A Career Change: My Airline Adventure

© litton51@hotmail.com

Chapter One: “All Things End”

So You Think You Want To Fly for an Airline?

My boss called me into his office. "Close the door" (never a good sign). I figured it was another conversation about Pointer.Plus, a new computer system the company had installed at the insistence of the VP of Finance. Pointer.Plus was like the computer system in "Collosus: The Forbin Project." Since it's activation, it had taken control of all of the company's resources and was now trying to kill us all with aggravation and sleep-deprivation. As the Service Manager I had repeatedly made the point at staff meetings that it isn't smart to keep on-line a computer system that doesn't work, costs too much, and is trying to kill the business. My protests had been met with either silence of condescension.

John (*) looked at me with some pain in his eyes. "You're being replaced." Ouch. That hurt. He fiddled with his pencil and sat off-balance with that leaning-forward-but-really-don't-want-to-get-close-to-you posture.

"The company is changing directions and we've decided to bring-in a new service manager; someone with the type of experience we think we'll need. We've discussed it, and we feel you just don't have the particular skills we'll need for this job. But we've decided to offer you your old job back, if you want it."

Lord knows, the company had problems. Besides Pointer.Plus, the company had stalled on the tracks and the rest of the GPS industry had passed us by. Our latest airplane GPS was three years old, obsolete, and a nightmare to use. Our soon to be released boat GPS didn't work (but boy! Did the screen have neat colors!).

"His name's Gregory Kelt. We think you'd be a big help in getting his feet wet, and we don't think you'd sabotage the company, would you?" he asked, smearing a statement and a question together in one sentence. His background was inventory management. "It's not in your nature," he added.

"No, I wouldn't."

Gregory arrived from North Dakota and started four days later, revealing himself to be one of those hearty, smiley kind of guys who clearly are interested only in themselves. Questions about his family were met with, "I don't have to worry about that anymore." I couldn't help but think of the Canadian accountant who had, some years before, neatly butchered his family and left them in a tidy row of gore on the floor of the family home as he went-off to start a new life. I spent the next two months teaching him the fundamentals of my job, and showing him the biggest problems we had. One was our product obsolescence. The other was Pointer.Plus.

Pointer.Plus was the baby of Sharon, the company VP for Finance. Sharon was a woman who demonstrated no skills with people who somehow had gained a death grip on the company; what Sharon wanted, Sharon got. Sharon wanted Pointer.Plus, a software package designed to help run an appliance repair shop. You know; your dishwasher breaks-down and you call Sears. They send someone out to check it, troubleshoot it, and repair it. Our business was totally different, but Sharon didn't care. She "liked its features," so the company was in its death grip. I had been frank in my assessment of Pointer.Plus -- I am frank about most work issues -- and this had not helped me.

"Gregory is a friend of Steve's (the company president), and Steve thought that Greg was the best person to be service manager under our new business plan (what new business plan?) Well, between my frank assessment of a dog-ugly computer system and Steve's certain drinking buddyship with Gregory, things suddenly fell into place for me.

Two months later, Gregory walked up to me, told me to log-out and then, waggling his finger at me, summoned me into the Personnel Manager's office (Gregory didn't bother to speak to underlings; he simply summoned us wordlessly with a scowl and a wagging finger. We all despised him). Once in the Personnel Manager's office, Gregory gave me a letter in which he charged me with all of his work problems, of personally sabotaging the company and his job, and firing me. I was walked out the back door after being given five minutes to put my personal belongings into a cardboard box. I then stood, blinking, in the parking lot before driving home filled with a combination of anger and elation. Never to have to see Gregory’s scowl again!.

Precisely two people bothered to email me with a condolence. Neither of them was Gregory.

Precisely one day after my firing the industry’s top magazine named me top service manager in the industry. I sent a copy to both Gregory and Steve but never received a response. (One year later the same industry magazine indicated that, under Gregory, the company’s service department had totally disintegrated, dropping the company’s ranking from first to off-the-bottom-of-the-chart. As the Klingons say, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

At the time of my being frog-marched out the back door, I had been in aviation for a long time, both military and civil. After taking a few days off I opened a trade paper and saw an ad for a Part 135(1) airline on the Cape. Why not take the opportunity for a real change?

Several years before I'd been contacted by another smaller airline. After talking with the chief pilot, I asked what the job paid. "Well, it pays $ 250 a week.” What about vacation, sick time, medical insurance, and holidays? “No.” One word said it all.

"Who can take a job like that?"

"To tell you the truth, George, you can't afford to take it unless you're still living with your mother and can walk to the airport."

Perhaps this time would be different, and I was ready for a change (it paid more and had real benefits.)

The ad read: “Want to enjoy flying for one of the industry’s best regional airlines? If you have an Airline Transport Pilot’s License, a First Class Medical, a clean record, and a thirst for adventure, call us for an appointment for a simulator ride. Challenge and adventure await. We do a good job for our passengers and have fun doing it! Call…” The outfit – we’ll call it “Wings,” after the TV show -- was based near Boston. Their pilots flew Cessna 402s, single pilot, day and night, VFR and IFR(2)...

(*) Names in this article have been changed to protect the innocent – and the guilty. (1) Part 135: under Federal Aviation Regulations, an airline flying smaller airplanes may operate under a separate set of rules requiring fewer crewmembers than Part 121 airlines, which fly big airplanes that require many crewmembers.

(2) Cessna 402s, single pilot, day and night, VFR and IFR: The Cessna 402C “Deuce” is a ten-seat, twin-engine, cabin-class unpressurized airplane weighing-in at about 6,900 pounds loaded. It has two pilot’s seats but Wings flies it with just one pilot so a 9th paying passenger can sit in what would be the co-pilot’s seat. This is legal and many airlines operate in a similar way. Visual Flight Rules are as the name implies. Instrument Flight Rules involve flying “blind” and making takeoffs and landings using the panel instruments instead of being able to see the ground until the last moment.

Next: The Call of the Air

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