ALPA JUMPSEAT APP
ALPA (Airline Pilots Union) is the largest airline pilot union in the world. They represent and advocate for 33 airlines and over 63,000 pilots.
Jumpseating is when a pilot flies on an airline for free. Depending on security clearance, the jumpseat can be a fold down seat in the cockpit, or a regular seat in the airplane’s main cabin. Jumpseating is considered a professional courtesy among airlines and most airlines participate in reciprocal jumpseating. However, they all have different rules and procedures, which must be followed in order for a pilot to jumpseat.
This project aims to help ALPA members to find jumpseats, provide specific details regarding the jumpseat policies for each participating airline, report jumpseat denials, and have access to pertinent safety information such as prohibited items.
The participants are all professional airline pilots as well as members of ALPA. Additional selection criteria included familiarity with the existing jumpseating tools, as well as having jumpseated in the last six months. In total, I worked with five pilots. While the interviews and observations were pretty informal, I was still able to learn a lot about the jumpseating process. I also had several question and answer sessions with my husband when questions came up as I was working. My participants consisted of one female and four males (which accurately reflects the male to female ratio of airline pilots). Three pilots were from FedEx, one was from Frontier, and one was from Delta. Of the five pilots, three were captains and two were first officers. One of the pilots was also considered a stakeholder in the project as he is in senior leadership in ALPA.
S01 – Name: John
Position: Captain FedEx Express
Other information: John is not a commuter, but he uses the jumpseat tools to enhance his schedule, and to store up bank money so that he can upgrade to first class on long flights.
S02 – Name: Jeff
Position: First Officer, Fronteir Airlines
Other information: Jeff commutes between his domicile in Denver and his home in Wausau, Wisconsin. He is hoping to be able to afford to live in Denver when he upgrades to Captain next year, but until then he commutes to Wausau which has a lower cost of living.
S03 – Name: Miriam
Position: Captain, FedEx Express
Other information: Miriam has two teenage boys at home, one with a high-functioning form of Autism. She tries to be at home as much as possible. She intentionally bids trips with double deadheads (trips which do not originate from or end up in Memphis which is where she is based). Miriam takes her entire schedule when she gets it for the month and searches for jumpseats on each end of the flight that will get her home sooner than her scheduled commercial flights that FedEx has booked her on. She estimates that she has four extra days at home per month because she does this.
S04 – Name: Wade
Position: First Officer, Delta
Other information: Wade was just hired two years ago at Delta. He had two girls in high
school at the time and elected not to move from Memphis where his previous airline job
was located, to Atlanta which is where he is based now. He doesn’t like commuting, but he
will have two kids in college in the next three years, and if he moves out of state he will have
to give up the Hope scholarship which will help pay for his children’s college, so he uses the
jumpseat finder to jumpseat to work.
S05 – Name: Don
Occupation: Captain, FedEx Express, Leadership position at ALPA
Other information: Don is a captain, but he doesn’t fly very often because of his leadership
position in ALPA, which keeps him busy. He only flies enough trips to keep his license current.
He has three daugters, two who are currently flying for regional airlines and one who is in
college studying aviation. He jumpseats to go visit his daughters who are all living away from
home. He also jumpseats to ALPA’s national headquarters in Virginia for meetings.
Observations & Interviews
I conducted two observations and five interviews. Both observations and three of the
interviews were conducted in person, one was at home, the other two were at a coffee shop.
The other two interviews were conducted via skype.
To start the observation, I introduced myself and explained the project. I also confirmed that
participants had read and signed the consent form. As a warm-up I asked questions about the
participants’ experience with jumpseating.
I then asked participants to demonstrate how they would go about finding and booking a
jumpseat. I gave them a fake schedule which had a flight arriving in Denver at 11PM local
time. I asked them to find a jumpseat back to Memphis.
I took notes of each participant’s actions while they were completing the task. After they were
finished, I asked what they liked and didn’t like about the current jumpseating tools they use
to find and book jumpseats.
For the two people that had both observations and interviews, I immediately went to my
interview questions, which I had pre-prepared as a starting point. If they had already signed
the consent form I skipped that part.
There are four main reasons why pilots jumpseat.
1. They don’t live where they work.
Many pilots are commuters. That means that even though their trips are based out of a specific airport, they often live somewhere else, even across the country. This is made possible by jumpseating.
2. Things didn’t go according to plan.
Things often go wrong. Planes break, weather takes a bad turn, pilots run out of duty hours. All these things can result in an abrupt end to a flight at an airport they weren’t expecting to end up in. This particular reason played a part in the jumpseat search screens and will be discussed more later on.
Jumpseating is sometimes faster than waiting for the company scheduled deadhead (which is what the airlines call sending pilots on a commercial flight to position them at a different airport, or to take them home after the plane that they were flying landed
at an airport other than the one that is their domicile). Especially if the company includes an eight hour rest period in a hotel prior to the pilot deadheading home. In addition, if the pilot is a commuter, the deadhead will be scheduled to their domicile, which isn’t where they live, requiring a second flight to get to their home. Jumpseating can save them time by giving them a direct flight to their home.
4. They can save bank money and use it later.
If a pilot has a trip that starts or ends somewhere other than their domicile, their airline will pay for a commercial ticket . If a pilot jumpseats instead, they can use that money later (banking it) to deviate from a trip (for instance, taking a flight to their home rather than their domiciled airport), or to upgrade their seat on a flight, which is something many pilots do, especially on long flights.
The Process of Scheduling a Jumpseat
The process of getting a jumpseat requires:
1. Doing a search on a the ALPA website to find available flights.
2. Searching through ALPA’s jumpseating book to find the listing policies and rules of the
airline they want to jumpseat on.
3. Calling a number or going online to register for a jumpseat depending on the airline’s rules.
This means holding the book open while they dial the number on their phone or type in a web
4. Looking at the prohibited items list if they aren’t sure what they can bring on the flight.
Jumpseat Search Insights
1. The website is not responsive. It’s really hard to use it on a phone.
2. It was last updated in 2003, which means it really doesn’t work that well on a computer
either. The internet has changed a lot since 2003, and people have different expectations
regarding how the search should work based on current internet trends.
3. The navigation is also confusing in it’s location and function.
ALPA Jumpseat Book Insights
1. ALPA prints and mails a book to every one of it’s 63,000+ members every year.
2. Because it’s printed, updates to jumpseating policies are not in real time. Even though
policies change often, those changes are not reflected in the jumpseat policy book until it’s
reprinted the next year.
3. It requires the pilots to have to carry a book with them anytime they may want to book a
4. They have to read through a long list of airlines to search for the right one.
5. The book has major readability issues due to small print, and green ink on bright blue
paper. If a pilot is trying to look at it in the cockpit of an airplane at night for instance, it would
require the use of a flashlight, meaning a third item that the pilot would have to hold onto in
order to book a jumpseat.
Prohibited Items List Insights
1. 8½” x 11” size doesn’t work well on a phone.
2. At regular size it’s so tiny it’s impossible to read.
3. Zooming in requires moving horizontally and vertically to see everything.
4. The PDF file has to be downloaded from the website.
5. The PDF is found in a different location than the Jumpseat Finder.