TPNx 2019: Quality Over Quantity

TPNx was awesome this year. Adam Uhan wrote a short review of the event and he was spot-on. I want to describe some about my experience too, but, perhaps more importantly, I want to address a question I’ve been surprised to see a lot in the last couple days. Specifically: “What type of pilot benefits from TPNx?”

We’ll summarize the answer to that question at the end, but let’s start with what I got out of TPNx. (I’m a pilot, so it’s all about me, right?)

I was not there looking for a job. I just upgraded to A220 Captain at a major airline. I have a fun flying side-hustle. I have a job in the USAF Reserve. I wasn’t out to schmooze a potential employer, or glean some application/interview gouge.

I did recently publish a book, and I had some copies on hand to sell, but there was never any chance of making as much from book sales as it cost me to be there. (I have to sell hundreds of copies to equal a single day of Captain’s pay…and I dropped three days of work for TPNx.) I got a chance to speak during the event. If you were at that presentation, I hope you found it abundantly clear that my personal mission, through the work I do with TPN and through my book, is to improve the lives of others.

The People

My favorite part of TPNx was the people. I always enjoy hanging out with Matt Swee and Adam Uhan. They’re some smart and passionate dudes. I also look forward to any chance I get to hang out with TPN’s sponsors. I enjoy checking in with them and hearing about how things are progressing at their businesses. Don’t tell them, but I partially use our conversations as educational opportunities. I aspire to be an effective entrepreneur, and I hope to learn from their successes and failures.

I ran into one old friend that I hadn’t seen in years. I’d given him a spreadsheet for calculating the costs of airplane ownership years ago and then forgotten about it. He used the spreadsheet to help purchase a C-172 that he enjoyed flying for several years. He sold that one a while ago and is now looking for a Maule. We shared opinions on small aircraft, and it was fun to talk about GA and aircraft ownership with him, among other things.

Free food, open bar, no pressure. This is what Networking looks like at a TPN event!

I ran into a flying buddy from college and the B-1. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, though we did recently discuss career opportunities. He’d left Active Duty to work as an engineer in the space industry. He did fascinating things at an amazing company, but is interested in the life of free time and luxury I write about so often on here. After we spoke on the phone a few weeks ago, he applied to TPN sponsor Horizon Air, and got hired almost immediately. It was fun to catch up some more and celebrate his success.

I got to meet the legendary Aaron Hagan, and even eat dinner with him. He delivered a fantastic presentation at TPNx this year, and he’s an impressive businessman. He’s also a very down-to-earth person, genuinely interested in helping other pilots. It turns out he’s shopping for a new airplane. I’ve flown one of the types he’s considering, so I got to share my opinion with him. It was the least I could do to pay him back for helping get me hired at Delta, right?

I also met a bunch of other pilots from all over the country. We talked a lot about career options. Some had lingering questions about stuff they’d read online and just weren’t sure they could trust. I was able to either set things straight for them, or refer them to a person or place where they could get that confirmation. I also identified lingering questions that will become future articles I write here.

A panel of pilots from several different career paths prompted an interactive discussion that could have lasted all day.

In many cases, I talked to someone not sure about or not interested in a traditional airline career. I was able to explain options that, somehow, the rest of the internet just hasn’t been able to provide them thus far. More than one pilot showed significant interest in some part-time contract flying with TPN sponsor High Country Air Service. (For those of you who start doing some of that flying, please report back and share your experiences!)

Even if I couldn’t be a career resource for someone at TPNx, I seemed to encounter a continuous stream of great flying stories. There was a lot of random, “you know Joe Pilot? Me too,” and “You like this kind of flying? Me too.” I guess that’s the definition of Networking for me. Meet people with whom you share common interests and potentially become friends. There doesn’t need to be a payoff–now or ever. That said, who knows when you might be able to help each other with something in the future.

The Content

Although Networking was my #1, and although I didn’t need a job per se, I got a ton of value from the presenters at TPNx.

Horizon Air chief pilot Carlos Zandejas addresses the Network.

Horizon Air’s chief pilot gave us a fantastic explanation about everything from the flying to the quality of life at his company. He fielded direct questions and gave direct answers. The access to that kind of candid interaction is unprecedented in our industry. You can get a taste of this during presentations at some of the pilot job market conferences, but Carlos hung out with us for most of the weekend. At other places, you’ll pay hundreds of dollars to spend endless hours in line to get 5-10 minutes with an underling recruiter. The pilots at TPNx had unlimited access to one-on-one conversations with Carlos for follow-up. There’s no comparison.

Horizon’s presentation was excellent, but then we heard from the Southwest Airlines hiring team. Just like last year, they gave us authoritative, up-to-date information about their company. They answered every question directly. For those at TPNx, there is no doubt whatsoever, what needs to be done to present a high quality Southwest application.

The Southwest hiring team branched out a lot this year. They started off TPNx by spending hours at a table the first night in a private, small-group discussion and Q&A. They were available throughout the weekend for questions. Having access to the hiring team for a major airline for a whole weekend is something you’ll never get anywhere else.

After lots of regular mingling, the Southwest Airlines hiring team a long time answering questions at a table with our Networkers. What other venue give you this kind of interaction with any airline hiring team?

I know the relationship between SWA and TPN is fruitful for everyone. They wouldn’t have come back and expanded their presence if it wasn’t. Another college buddy of mine paid very close attention to SWA’s presentation at TPNx last year and followed up with them to clear up a couple things before he departed. He wasn’t at TPNx this year, in part because he is now a First Officer at Southwest. TPNx played no small part in him landing his dream job. I am confident that there will be more pilots who get the exact same benefit from attending TPNx this year.

I love Southwest’s style. The perfect blend of professionalism with relaxed and humorous.

Adam Uhan already gave us a pretty thorough run-down of the other speakers at TPNx. They all had wisdom and actionable advice to share. Although the sponsors naturally themed their talks to match their products, there wasn’t a single slimy sales pitch. I would have expected Aaron Hagan to spend his time on stage promoting Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, or at least discussing interview prep. Instead, he distilled an entire career’s worth of wisdom into one presentation in a way that was both entertaining and inspiring.

The other TPN sponsors all gave great presentations. I’d love to detail each one, but I’d have to spend all day writing to get anywhere near communicating the value they provided to the pilots and spouses in our conference room. I will mention two though:

Liz Greene and Nancy Hultgren from PreFlight were at TPNx this weekend. If you haven’t heard about PreFlight, take a look at this page with links to the TPN Podcast episode about them. The work they’re doing is important. Talking to these two aviation professionals left no doubt about the strength of their passion for this cause. I’ve committed to donating at least 25% of the profits from my book to aviation-related charities. I’m proud to announce that PreFlight will be one of those organizations this year, and I’m looking at some ways I can do more to support them in the future.

TPN + PreFlight = great things for future aviators.

At TPNx last year, someone asked why TPN hadn’t yet set up a more formal mentoring program for young pilots. Our answer at the time was that we didn’t have the bandwidth and that we didn’t want to start something like that unless we could do it right. When we started asking around, many TPNers recommended Professional Pilots of Tomorrow, a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that matches experienced and inexperienced pilots for mentoring. In other words, PPOT is exactly what we were looking for. Kris Olson had a steady stream of Networkers interested in joining his organization’s efforts to start mentoring younger aviators. TPN is very excited and proud to have PPOT as a partner. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, or you need one, you should absolutely let them know!

The Party

The networking, presentations, and individual access to TPN’s partners at TPNx was fantastic. Every single person I spoke with said they would have gladly paid more than the original $100 ticket price for those things. That said, this weekend was also just plain fun.

We ate food catered by the Hyatt, and it was fantastic. For dinner, they served a spicy shrimp and grits that I couldn’t stop eating. As pilots, we’re used to mediocre hotel breakfasts. The food here put those things to shame. Between dinner the first night, and the two fantastic breakfasts we enjoyed, we got nearly $100 worth of food. (This is one of the many reasons that TPN doesn’t make a dime from TPNx. In fact, it pretty much wipes out our entire budget every year.)

Breakfast on day two. The spreads provided by the Hyatt (and covered with the price of a TPNx ticket) were glorious.

Our sponsors also made sure that drinks were covered for most of the event. We still had money available for the tab when the bartenders called Uncle and left the first night. PIVOT covered an open bar after presentations on Day 2 as well. I know more than one pilot who enjoyed at least $100 of free booze during the weekend. I guess anyone who didn’t get that value out of TPNx probably wasn’t trying hard enough.

Last year, I stayed up late on the first (well, only) night of TPNx. It was a great time, though it ended up being a group of mostly TPN helpers and sponsors. This year, the up-late group covered every demographic at the event and we all had a great time. I noticed several groups of long-lost friends reconvening from F-15, KC-135, B-1 and other communities. Although they all had history together, they were inclusive and welcoming of everyone at the event. There were no cliques.

For this airline pilot who truly misses Friday roll call, the two nights of TPNx were just good for my soul. It was something I’d been missing for a long time. If nothing else, TPNx is a reunion and a time to remember what’s great about being part of a flying organization. One of the ways we’re looking at making TPNx more accessible next year is going back to a 2-day event. This means we may only get one night to hang out. That makes me a little sad, but it means we’ll have to do it right.

Quality Over Quantity

Adam, Matt, and I spent several hours after TPNx concluded discussing the good, the bad, and how we can make next year better. I admit, we were a bit disappointed at the attendance numbers. Between our discussion and the feedback we’ve received from those who attended we’ve come to a few conclusions:

  1. Making tickets free didn’t help overall. We had more than 200 people sign up, but fewer than 100 in attendance. We’re looking at ways to make sure that we save sign-up spots for people ready to commit to showing up next year.
  2. Although it was awesome to have three days, that’s a lot to ask for many people. Matt, Adam, and I are airline pilots. It’s trivial for us to move our schedule around and get rid of work days we don’t want. We also tend to spend a lot less time at work than the average military pilot. We’ve worked out a schedule for next year that should provide just as many awesome presentations over just two days, giving you a way to attend without sacrificing quite as much time with your family.
  3. Veteran’s Day weekend is tough for some people. We get it. You only get so many long weekends, and there is a lot of tradition associated with this holiday. We feel like TPNx is an event worthy of this occasion, and we’d love to see more people bring their families with them. (Disney is gorgeous this time of year.) However, we’re going to take a hard look at the calendar to see if there’s a better day. We’re also looking at going back to a 2-day event, potentially giving you time to get back home and still have a day or two with your family.
  4. Orlando is a tough location for some people. This is the toughest nut to crack, and we haven’t figured it out quite yet. The Hyatt is an outstanding venue. You simply cannot beat this restaurant for an exclusive pilot networking event:
Horizons restaurant on the 9th floor of the Hyatt is aviation-themed. Yes, the bar is a cowling from an old engine. It didn’t show up in this picture, but the windows look out over the Southwest and Delta ramps, apropos given the goals of many TPN members.

Orlando is also one of the few locations in the country guaranteed to have a plethora of flights on any air carrier. (All airlines must pay tribute to The Rat.) Since the hotel is in the airport, you don’t have to worry about rental cars or Ubers and the pain of driving through big city traffic to and from the conference every day.

It also doesn’t hurt that Matt and I both live in Tampa and can get a lot of groundwork done from “home.” We’re still leaning toward Orlando again for TPNx next year. However, if you know of a comparable location somewhere more central, let us know!

I also realized that although I talk a lot about Travel Hacking in Pilot Math Treasure Bath, I haven’t given any specific examples. I apologize for that, and I will do better. Look for a post very soon that will explain exactly how you can travel to Orlando (or wherever we hold TPNx) and stay at The Hyatt, for free, next year for TPNx.

Perhaps our biggest and most important take-away was that there will be a TPNx next year. I’ll admit, leading up to the event we were all feeling a bit burned-out. Cost-wise, TPNx is the size of a very large wedding…and that’s a lot of work. Matt & Adam both endured life-altering family tragedies this year. Ticket sales were lower than expected, then overwhelming, before the let-down of lower-than-expected attendance. More than one of us was leaning toward at most doing a “virtual” TPNx next year.

Thankfully, the overwhelmingly positive response from those in attendance alleviated all our doubts. We unanimously feel that TPNx was worth our time and effort to put on. We are extremely proud of the difference we were able to make in the lives of others, and we had far more fun than we expected. We’re recharged and excited about TPNx next year. We’re going to be reaching out for some help to spread the burden and avoid burn-out prior to the event next time.

You just can’t get access to ask direct questions through a virtual meeting.

Why Should I Attend TPNx?

So, let’s go back to the question I mentioned at the start of this: What groups benefit from TPNx?

I believe that any pilot will benefit from TPNx so much that it’s worth spending the time and money to get there. Although we will likely charge at least a nominal fee for tickets next year, I promise that I will spell out a path you get there and stay for almost zero out-of-pocket cost. Once we get that taken care of, the only cost of attending TPNx will be buying a ticket (probably in the $100 range,) some meals (mostly lunch,) and the time away from your family. At two days and $100, I feel like each of the categories I’ve written about here make TPNx a compelling value.

More specifically:

  1. A young pilot with fewer than 500 hours could benefit from TPNx by learning about career opportunities. He or she will meet people in numerous Guard and Reserve units that are hiring UPT applicants. He or she will meet people from companies like High Country Air Service and Jet Linx (their recruiting team attended as guests, though I hope they’ll be back as sponsors next year!) A Commercial Pilot/CFI approaching 500 hours will be competitive for jobs at all of these organizations.
  2. A young pilot approaching R-ATP eligibility is an ideal demographic for TPNx. He or she will get to meet representatives from application and interview prep services, look them in the eye, and ask lots of questions before deciding whether to spend good time and money on their services. He or she will get to hear presentations from airlines like Horizon and Southwest, and speak directly with the hiring teams. This isn’t the stereotypical meat market where you hand over your resume and give a 5-minute elevator pitch. This is asking questions and advice that will help you successfully submit an app in the next year or two. A pilot like this could also potentially benefit from employment opportunities they find here.
  3. A regional airline or military pilot nearing freedom is also at the perfect point for making TPNx a career boost. He or she will get the same access to airline hiring teams and prep providers. However, he or she will also meet fellow TPN members who work at every single major airline in the industry. There is nowhere else in the world where you can ask every question you can think of, from every airline you want to know about, in a zero-threat environment, all while drinking free beer. I spent weeks writing a 3-part series of articles comparing the major US airlines. You can get better information in just two days while attending TPNx.
  4. An experienced pilot not interested in the airlines can absolutely benefit from TPNx. Aside from getting introductions with the non-airline sponsors I’ve already mentioned, you will meet pilots who enjoy all kinds of other flying jobs as side-hustles or full-time careers. I guarantee you can find job opportunities that can have you flying within weeks of TPNx if that’s what you’re after.
  5. So, who’s left? The pilots who already have their dream job and don’t need TPNx to be a career-enhancing event. This includes me.

I got a lot from the camaraderie and networking at TPNx. For pilots who have moved on from the military, this is the first thing you start to miss. I would have gladly given up a couple days to visit old friends, and it was awesome to meet so many new people. 

Through meeting Liz and Nancy I confirmed that PreFlight is an organization that I want to go out of my way to support. I also found myself really proud of what PPOT has formed, and glad that TPN can partner with them. I plan on supporting their efforts too.

I also found out about a lot of very interesting flying and business opportunities at TPNx that I might want to take part in at some point in the future. I spent at least half the weekend telling people about my part-time job teaching for Icon. I think a lot of the pilots at TPNx have realized that there are a lot of fun flying job opportunities out there that can be done instead of, or in addition to the airlines. I may or may not also be seriously thinking about forming a partnership with some other TPNx attendees to buy an A5 of our own to enjoy in Tampa.

New TPN Sponsor UpgradeStay is the perfect example of the kind of side-hustle turned budding business empire that is born through networking and imagination.

A pilot who already has a dream job should attend TPNx for camaraderie, networking, finding causes to support, and finding potential side-hustles…oh yeah, one more thing. That dream job doesn’t last forever; someday you retire. If you want to keep flying, stay connected, and maintain relevance in this ever-changing industry TPNx is your place to do that too.

I suppose that there are pilots out there who wouldn’t benefit from attending TPNx. You’d have to be secure in a job that you have no interest in leaving (or threat of having to leave), and also have no interest in meeting, hanging out with, or pursuing side-hustle/hobby opportunities with anyone else. I’ve noticed a little bit of this attitude on the fringes of The Pilot Network. I hope it isn’t widespread. TPN exists to help everyone enjoy the part of their lives that includes aviation. If we are failing to reach that goal, please reach out directly and help us understand why! Although I’m a pilot who objectively knows that I’m more handsome and better at flying than you, without having ever met you, I promise to hear you out and try to figure out how to help before I tell you to pound sand. 😉

TPNx 2020

As I mentioned, there will be a TPNx 2020 and I couldn’t be more excited.

Even though I already have my dream job, I love listening to the speakers at TPNx. I guarantee we’ll have a group of impressive, dynamic people next year who will have ways to make your life better.

Speaking of presenters, we aspire to have more airlines for you. When we start explaining the access that Horizon and Southwest got this year to highly experienced professional pilots, I expect other carriers to jealously rush to join us. If you know anyone at your company’s hiring or outreach teams, please talk us up and feel free to get us in touch.

We’ve had requests from a lot of regional airlines to attend TPNx. We’re open to that possibility, but we don’t want to become a meat market. If you want access to every regional in the industry, you can attend WAI, OBAP, RTAG, and others. There’s nothing wrong with those events, but we’re aiming for something different. Horizon presented at TPNx because they’re a long-time, enthusiastic sponsor of TPN. Their support goes way beyond paying a vendor fee and spending an hour on stage. They do a lot behind the scenes to support our efforts. If you are associated with a regional airline interested in a similar relationship, we’d love to speak with you.

Tyler made ProFlyt Blue to solve the problems of every pilot scheduler on the planet. TPNx attendees got to see a demo, ask questions, and get frank answers on future platform updates.

We also spend a lot of time considering requests from non-airline sponsors. We’ve recently added BogiDope, a company dedicated to helping pilots land dream jobs in the Guard and Reserve (though they’ll help you get to UPT if you’re going on Active Duty too.) I’ve been writing for them lately because I support their work. I hope you’ll get the opportunity to meet them at TPNx 2020.

I’ve also spent the last two years trying to get my old squadron mate, Brian Steorts, to represent Flags of Valor at TPNx, if not become a full TPN sponsor. Brian founded a veteran-owned, veteran-run business that makes a fantastic product. He’s gone from small-time business venture to an entrepreneurial powerhouse that got invited to the White House to present a flag to the POTUS. (I think he hasn’t been able to commit to TPNx because he’s just been too busy. If you’re a customer or a fan, let him know how awesome it would be to have the halls at TPNx decked with Flags of Valor!)

TPNx is a huge event that only happens thanks to the support of our fantastic sponsors. We aspire to do more good for the Network, but we’ll need even more support to make that happen. If there’s another potential TPN sponsor that you think might fit our ideals and benefit from access to a growing community of nearly 30,000 pilots, please let us know.

Before I go, I want to reiterate my promise that I will show you a concrete way to travel to and stay at TPNx for almost zero out-of-pocket cost. There’s nothing scammy or shady about it. There are whole communities dedicated to the hobby of travel hacking. (As an airline pilot, I enjoy reading The Points Guy for two reasons. First, they have great information on how to travel hack. Second, I use them as a source of feedback on how our industry is doing.)

Let’s find a way to get you to TPNx next year. I want to hang out. I want to help you find your dream job, or a side-hustle that will having you excited to drop the kids off at school every day. No matter what point you’re at in your aviation career, TPNx will be a great time and a huge benefit for you!