A Pilot's Perspective of Capitol Hill

By ALPA Staff

Capt. Doug Mattson (United) has spent the better part of his career in service—first as a member of the U.S. Air Force and then as a United pilot advocating for the past eight years on behalf of ALPA pilots before the U.S. Congress on critical legislative initiatives. Serving on the United Master Executive Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee, Mattson has created spreadsheets to coordinate Member of Congress outreach, drafted pilot talking points, and helped build ALPA’s pilot advocacy bench during his tenure. As he’ll soon hand over the reins to a new team of trained advocates at United, ALPA’s Government Affairs Department staff asked him about his advocacy work on Capitol Hill.

What was the hardest-fought piece of legislation, excluding the payroll support program, that you worked on?

Mandating secondary flight deck barriers. It’s unfathomable to me that 20 years after 9/11, we’re still fighting for this. It took years and extraordinary effort to get the mandate added to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that all newly manufactured aircraft have secondary barriers. However, the FAA has been very slow to implement it. We’re still working on mandating secondary barriers for all existing aircraft as well. Congress needs to act on this now. Having worked with Ellen Saracini, the wife of Capt. Victor Saracini who was a pilot on United Flight 175 on 9/11, I know it’s not a matter of if we’ll get it done, but when. She’s a tenacious advocate!

Who’s the most memorable legislator you worked with and why?

I don’t think anyone forgets a meeting with Rep. Don Young (R-AK). The first thing you notice when you enter his office is a giant bear skin hanging on the wall and a huge native Alaskan totem pole. We worked well together as I was a commercial fisherman in southeast Alaska prior to my flying career. As the longest serving active Member of Congress and the former chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he knows all the history of the issues facing ALPA pilots and aviation in general.

What advice would you give to upcoming advocates?

Someone once told me, “Everything in Washington, D.C., is about relationships. That’s how things get done here.” When our advocates focus on building solid relationships with Members of Congress and their staff, it leads to long-term success for our pilots.

What are the pros/cons of virtual and in-person meetings?

Pros: It’s really nice not to have to fly across the country and back for meetings in D.C. I truly don’t know how our West Coast Members of Congress do it every week!

Cons: Nothing beats an in-person meeting when you’re trying to persuade someone to support you on an important issue. I can say from experience that virtual meetings won’t replace traveling by air to attend an important personal meeting.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had told you about Capitol Hill?

Don’t get frustrated. Sometimes you need to be patient and realize that there are often political interests you may not be aware of behind the scenes and you have to play the long game. I remember working on the Norwegian Air International flag-of-convenience issue and there was a particular Member of Congress who I thought should have supported us. I shared my frustration with a staffer who said that in D.C. “you don’t want to have enemies—just people who might not be your friend on today’s issue. Remember that you’ll need them to be your ally on another issue in the future.”

What information would you like to share with ALPA pilots?

I wish every pilot had the opportunity to see what I’ve seen “behind the curtain” over the years. They’d be amazed at how effective ALPA’s Government Affairs Department is. Of course, the best example of this is the three tranches of the payroll support program. Life today for our pilots and their families would be starkly different without that support—just look at how things are going for our fellow pilots around the world. Also, I’ve seen firsthand just how critical ALPA-PAC is to our efforts on behalf of all pilots. It’s not just about supporting pilot-partisan candidates for office. ALPA-PAC gives us the opportunity to build a relationship with them over the long term.

This article was originally published in the August 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)