. Scary and very sad. Much aloha and prayers to you and your husband.

    1. Zyola, Thank you so much. I think we need to change the laws in all states. This is the kind of thing that supports people, and keeps companies safe by encouraging healthy employees. Perhaps this is the kind of reform we really need. Let's change Colorado's rules.

  6. Karlene, it's bad enough that a lot of airlines are lacking on aircraft maintenance now we have come down a second step to pilot/ crew maintenance. How do the airlines expect to make money If they do not maintain the very source for which their product stems from? This is very scary stuff and yes this is common sense. Like Oprah once said, one may have a high IQ but their EQ (sense of common sense and decency) is very low. Karlene, I have never seen so many aviation mishaps hit the news recently than I have especially pilot related incidents. We need a leader, motivator, such as your self to help get this message across as we all will. Times have only ~just~ begun......

    1. Jeremy, this is an interesting way to look at this. Employee maintenance is essential. Systems can fail on the plane, as long as the pilot equation is trained and healthy. If the pilot system is broken, then even a healthy plane could be in trouble. I love the EQ. Something we should test pilots for. Thank you so much for the comment. Yes, this has only begun. But if we take action and create awareness, maybe we can create change. Aviation Safety is the key.

  7. Hi Karlene,

    Sadly my former airline's "policy" sounds very similar to your airline's.

    Husband needed a tonsillectomy about 10 yrs ago. Requested to use my sick time. Denied by the chief pilot. He told me, "you are not having the tonsillectomy, so you cannot use sick time, you cannot go home to be with him." Real lovely. They refused to allow me to drop a couple of trips, so I missed the surgery. The chief pilot also reminded me to "keep in mind what XXX (Company name) does here - we fly passengers, we are here to make money, we are not here to allow you time to be with the husband."

    It's truly scary that some airlines have apparently not gotten the message yet. I'm not even sure some in management would "get it" if there was a fatal accident.

    My husband's employer (he trains students for a European airline) is the same way. The company told their union during negotiations, when the union wanted "sick time" to include immediate family members (spouse, children), "the families do not work here, so they do not matter". Isn't that a great attitude?

    I support you and the quest to get an FAA Family Care Act. It might take a while but I think if we continue to bring this topic up, it will be successfully implemented.

    Denise :)

    1. Denise, can you imagine if your husband had died while you were on the trip? And what if an emergency happened on that flight... would you have responded your best, with your head in the hospital with your husband? I'm guessing not.

      I also think that this should be a mandated issue, because common sense should not be a negotiation chip. There is no negotiation for safety. And, having pilots not mentally fit to fly, or flight attendants, and putting them in a plane is a safety issue.

      Thank you so much for your comment. Maybe one day we can make the FAA Family Care Act a reality.

  8. Karlene,

    First off, our prayers and thoughts are with your husband and you. Very best wishes for his full recovery.

    Secondly, although the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the law of the land (United States of America) until very recently it did NOT apply to airline pilots/employees. That's because the law makers in DC considered us to be "part time" workers because we "only" work 80 hours per month! Yes, our lines are built to 80ish hours & the Federal Government considers us "part time" workers.

    Fortunately, some ALPA contracts (NWA & CAL are two) had FMLA built into them. Some ALPA contacts (DAL) did not.

    Captain John Prater, during his term as ALPA President, recognized this anomaly in the law and, with the backing of ALPA PAC, fought long and hard to get this loop hole closed! (THANK YOU, Captain Prater).

    So, now all airline employees are eligible for FMLA. But, sadly, like you say, there is no pay involved. Just the abiliity to care for your loved ones and have a job to return to.

    That being said, if you are sick, you are sick. If you are faigued, you are fatigued. DO NOT FLY SICK. DO NOT FLY FATIGUED.

    Again, very best to you and your husband.

    1. This is very interesting. I hadn't realized that it was Captain Prater who did that. And I'd forgotten about the part time working pilot.

      Thankfully we have FMLA, but the lack of pay when we have sick leave and vacation makes no sense. Either does the conflict of culture that says... "We lie about being sick when we don't want to go to work," but touts honesty as one of their greatest values.


      Thank you!!!

  9. I agree that it's an issue that needs to be addressed and a solution that fits both parties.. As a line flying pilot myself I can appreciate the struggle that we face when balancing our various priorities and responsibilities.

    I do however have one, albeit minor, issue with the post above.

    "It's true that women have more of a nurturing mindset, and understand the power of being there. Men, on the other hand, financially fix things."

    This to me only serves to further perpetuate and reinforce stereotypes as to what each gender should do, or does-- and then becomes some de-facto benchmark that each gender is looked at in terms of their position.

    I think that there's A LOT of females who fix things-- are the families principal income earner.. I also recognize that men can be equal nurturing too. I don buy that this is more-- or less-- prevalent in one gender over the other.. and assertions that it does, in my mind, only serve to further reinforce that women are, and men aren't...
    and in doing so, only hurts both genders.

    As a line flyer, I don't care what the gender is of my flying partners.. Male or female, they are all equally qualified... and as individuals they all bring with them varying educational, family, ethnic and related experiences.. and these then allow each of us to bring to "the table" a different soft-skill set..

    I think we need a viable and workable solution that allows for pilots-- and our cabin crew partners-- the ability to take care of family matters when they occur, but also a solution that allows employers to run a reliable, cost-effective network.

    A solution that does not address both sides is, to me, one that is unworkable and unsustainable in the longer term.

    Me personally? I do not fly sick or fatigued. period, full stop. and I do not let ANYONE, company or union, pressure me one way or the other.

    I also do not, in anyway shape or form, condone the misuse of 'sick' time to otherwise obtain time off, that is unjustly earned or obtained.

    That said, I also insure that to the extent possible that I prepare myself to be ready to fly.

    I recognize that management has the right, role and responsibility to manage the operation-- that is what they are tasked with and I support that mission going forward.

    But as the pilot (PIC) I also realize that Federal Law places the final and ultimate responsibility for the safe operation of that specific aircraft to me.. and I take that responsibility seriously and when in an on-duty status, I do not let anything get in the way of that responsibility..

    There is simply no such thing as 'partly there'.. You are either wholly on-duty, sharp, prepared and ready, or not.

    1. Thank you for the great comment anonymous.

      I agree with you there are women who are the bread winners and financially fix things. Because I am one of them! But... I am still a woman. And women are built differently. Get one naked and take a look, then go deeper.

      We share more information than men. We are the nurturers. We are also (unless there is not a woman involved) the one that takes care of the elderly parents. My husband doesn't care for him 89 year old mother, his sister does.

      My experience is I know a dozen (plus) women pilots who have left their airline career (and if the husband is a pilot he still flies) because the woman must care for her or his parent(s), or their children. We can't deny this, because it's a reality. I do know a Captain who is caring for his elderly mother, only because his sister is mentally unable. But he is still working because he has the funds to hire support. But the emotions and worry are still with him while he works.

      This caring thing is a "woman's" responsibility. So the world assumes. When a man steps up and says, "Let me do this. You work," then she can go to her job. I know a family that the wife made more, so the husband stays home. But in that case a woman can go to work and know that her loved ones are cared for. We won't leave them in the hands of strangers when ill.

      But on the emotional side, most of us want to be there. When we go to work our heart and heads would be in that operating room.

      The real point is that more men fly planes, and more men will be carrying this stuff to work with them. Also at my airline there are many women out on long term sick and medical leave. There is a reason.

      I added to this post the divorce issues, because I have also flown with many men who take the divorce into the flight deck, and that's not a good thing.

      A 747 captain at my old airline took 3 months off during his divorce. He was astute to what the baggage he'd be taking to work with him would do, and thankfully we were at an airline that enabled him to do this.

      Women can fly planes. Men can be stay at home dads. But they are still different because of their gender. Women will ask for directions. A man won't check on the kids because, "they were so quiet." Women cry. Men hold it in. Women need to discuss what happened. Men are thankful it's over.

      There is no better... just traditionally different traits.

      Women were given that nurturing mindset and emotional feelings, and men are the hunters for a reason: Survival. We gave birth and needed to care for the baby. Men needed to go out and hunt for food. It's life.

      Today's world we can all do any job if we have the aptitude, despite our sex. The stereo typing is bad when we don't allow people to do our jobs because we're different. Different is great. Type in Diversity in the search box and take a look at that.

      I also agree management is there to do their job. I want them to. I respect that. But when in an airline their first job is to follow regulations, and keep the skies safe. From what he heard me say, if he didn't believe that so little sleep would make me ill, would be to put me in as fatigued.

      Management's job is also to support and value their corporate culture. My company's culture is supposed to be... honesty, respect, do the right thing, and care about our people... we are family. His actions violated every core value my company holds dear to its heart. That creates conflict for the employee. So we teach our employees to lie, because that is the hidden culture.

      The most important thing we must gain from this is... Despite the pressure, despite the money, don't fly sick, and don't fly fatigued.

      Thanks again for your great comment.

  10. Karlene- What a bunch of crap to go through when you are already caring for a sick spouse. As you know over the past year, I have been in the same situation with my son, and its constantly a choice of do I take the job/assignment to pay the bills or am I there for my child? Thank goodness the times I chose to work exhausted that I was not flying an airplane. Take care of yourself.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, and I am so sorry for all you've gone through with your son. There must be compassion.

      I suspect if this person, in my situation, was laying on the operating table undergoing heart surgery,that he would hope the surgeon wasn't thinking about his ill son, while operating. The only reason he's operating is because he needed to pay the bills that have gone out of control with his son's procedures.

      Yes... thankfully you weren't flying a plane. Best of Health to you and your family.

  11. hahaha!. Nice Post! I enjoy reading it at the same time I'm learing.

    Thanks for sharing Karlene!


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