A Homegrown Pilot Group

Air Line Pilot, July/August 2002, p. 55
By Chris Dodd, Staff Writer

Maybe there’s something in the soil in Indiana, or at least in the air. It’s probably that wide-open farmland, with enough room to tuck an airstrip in quite nicely behind the barn, that grows so many airline pilots out of the heartland.

Greenfield, Ind., can claim the Sniders, for example. Talk to any one of them, and you sense the joy of growing up in an airline family. A very LARGE airline family—they have enough pilots to staff their own airline.

Here’s the roster:

• Father, Dale Sr., retired in 1981 after 31 years with US Airways;

• Dale Jr. ("D.K."), Terry, and Kim still work for that carrier; each a captain on the A330, the B-737, and the A320, respectively;

• Mark, medically retired from Delta Air Lines after 21 years;

• Robin, an MD-80 captain for American Airlines; and

• Darryl, an A320 captain for Northwest Airlines.

Now the grandchildren are coming on strong:

• Chris, D.K.’s oldest, has transitioned from flying the F-16C to flying for American as a first officer on B-737s, and

• Drew, Terry’s son, flies a Beech 1900 for Colgan Airways, a US Airways Express carrier.

All totaled, the Sniders have racked up more than 170 years of line flying, with 22 different named carriers through bankruptcies, mergers, name changes, and job changes.

Dale sometimes jokes that his six sons became pilots "so they wouldn’t have to work on a farm or in an office for a living."

His boys didn’t get pep talks about being airline pilots, or good union members, from their stolid Midwestern father. "It wasn’t Dad’s style to talk about things like that," remembers Darryl.

But soloing at age 16 was as much a rite of passage for Dale and Carol Snider’s sons as getting a learner’s permit to drive was for any other kid that age. Dale permitted no joyriding, and his sons sweated bullets when they flew with him. "Dad took flying very seriously. It was always for a purpose," Darryl says.

Dale, Sr., was also determined to show his sons that the world was far wider than 145 acres of corn and soybeans. "We traveled a lot," Darryl remembers, smiling, "but that was in the days of 50 percent load factors." On one memorable vacation, Dale took the whole family "around the world backward in 18 days.…We slept one night in the Bombay Airport because no hotel rooms were available."

His father remembers another leg of that journey, hustling the family out of Tel Aviv one day ahead of the Four Day War. It was heady stuff, and from it the kids got the message, Darryl avers, "that the 9-to-5 routine was not going to be as good a deal" as a pilot’s calling.

They got the sense early, too, that the union was something worth making an effort for. Dale, who got hooked on flying after he and Carol took a $5 ride on a Ford Trimotor in 1940, signed on as a pilot for Turner Airlines, which became Lake Central, in 1950.

Dale flew his Bonanza from the farm’s airstrip up to Chicago to retrieve, from Dave Behncke’s office personally, the representation cards to organize the Lake Central pilots, then flew back and, by nightfall, had signed up all of them.

Activism, too, was heady stuff, and it made an early impression.

Dale owned a Dairy Queen as a sideline and put the boys to work there without pay. At one point, the three eldest staged a wildcat strike, and Darryl recounts with some amusement that D.K. was banished from the house. (He stayed a few days at his grandmother’s next door to the drive-in until his father cooled off.) "To this day, my father doesn’t think that was funny."

The same three—D.K., Terry, and Mark—entered the airlines through the military. All three flew fighters for the Indiana Air National Guard, as their father had before them. D.K., who flew 200 missions in Vietnam in the F-4 Phantom, is currently a general in the Guard.

Kim, Robin, and Darryl started out at Britt Airways—then an Allegheny feeder and notoriously anti-union. "If you weren’t an activist before you went to work for them," Darryl cracks, "you were after you started."

Carol, wisely, insisted the boys all get their college degrees, to insulate them from the vagaries of the profession. All graduated with bachelor of science degrees from Purdue, except for Mark who broke ranks and graduated from Indiana University.

D.K. landed a job at USAir with his dad, then Kim came over after being furloughed at United.

Terry joined the other three after Braniff went bankrupt.

Years later, Dale, Sr., would run into Edwin Colodny, then president and CEO of USAir, and inquire about a job for Darryl. The carrier did not advocate nepotism, but made exceptions for those flying Sniders and never regretted it. Colodny reportedly turned down the offer to employ a fourth son, shaking his head and laughing, "You people are already a walking lawsuit!"

As their airline careers matured, so did the Sniders’ involvement in the union. Dale, who had served as first Master Executive Council chairman at Lake Central, also served on the Merger Committee for Lake Central’s merger with Allegheny Airlines. Decades later, Kim would serve on USAir’s Merger Committee when it combined with Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA). Both mergers were successfully completed without arbitrating the seniority lists.

Darryl, who flies for Northwest, has been a Council 74 rep in Memphis for 12 years and has served on numerous local and national committees. Brother Kim’s ALPA resume is almost identical on the US Airways property. Robin has also served in various volunteer positions with the Allied Pilots Association, the in-house union of American Airlines pilots.

Not surprisingly, because of flying schedules, the entire family manages to get together only every couple of years, the last time for Carol’s 80th birthday in 2001.

And not surprisingly, "we spend a lot of time talking about contracts. At times, it almost sounds like a negotiations seminar," Darryl laughs.

"We have a saying in our family that the first liar doesn’t have a chance because the others will invariably top him," adds Kim. "You had better be able to hold your own."

A fair amount of the bantering involves seniority. When Drew showed up at one family gathering, his grandfather teased him good-naturedly, "How come junior guys have the weekends off?"

Another Snider may one day join the airline pilot ranks—this one a woman. Darryl’s daughter Atasha, 20, is in the Air Force as a "boomer" in the tail of a KC-135, an air-to-air fueling tanker. She wants to go to flight school.

Her grandfather couldn’t be prouder. Dale, Sr., who celebrated his 81st birthday in February, stopped flying his Cessna just a few years ago due to macular degeneration.

Dale, Sr., is still legal to drive in Indiana, with the aid of special bioptic lenses. He still works on the computer, gave a speech recently to the Aero Club of Indianapolis on his piloting history, and tends to the family’s business interests.

Carol, an accomplished artist, has over the years produced a series of portraits of persons who have touched the family’s lives—people like Ed Colodny and former US Airways CEO Seth Schofield, long-time chief pilot Frank Petee, flight instructors and educators, and family friends. She’s worked her way through portraits of all but two of 15 grandchildren.

People are fond of talking about the aviation fraternity, or about union ties as ties to a family. Bob Six, who founded Continental, once said he’d "never known an industry that can get into people’s blood the way aviation can."

At least one family from Indiana proves both points.