When I started my Career

This is not intended to be a historical document as several books have been published along those lines. “Ceilings Unlimited, The Story of North Central Airlines” is about the best I have seen. It is out of print, however through some of the book web sites you may be able to locate a copy. I believe it was written in the early 1970’s.

I am writing this as a tribute to the many people I was privileged to work with. This along with small write ups about the stations I worked in will mention a few names that will bring a smile of remembrance to some and to others, maybe times they wish to forget. Either way it may give a little insight on a personal level what 36 years of an airline career was like. I do not wish this to be taken in any way as derogatory or insulting to any person or group of people. Some times were great, others .. well not so great, but I feel everyone contributed as best they could at the time. As I write about my station experiences keep this thought in mind. In every station there is someone or some method of operation, which allows that station to operate, and you do not wish to change them or the procedure.

The last half of the 1960’s saw a major expansion of the airline industry. Historically the largest hiring groups were during this time. This was a very regulated industry with the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) dictating not only what routes an airline could fly but also the fare structure. Jet and other turbine aircraft were introduced during the early 1960’s by the trunk airlines and were now being introduced by the regional airlines replacing the DC3’s and other piston aircraft such as the Convair 340/440.

I drove to Minneapolis to interview with three airlines. Prior to my first interview I walked around the terminal and noticed no one smiled at the trunk airlines yet the regional people seemed to be having a party. This was not surprising as this was right after the major multi airline strike the year before. The smiles greatly influenced my decision to work for North Central. The hiring practices were questionable, but to ignore them or hide them would not be correct. This was the time of the major build up of armed forces in Viet Nam and the mandatory draft was being worked overtime. The airlines, like most major industries at this time, were looking for male workers that either had completed their military service or were exempt. I fit the ideal mold. Thank goodness there were not enough of us to go around and many women were hired. Soldiers returning from Viet Nam would be the backbone of the airline industry for the next generation replacing the WW II group and the Korean War group. And we are turning this over to the next generation.

My official hire date was 4/17/67. Your hire date and then your age dictated a person’s seniority at the time. About 25 or so years later it was decided use of age was discrimination and was changed to alphabetically by last name. Go figure. My spot on the roster did not change. I was the youngest in the new hire class, so I guess I was at the bottom of the list in the entire company. This would not last long. There was a constant hiring at this time for expansion and replacement of personnel that left the company for many reasons. One of the major reasons at North Central was to work for one of the major airlines or trunk airlines as they were called. Yes, they raided our work force (grin). The wages were about $15.00 to $20.00 per month more at the trunks, and that was a lot of money at that time. Starting wages for ground personnel were $350.00 to $375.00 per month. The reason they were so high .. The Major Airline Strike. I would elect to stay with the so-called “Mom and Pop” airline. You felt more like a person versus just a number.

North Central Airlines at this time serviced the summer resort areas in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. During the winter months these were usually four man stations and during the summer they would hire summer help to double the staffing. Most of these employees would be retained at the end of the summer if they wished to remain in the industry. I was hired to beef up the staff at Rhinelander, Wisconsin. I had never heard of this town until I was hired. I guess I had lived a sheltered life growing up on a farm/ranch in Southwestern North Dakota (Last of the Good Guys from the Badlands). Prior to my reporting to the station, I was assigned to a new hire class in Milwaukee taught by John McElroy (Who does not remember John and smile). We were privileged to watch the fish float by - belly up in the river outside the building on Plankinton Avenue and learn the three letter city codes of places I never knew existed but were on the North Central system. Okay, so I was not the best student he ever had. But it was a fun two weeks. Little did we realize our real training would be on the job in our assigned stations. You have to admire the year round staff at these stations for accepting the task of training a new group of us every year, and do it successfully.

Well, off to my first of many stations .. RHI .. Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

Rhinelander, WI … April 1967-September 1967

Title: Passenger Service, Reservation, Ticketing and Communication Agent.

Hired for temporary summer help. Thank you John O’Keefe, a man I will always be grateful to .. Ended up being 36 years of temporary .. (grin) and as I was leaving your office you made the comment you did not think I would last the summer. Of course you said it with a smile on your face.

The first of many station managers.

Tom Christianson.

Few people knew he was a licensed A&P mechanic. He insisted you learn, without fear, to talk on a public address system. To accomplish this he had all new hires sing over it in the one room waiting area between flights. You do not wish to hear my attempt to sing. The airport manager/fixed base operator was not so lucky as noise suppressors were not in general usage at this time.

North Central had progressed a long way from it’s humble beginnings, so we had some “state of the art” communication systems. The backbone was the teletype machine. The process was to cut a tape by typing and inserting it thru a reader on the machine. The system was set up through a central office that searched for messages via a circuit, thus your machine had to wait its turn. All hardcopy items were transmitted by this method including reservations, weather reports, and flight movement reports. If something was urgent .. you typed a symbol that would activate a bell on the receiving machine. You should have heard the bells go off at Christmas time. Most of the time you were typing blind. I cannot remember ever seeing someone change the ink ribbon. Some people were able to read the tape by pulling it through their fingers and reading the perforations. I was not one of these. Thank goodness for the typing class I was forced to take in high school.

Another major type of communication was the always-on always-active telephone line. This operated similar to a modern intercom system in a house and all stations were hooked in. I referred to it as the “Hoot and Holler” line. The company had, if my memory serves me right, four of these called Green Line, Blue Line, Red Line and Black Line. Each served a region. To use it you listened on a speaker to make sure no one was currently talking and then called out to the station you wished to contact. Of course everyone on your line could hear what everyone else was saying. You soon learned to recognize people's voices and what stations they worked at. If you wished to talk to another region, you would contact a switchboard operator and have them connect the two lines. Flight booking availability was adjusted via this line.

In the stations we had a couple of books that were considered the “Bibles.” The BIG one was the tariff. This usually sat on the ticket counter in a holder about 10-12 inches wide. In this tome were all airlines official fares and rules of operation. This was revised and new pages sent about twice a month. When received, some poor soul had to manually update it. Yes, it was pushed to the newbies. At the time this was the second most used book. What was the most used?

The Official Airline Guide, or as was commonly called the OAG. I was informed the only thing “Official” about it was the name. This is still published today, but on a much smaller scale. It contained all airline flight schedules by city pairs, and a brief guide to fares available. New issues were received about once a month. The schedule looked something like this:



NO 440A RHIORD 1000A 100P x6 L CV5 1

NO 424A RHIORD 200P 500p S CV5 3

The first two letters were the Airline Code ( At the time North Central’s official code was NO. The NC airline code was in use by a different airline and after this carrier ceased to exist, North Central changed to NC) .. Next the flight Number ( The numbering system was by region and direction of flight) .. Class of service provided ( A= 1st class propeller, T= coach class propeller, F= 1st Jet, Y= Coach class Jet, and later R= SST) .. City pair .. Departure time .. Arrival Time .. (All times in local time at the city of departure or arrival .. still true today) .. Exceptions when flight either operated or did not operate .. Meal service .. Equipment type .. The number of intermediate stops. Thus the first line would be read as follows:

North Central flight 440 - 1st class propeller aircraft, (only class offered) would depart Rhinelander at 10:00AM and arrive in Chicago, O’Hare field at 1:00PM, did not operate on Saturday, Lunch was served using Convair 580 equipment and made one enroute stop.

Even though this book contained sample fares, when writing a ticket the fare had to be looked up in the tariff.

The next main manual was labeled SIPP. Most airlines at this time were using manual transmissions of all needed information, thus everything was abbreviated. There needed to be a set of approved abbreviations that all airlines could use and anyone reading the message could interpret. This book, which I believe is still in existence today, contained all official codes. They included: The official two letter and three letter airline codes, equipment codes, meal codes, special assistance codes, city/airport codes, etc. If you did not know the code, you looked it up! With the “blazing” speed of most people's typing and the speed of the teletype machines, this was a Godsend. However, as with all good things, there was a downside to it. Like many major industries, an artificial language was born from this. I soon had to make a conscience effort not to use it in my communication with people not familiar with it.

As my official title indicates, an agent at this time really had to be a “Jack of All Trades” type individual. I will attempt to describe each function.

1) Passenger Service .. You were expected to take care of all customers’ requests. Informational, Reservations, Ticketing, Check-in, or Solve problems either caused by the airline or beyond anyone’s control. Public address announcements were made per company standards. No exceptions allowed here.

2) Ticketing .. All tickets were hand written. Rhinelander was a destination area, so we did not have much originating traffic, thus not much ticketing. However it was the evening shifts job to write the tickets for the next day’s flight. Not many, about 10-15 per evening.

3) Communications .. You were expected to become proficient at the teletype system and the “Hoot and Holler” phone. Long distant calls were a “No No”. If another airline needed to be contacted, you used the toll free telephone numbers. You would think the cost of long distant calls came out of the manager’s paycheck .. maybe they did .. I was afraid to ask. The ground to aircraft radio required a license and it was deemed I would not need one.

4) Reservations .. Consolidated reservation offices as we know them today were none existent. We had a couple of minor ones serving two or three cities with the major one located in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee office handled inventory control on all flights. Each station handled the reservations for their area. In Rhinelander we also handled the reservations for Land O’ Lakes as this station was open only during the summer months.

Reservations at this time were a multi part process. The stations all had and updated availability charts for all flights. You received limited sales and close out messages on flights via teletype. These were transcribed to the station charts manually. These charts were referenced on all calls so as not to overbook flights. At this time North Central leased computer space for inventory control only. Automated reservations systems were in the infant stage at this time and only a couple of the trunk airlines were using them.

When a request for space from another airline was received via teletype, you needed to check availability, reply via teletype to them, and then transcribe the reservation data to a 3X5 card manually. The stations had to call reservation control usually via the “Hoot and Holler” line and advise them what inventory was reserved both by you and other airline requests. This had to be done in a very timely manner. Reservations received from other North Central stations only had to be transcribed to the 3X5 cards, as the inventory control part had been taken care of.

When you made a reservation involving another airline, a message had to be generated via teletype requesting the space using one of several space request per the SIPP manual. The codes were “SQ” .. If no answer within 24 hours, the space was confirmed and no reply would be returned to you. “NN” .. This was an urgent request and a reply was required from the other airline again within a certain time frame. “FS” .. Airlines at times reached agreements on certain flights were you could sell up to four seats without contacting them first and they were confirmed upon sending the message to them. Sort of looking for a complete disaster at times. There were block out periods on these during certain times of the year.

When you made a reservation either by telephone or in person at the ticket counter, a 3X5 card was used for the information, inventory adjusted, and a teletype message generated if need be. If the reservation was made in person and all segments could be confirmed it was to your advantage to ticket the person immediately to reduce time with this person on day of flight at check-in time.

Checking in a flight was a very simple process at this time. You checked your 3X5 cards for the persons name, pulled the flight coupon (which I wrote the number checked in on, thus having a running count of passengers), wrote the flight number and destination on the ticket jacket, validated the ticket jacket and checked the luggage with a strap tag color coded by city. There were no seat maps at this time. Remember, the largest aircraft flown by North Central held 48 passengers.

Many times, you made the persons reservation, ticketed them, checked them in, boarded them on the flight, met them coming off the aircraft on their return and even at times not only unloaded the luggage but carried it out to the car for them. Even though it may sound complicated, it was a very simple time with a lot of personal service for the customers.

We did many things for fun and to break up the day.

One flight was from Chicago .. Milwaukee .. Oshkosh .. Stevens Point .. Wausau .. Rhinelander .. Land O’ Lakes and back to Rhinelander. A four hour layover and off to the next leg. The flight crews soon learned I had fishing poles and lawn chairs in the trunk of my car. Word got around fast. Some would borrow the car and drive down a runway to one of the lakes off the end of a runway to sun and fish for a couple of hours on the layover. Try this today.

I started to polish airplanes for the fixed base operator to earn flying lessons to get my private pilot license, as I still had the dream of becoming a commercial pilot. Along with this and spending time with the private pilots from the Rhinelander Paper Company, I not only was working for an airline but also became immersed in the aviation community. These gentlemen built some of their personal aircraft patterned after WWI vintage aircraft using modern equipment and methods. Many were taken to the Oshkosh Air show.

One of the major oil companies had a resort just outside of Rhinelander and the pilots were going to practice landings and takeoffs. I was invited along and had my first ride on a private Lear jet. WOW. What a thrill that was, as I had never ridden on a jet before this time. It was not unusual for a customer to call in and book a reservation with continuing space on a major airline with the request to be booked on a jet flight, as only about 30% to 40% were jet service at this time. The extra layover time did not matter, they wanted to be on the JET.

Working here was like being on vacation. To bad it was only beefed up for the summer and I was unable to stay. Many agents started in similar stations and we developed a common bond over the years. In early September I was given a list of cities with vacancies and selected Grand Rapids, Mich. Other Choices were Detroit and Milwaukee Reservations. Even though Toronto was on the list, I would not able to bid there due to Canadian labor laws. Within days I was on my way to my next station … Grand Rapids .. GRR .. and I will continue my story there.

Grand Rapids, MI .. September 1967-November 1967

Title: Passenger Service, Reservation, Ticketing and Communication Agent

My time here was short. However I learned if you bought beer in disposable bottles versus cans, at the rate my roommates and I consumed, you could buy an extra case at the end of a week. With the priorities and funds I had at the time, this was important.

This station had a small-consolidated reservation office behind the ticket counter serving about five or six Michigan cities. Some days the job would consist of sending the teletype messages for your entire shift. It did not take long to make a game of this. Type a message tape, start it in the reader and continue typing trying not to tear the tape during your shift. Yes, typing speed increased so you could be far enough ahead of the machine to take a break and still have messages left over when you returned. Okay, so it was a slow machine, even though it was “State of the Art” at the time. We did have one major upgrade. One teletype machine was dedicated to receiving reservations only. This had paper perforated into 3X5 cards, thus you only had to fill in the top line versus copying the entire itinerary. What a time saver and you did not have to rely on deciphering someone’s hand writing.

This was my first exposure with other airlines in the same city. At the time United Airlines and Lake Central Airlines served this airport. Quite a change from Rhinelander. There were gates and holding areas for passengers versus one large room. All public announcements for routine items like arrivals and boardings were prerecorded. No more singing over the public address system for me. I don’t recall ever working a flight at the gate in this terminal, as I was very junior and regulated to the ticket counter and reservation office. This was a blessing as even though I thought I knew what the program was, I was badly mistaken. North Central had taken delivery of the 1st DC-9 aircraft this fall, however I do not recall if it served Grand Rapids during my short time here.

I realized almost immediately I would not enjoy working here or living in a city of this size and started searching the open position postings. I did not have enough time with the company to submit a bid to another location in the normal manner. I could submit letters of interest on the open positions only if they were posted. About this time, Braniff Airways announced they would stop service to Sioux City, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota with North Central Airlines taking over those routes. This meant an increase in staff and there would be some openings. I saw the posting on the last day available to summit a letter of interest. A quick telephone call followed up by my letter and within no time I was on my way to SUX .. Sioux City, Iowa .. I will continue my story there.

Sioux City, Iowa .. Nov 1967 - Jan 1970

Title: Passenger Service, Reservation, Ticketing and Communication Agent

Welcome sign at the time to Sioux City .. a large cow waste pile stating this, brought an enormous amount of income to the city .. along with the odor. The waste pile came from the stockyards, as this city is a major livestock market and processing area. Sioux City, along with the stockyards and several large corporations, also had an active airbase and an Air National Guard unit, so we had a lot of originating traffic.

The station staffing was increased to accommodate the additional flights and larger aircraft used when Braniff Airways stopped serving the Dakotas to concentrate on long haul flights. Most of the trunk airlines were in the same process, concentrate on the long haul flights utilizing jet aircraft allowing the regional airlines to feed passengers to them from the smaller markets. The regional airlines were just starting the process of acquiring jets. Ozark Airlines also served Sioux City and would remain. Even so, it was almost like stepping back into a situation like Rhinelander. The “Hoot and Holler” line, one room waiting area, one door leading to the ramp, a fence along the ramp with gate openings to board the aircraft and my favorite “Public Address” system without pre-recorded messages. I was not allowed to sing over it. (grin)

I was excited and happy to be in Sioux City and even though I thought I could sympathize with the Braniff employees being displaced, I would not learn how devastating it could be to a family to suddenly be uprooted after many years, until later in my career. It is one thing for a single person to relocate, quite another for a family that has lived in the area and has roots. Most of the Braniff employees transferred to other stations in their system, but a couple of them applied to work for us and were hired. It was starting all over for them. I was the only person in my classification that bid into the station. The remainder were all new hires. Not only was I green myself, but now was expected to assist in training the “Newbies”. The other classification, Station Agent, had all experienced people along with the staff prior to the increase.

With the increase of flights, a dedicated teletype machine was installed for reservations received with the perforated cards. To increase the speed of ticketing, we were allowed to order imprint plates with commonly used city pairs. These allowed us to run a ticket over them like a credit card imprinter. Fares at this time changed rarely due to the process of getting approval from the Civil Aeronautical Board, thus we not only had the city pairs, but also the fare imprinted as well. The only thing left was to enter the passenger’s name and flight numbers. When fares were changed, we cut off the fare information and priced these manually until we would receive the new plates. Our main cities served were Minneapolis, Kansas City, Omaha and Sioux Falls. Most travelers transferred in one of these cities. Our “Bibles” were still being updated manually and as I was the only one who had any experience, this job fell to me most of the time. For this reason it became a pet peeve of mine, if you were not capable of updating a manual correctly, the doghouse was the proper place for you.

For some reason, and this has been true my entire career, airlines open stations, close stations, implement new computer systems, or make major changes either during a holiday or some time when passenger travel would spike. Sioux City took over for Braniff during Thanksgiving week. This caused a very challenging time and I would not get a day off from my arrival until after Christmas Day. At times it was 12 to 14 hour days. The increase in income for me was a Godsend, and I will leave it go at that. The service was increased using Convair equipment and utilizing some DC-3 aircraft for off peak flights. We would not get DC-9 aircraft until the following year. Capacities of the aircraft were limited due to requirements of the FAA for flight personnel. 49 passengers, one flight attendant, 50 passengers, two flight attendants, thus the Convair aircraft were limited to 48 seats. DC-9 aircraft 99 passengers - two flight attendants, 100 passengers - 3 flight attendants, thus they had 99 seats. There are other requirements, however they would not affect the seating restrictions on these aircraft at this time.

As was the norm, we handled our own reservations. During normal business hours we had at least two people on these phones. Also, everyone in the station if not occupied with other duties was expected to answer the phones. I soon valued the travel agencies and the staff at these firms. In a very short time we became, as I like to refer to them, “Telephone” friends. We very seldom and at times never met face to face, but we “Knew” each other beyond just a business relationship.

The time of incentives, as I will call them. Sales representatives from other airlines would visit cities not on their route structure. When they arrived, an introduction was made and we were invited to a hotel or pub to enjoy an evening on them including “Refreshments” and a meal. They would be running a tab. Travel agency personnel would also be invited. There were two purposes for these visits. First, to have you book passengers on their airline when booking off line space. The second, to recruit trained agents from North Central to work for them. The first reason met with, I suspect, moderate success. The second, not so. This led to the second incentive. Familiarization trips. They would offer to fly first class, positive space, a couple of agents from several cities to a fun place for two days of partying with them picking up the entire cost. This was effective in luring away agents as two on the trip I took part in .. Disneyland .. did indeed go to work for the other airline. By today’s standards many people would say this is not ethical, but remember this was before the legal system ruled our lives. It was at the time the normal mode of operation for all big business. Yes, I was tempted, but not nearly as much as I was later in my career for a different reason.

A LARGE step forward for North Central would now occur. Most of the major airlines now had computer reservation systems in place. The most notable was named PARS. The regional airlines started to lease these systems and at times purchase a stripped down version. The names were very varied, IRMA, COWBOY, and in the case of North Central, ESCORT. The airlines would then continue to program these systems to suit their needs. Surprisingly, these did not have a large learning curve at the time. Most of the training would be computer based as the system used the same language and sequencing as the manual system. At the time, ESCORT was a reservation system only. CRT’s would come at a later time as most stations used instead an IBM electric typewriter to send and receive all information. It took a lot of faith to lay down the pencil and the 3X5 cards. I was very naive not to realize computerization would soon make my job here obsolete.

One morning the electric power failed in the city. Almost everyone had switched to electric alarm clocks, which had no battery back-up systems yet. Everyone on the opening shift overslept except me. I worked the flight entirely myself until it came time to do the weight and balance portion to produce the numbers required by the pilots. The numbers were entered on a work sheet and flight control settings read from charts based on the weight of the aircraft and where it was loaded including luggage, freight, passengers, crew and fuel. I worked up all the numbers, but knew it would not be legal, as I was not certified to perform this function. I called a gentleman in Omaha; he did the computations and sent them to me via teletype. These were the legal numbers I gave to the captain, even though mine were a mirror of his. I was soon trained and certified to perform this function, which would serve me well later in my career.

What was the final straw to end my time here? The Sioux City airbase closed. Between this and the start of the major consolidated reservation offices due to the computerized reservation system, a large cut back was implemented. My department was eliminated and I had the choice, where there was an opening or the most junior person on the system in my department. I elected to fill an open position in Minneapolis. From the time of notification until I was on my way was short and I will continue my story at the next stop .. MSP .. Minneapolis.

Minneapolis, Minnesota .. Jan 1970-Nov 1970

Title: Passenger Service, Reservation, Ticketing and Communication Agent

I reported here in early January during one of the most brutal winters on record. The temperatures were record breaking almost every day for the months of January and February. Snow, well it was almost like a blizzard every day. The employee parking lot was located beside the mail sort facility and is now covered by one of the concourses. After walking to the main building, it was almost impossible to warm up. There were no buses for employees at that time.

I found the employees to be very enjoyable to work with even as a major airline strike was in progress. North Central added some flights to accommodate some of the passengers. This required the gate agents at times to work DC-9 flights within 30 minutes of each other. The check-in system used at the time allowed this to be accomplished. Seat charts and computerized seating for us was years away. I did not mind the extra work until I found out most of the extra profit was going to the airline on strike via the Mutual Aid Pact. With Minneapolis being the home of North Central and also a major hub, the electric typewriters had been eliminated and replaced with CRT’s and dot matrix printers.

Reservations had a centralized office handling Minneapolis and several other cities and it was not located in the terminal. My days of handling reservations over the phone had come to an end. The size of this station allowed specialization. You were either assigned to the gates, the ticket counter, or luggage service and would remain there as long as the supervisor wished. With my background I was trained in all areas and lack of seniority was used to cover peoples days off and relief for lunch breaks, etc.

One event taught me the value of locks on doors. I was working a Convair flight, all buttoned up, and one engine started. A spouse from another airline employee arrived late and immediately rushed past me out to the aircraft. I managed to get in front of her to prevent her from running into the moving propeller. So she took a round house at me. Not so bad except she had a cast on that arm. Thank goodness for misses. To add salt to the wound, the line mechanics were cheering for her. I learned to always lock the door. This was a long time before we had security, as we know it today.

This “Country Boy” needed to get back to a smaller city someplace. I was soon looking for an opening in a smaller city and also placed bids to different stations in the system. Rumor had it Sioux Falls, South Dakota was going to open a new terminal building and it was going to have an increase in flights to become a Western Hub. This station was only 100 miles from Sioux City, and about the same size city, so off to the next stop along the way. Sioux Falls, South Dakota .. FSD ...........

Sioux Falls, South Dakota .. November 1967 - (time now becomes a blur)

Title: Passenger Service, Baggage and Ticketing Agent

I arrived here in late November, just in time for Thanksgiving again, when the new terminal building was opened. This was a great location to live in and raise my family, which I was just starting. Cost of living was reasonable with a good educational system. My time here was the second longest of my career. I would have been very content to stay and finish out my time in this city.

With the new terminal, Sioux Falls became a minor hub in the western part of the system. Three airlines served this city, North Central, Western Airlines, and Ozark Airlines. We utilized four gates, Western Airlines two and Ozark one. Even though the gates were located on the main level of the concourse, Western was the only airline with jet bridges. All of our boarding would be walking the passengers down a stairwell and across a portion of the ramp. The office located in Minneapolis handled the reservations for Sioux Falls. We still had our “Bibles”, the “hoot and holler” line was located in the operations office, and again my favorite public address system without prerecorded messages. Still no singing allowed as this had music programmed into it when not in use by the airport staff.

The ESCORT computer system was now enhanced to provide fares for about 75 percent of all tickets. These could not be modified in the field yet. The others would have to be looked up in the “Bible” and computed manually. The ticket printer was introduced soon after this enhancement and was a very welcome addition, as by now most ticket counter personnel’s handwriting had come to an illegible scrawl. Agents were always writing in a rush, plus the pressure of making sure the writing would go through many layers of carbon on the tickets. Computer generated luggage tags were still years away. This was about the time when ticket counter people developed the “Airline” method of typing. Pens were still used to a large extent, yet typing was required for all processes. Setting down a pen, picking up a pen, that is if it hadn’t fallen down a crack in the ticket counter top, got old very rapidly. To eliminate this you held the pen in the fingers used to write with and used one finger on that hand and the other hand utilizing all five fingers. To this day I still at times catch myself using the “Six Finger” system. Speed amazingly would soon approach the “Ten Finger” method. Sometime watch people who use a computer and are required to write also, it will amaze you how fast and accurate that one finger is.

“Sticky Tab” seating charts were introduced, however being a thru station and a connecting hub, we were unable to utilize them. Another major computer enhancement was the automated weight and balance system. I asked for the training and was told it was not in my job description and would have no use for it. Wrong thing to say to me, as I was a firm believer any time you can learn something, take advantage of it. You never know when it will be of use to you. This became very true in the Weight and Balance field later in my career. It was taught by the computer and after contacting a long time working acquaintance of mine who was in charge of the development of this system, I soon had access to it and was fully trained.

Soon after my arrival in this station, security was mandated. The boarding agent, using a hand held metal detector, first accomplished this task. In a short time this was changed to the sterile concourse and boarding concept using an outside vender manning with walk through metal detectors and X-Ray equipment. This evolved further until we are at the systems used today. I will not discuss further security items, as that would make them less effective.

Now we did have our fun. Station rivalries were the norm. The people who caused these to start many times had moved on and the reasons long forgotten. One example of tricks used, office furniture. This was always in short supply. We took one of our chairs with the leg broken off, sent it to the other station via company material stickers. We made it appear that stores in Minneapolis had sent it per the regional managers request. We got two people at the same time on this one.

It was here I learned the Bermuda Triangle had nothing over the HAW. Flight crews reported this in secret, well sort of, and stations passed the information along via teletype. It covered the area between Huron, Aberdeen and Watertown. Strange things were said to happen here. Passenger aircraft going straight up, flights would fly inverted while in the area, you could fly faster going backwards versus forward, just to name a few. Some people in the G.O. were not amused by it and requested we stop the “HAW REPORTS.” It only managed to push them a little more under cover.

My stay here was cut off by a major event. Deregulation. The end of an era was now occurring. The time of the regional, or as I like to call them, the “ Mom and Pop” airlines, ceased to exist. Most of the driving men in the industry were now retiring, turning the industry over to the next generation of leadership. With deregulation, the airline industry knew one of two things would enable them to survive. Either do a major expansion, as Braniff Airways did, or merge with another airline. Some of the notable mergers at about this time were:

1) West Coast, Pacific and Bonanza .. Becoming Airwest and later after being purchased by the Hughes Corporation .. Hughes Airwest.

2) Delta and Western Airlines with the Western name disappearing.

3) Lake Central and Mohawk absorbed by Allegheny and later known as US Air .. with it buying out PSA in the west and Piedmont in the southeast.

4) Pan American and National Airlines with the National name disappearing.

5) Ozark becoming part of TWA.

North Central elected to merge with Southern Airways and became Republic Airlines. Thus the North Central Airlines name disappeared. Even though the name disappeared, our careers continued on, as did “Herman the Duck”. Thus, I will continue with my journey. Mergers toss the two systems into utter chaos, even though everyone tries to verbally minimize the impact or go into self-denial. Southern Airways did not serve Sioux Falls, so we got off easy. Southern at the time was leasing their reservation system from Eastern Airlines and was called IRMA. The major problem we encountered was when the Southern system was cut over to the ESCORT computer system. The mainframe computer for Republic could not handle it. After a couple of days without computers, the Southern system was unhooked and the “Sister City” program was implemented. Each former North Central city was assigned a former Southern city. The main task, pull the passenger and ticketing lists for the next day out of that city, put this into a box and ship it top priority on your last flight out which could connect to that city. This went on for weeks. I will not report the other “horror” stories, as I did not live them.

Along with deregulation, a couple of other factors influenced my decision to leave Sioux Falls. The first of several major fuel crises’ hit and the economy took a drastic downturn in this area. The “rumor” mill said Republic would downsize Sioux Falls as government subsides to provide essential air service to smaller markets would be fazed out affecting a large portion of the Dakotas. With the fuel problem and the economy, there would not be sufficient traffic to maintain the current flight schedule. The aircraft would be used to open new markets. I made the decision to transfer before my position was eliminated and at the mercy of the bumping system. I bid several of the new stations and also several existing stations. The rumor mill turned out to be correct and in a very short time, had I stayed in Sioux Falls, I would have been forced to leave. This is when I learned first hand the effect on a family transferring has after living in a city for an extended period of time. I was awarded .. DEN .. Denver, Colorado .. And will continue my journey there.

Denver, Colorado

Title: Passenger Service, Reservation, Ticketing and Communication Agent

Many years earlier, the first time I flew into Denver, the sight looking west from our ticket counter impressed me. You could see the snow covered mountains. Based on this and that it still was in the western part of the country, I elected to bid here. When I arrived .. well... other airlines ticket counters now covered the windows to the west and all you had were wall to wall people. Pollution hid the mountains by now anyway.

I had been employed when the ESCORT system was introduced and kept up with all the enhancements even if they did not pertain to me at the time. But it was here I became a serious student of learning what makes things work. The more you know about systems the easier to come up with the fix. Denver is a high altitude airport and with summer temperatures, I soon learned how both affected performance of an aircraft. How bad was this problem? During a summer month, I requested Central Control in Minneapolis to have a flight from Tucson to Denver to Minneapolis operated with a DC-9-50, skip the Denver stop. This was not allowed and I ended boarding no local passengers and removing through passengers just to bring the aircraft into take-off weight limitations. I immersed myself in operational manuals to learn as much as I could about this problem. Some people ridiculed me for this; they could not pull the wool over my eyes.

When a merger takes place, the work force does not have a common element to unify them. The loyalties to their former companies override the best intentions. This was very true with the North Central / Southern merger even though the name had been changed to Republic Airlines. The event that would unify these two groups now occurred. The merger between Republic and Hughes Airwest took place. The symbol for Republic was “Herman the Duck.” The symbol for Hughes Airwest was the “Banana” as their aircraft were painted yellow. So for the next several years, you were known either as a “Duck” or a “Banana” employee. This unified the former North Central /outhern employees as we now had a common so called “enemy” in camp, the Airwest employees.

The second merger within a very short time created a marketing nightmare. It takes a very long time to repaint a fleet of aircraft with the new color schemes. An aircraft sitting does not make money and that is the name of the game. So the aircraft are painted as they go in for scheduled maintenance. We now had three different paint schemes flying around with the name of Republic Airlines on the side. In the Western region, the color change was used in a very clever manner. Large posters were made up with a yellow DC-9 aircraft being peeled like a banana exposing the new paint scheme. Gate agents again made the normal announcements in the gate areas, starting with your airline name. As you can imagine, we at times would forget the new name and used our former airlines name. I guess this encouraged people to look at us and think we either had a case of the crazies, or didn’t know what we were doing, or both.

What an amazing time. I remember going to work the day after the official merger date with all of the former Republic agents being assigned to the former Airwest ticket counter and the former Airwest agents being assigned to the Republic ticket counter with no prior training. We took one look at each other, started laughing and went back to our former home counters. Common sense overrode theory. Republic Airlines was using the ESCORT computer system and Hughes Airwest was using the IRMA computer system owned by Eastern Airlines. Even though both were a derivative of the PARS system, there were enough differences to require some training. I did not wish to be limited to a certain work area, thus I again immersed myself in learning the IRMA system. Both systems had their strong points and weak points. I wonder to this day how good of a system this could have been if combined. I know it was cost prohibitive. The quality of the employees from both companies made it work after some of the dust had settled.

This station was unique to the system as each former airline, Republic / Airwest, had the exact same number of employees. There was no edge in numbers. Several people from both airlines would bulk at change, others would go with the flow. As I told them “Get over it”, the clock would not be turned back to undo what has occurred. The former managers were made co-managers. Sounds good, but really did not work well as their management styles were at the opposite end of the spectrum. Each group had loyalties to their former boss and would delay the unification of the work forces into one. I learned over time that participation in common activities away from the work place, such as skiing, bowling, and softball, is the best way to bring a work group into one.

Along with the merger came a major remodeling of the passenger facilities. These were accomplished without regard to continuing a reasonable operation. One day an agent went to work a flight and the jet bridge had been removed and the stairwell blocked off. This meant the passengers would have to be walked across the hall, down a flight of stairs, and escorted under the concourse to the aircraft. He went to check if the flight crew was ready for boarding and upon his return the gate, the podium had been removed along with all paperwork needed to finish working the flight. Imagine how good this agent really was. No realistic way to board the flight, no public address system, no podium, no telephone, no one to assist him, and no real paperwork. The flight departed on time.

Another item; the flights from both former airlines would use only the gates from one of the airlines involved. Needless to say, many airplanes and not enough gate space to park them. Solution, make a traveling gate. This consisted of a brief case with all items needed to work a flight and a hand held radio. Before the arrival of the aircraft, the gate agent would be advised which gate had been borrowed from a competitor and off you would go to work the flight. This actually worked well except when the other airline had an unexpected delay. One day while working a flight, I experienced three gate changes in about a 10-minute span. I gave up and found a holding area where no aircraft could be accommodated and asked the passengers to remain there until it was boarding time. At boarding time it almost like a mother duck leading her ducklings to the aircraft. None of the reasons would be acceptable to incur a delay.

Right after this last merger, a moratorium was put in place regarding bidding cities in the former Airwest network. I knew this would eventually go away and so I started looking at some of the smaller cities to continue raising my family at a slower pace. Denver is a large city with all of the same problems of most cities this size. The northwestern part of the country looked very intriguing. I did not wish to live on the coast, but there were many other cities about the size where I wished to live in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana. As soon as the moratorium was lifted, I bid several of these cities and was awarded Boise, Idaho .. BOI .. And I will continue my journey there.

Boise, Idaho

Title: Customer Service Agent, Station Trainer

Several of us so-called “Duck” agents arrived at the same time. This was the first opportunity we were given to bid stations into the former “Banana” system. How dare a “Duck” person invade the former “Banana” territory. At first we were looked upon as spies or worse. This was soon put to rest except for one person and even I have doubts about him.

By now the large reservation centers had taken the reservation duties out of the stations except for the walk-up customer. Also the “Hoot and Holler” telephone lines were history and long distance calls still came out of the manager’s pay. My pet “public address” system was still available without prerecorded messages and no singing was allowed. This did not stop some people.. and I won’t mention names.. except to say it was not ME. Ticket printers had been greatly improved and we now had the automated Ticket Agent Reporting system. A great improvement from the old manual writing of ticket numbers on paper, with amount of sales by type of payment, and other documents used. Our “ Bibles” were still in the stations, however they were very seldom referenced anymore , because the information was in the computer and easily accessed. Even so they had to be revised and the task still was pushed to the “newbies.” I was not one of them anymore.

Throughout my entire career, I cannot remember a terminal building that was not under construction or renovation. Boise was no exception. A new concourse was being added and our gate operation was limited to one podium to check in the flights. Sometimes as many as four at a time. A temporary walkway had been constructed on ramp level, so down the stairs and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” system was used. The computerized seating system in IRMA had been introduced by this time, but many stations did not use it, thus was useless for Boise. We were unable to use the sticky tab seat charts as most flights were either through or had large numbers of online connecting passengers.

The Airwest system had not been converted to the ESCORT computer system. IRMA was still in use. The other “Duck” people had never been exposed to it, so I had a leg. Because of this, I blended in rapidly while the others had to struggle a little to learn it. I now had become a teacher instead of a student. Soon after everyone had been trained, the switch to the ESCORT system was made. I now started the process of teaching the “Banana” people this system as they had never been exposed to it. This included not only the customer service functions but also, at times, the weight and balance portion. My insistence for the cross training paid large dividends. For the first week I would get calls on my off time and many times returned to the airport to assist them. My personal pride in the industry would not allow me to watch my co-workers go down in flames if I could help it.

A smaller city with all the recreational facilities of Denver, with no one to use them. A very enjoyable place to live, but again part of deregulation would now affect my career. Many start up airlines started serving two major cities and then would expand from there. This occurred when one announced service between Portland, Oregon and Boise. Republic at the time had three non-stop flights with a very high load factor between this city pair. Within a week after the announcement, all three flights were discontinued. This alerted me to the fact that Boise would be greatly downsized or eliminated from the system. Again, I bid an open position verses take my chances on bumping the most junior employee. I bid and was awarded a supervisors position in Denver. Shortly after I started my new position, it was announced Boise would be closed because it did not connect west into the system. Made sense except I was not aware we flew west of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.

Enough about that as I now was on my way to Denver for round two and my first tenure as a supervisor. I will continue my journey in .. DEN .. Denver, Colorado. No map needed to get there, just a little back tracking.

Denver, Colorado

Title: Customer Service Supervisor, Station Trainer

At this time if you were displaced from a station you had few choices. Where there was an opening or most junior person on the system. To bypass the junior person I bid and was awarded the Supervisor position in Denver. This was my first supervisor position and thanks to the staff in this station for helping me and putting up with my deficiencies, I muddled my way through and learned the job. Not always doing the best .. but the best I knew how.

The co-manager system had been abolished and someone from outside of the previous realm was in place. This had allowed the agents to become a unit and greatly increased the productivity of the staff. The station had been downsized to some extent, however most of the staff was still there from my previous tenure. Almost like old home week with just enough new faces to make it interesting. There were now bowling and softball teams comprised of the staff from both Republic and Airwest. I became the “Cheerleader for the Denver Blinds.” One of our players jersey had “747” on the back. Now you know how serious some of us took this. FUN is a good thing.

Sticky tab seat charts were still in use at this time. These were fun for the agents. What we would do was remove some select seats and attach them under the podium lip. Along with these we would add one next to a nice lady or gentleman and when a request came to be seated beside one... well, if you were pleasant, your wish would be granted. If not, we also kept some beside some “undesirable” people for the “pain in the neck” types. Yes, what you suspected was true. Be nice to the person checking you in. This would now change as automated seat assignment and check-in was introduced. A good memory would serve the gate agent well.

The automated seat selection system was designed and programmed for the agents in the field. Other systems were programmed leaning to what travel agents requested. The ESCORT system was in very few agencies, so it was programmed for the needs of real time check-in, one of the best. Seven or eight key stokes would seat a passenger. The boarding pass printers were not put into service at this time, so the seat was manually written on the boarding envelope. Changing seats either at point of departure or at an intermediate stop was again only about four or five key stokes. Thus, with very few entries needed, it was a simple system to learn and use. The speed of it allowed Republic Airlines to use fewer gate agents and devote less time for this task.

During my stay here, a major weather event occurred which is still talked about today. Denver was predicted to have partly cloudy skies with a chance of snow flurries. About 36 inches of partly cloudy and three days later it stopped snowing. T-shirts were printed saying something like I survived the “Denver Blizzard.” My days were spent driving in my Jeep to pick-up agents and a suitcase, three at a time, taking them to the airport and returning three others back home. Republic had rooms rented at a hotel on airport property and all would stay for one night there. I was able to make three runs per day. The day it stopped snowing, I was advised three flights would be dispatched within an hour as the airport reported it would be open by the expected arrival time. I called the Republic Control Center in Minneapolis; I had not retrieved the managers at this time as I needed workers, not supervisors, and advised them, “I can see the entire airport and not one piece of snow removal equipment is moving. If they would start right now, it would take four to five hours just to open a runway and no taxiways or ramp would be cleaned. Please don’t send them.” I was overruled and when they arrived, they circled for about 10 minutes and returned to Minneapolis. These flights would return the next day and still have difficulty finding a place to park on the ramp. I suspect it must have been illegal to take the word of an employee on the scene versus someone, someplace sitting at a desk in another city.

My stay here was not very long as another product of deregulation was occurring. With the freedom to enter and leave markets and serve city pairs as the companies would see fit, the advent of the “hub and spoke” networks were put into place. Denver was a hub for three airlines, United, Frontier, and Continental. Republic Airlines had developed hubs at Minneapolis and Detroit. A western hub was needed and with the Denver situation with the other airlines plus the aircraft performance problems with a high altitude airport, another city would need to be selected. Denver would see more downsizing soon even though it had occurred to some extent already. Salt Lake City was a hub for Delta Airlines. Las Vegas did not have enough business travel, thus the fare yield was very low. The west coast cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle were overcrowded with flights. The remainder of the airports on the west coast were in too close of proximity to offer any type of advantage. Thus, Phoenix was selected as we already had a strong presence in that city.

With the large build up of flights and personell in Phoenix, I suspected Denver would be severely downsized and become a “spoke” versus a “hub.” I elected to bid once again and was awarded a supervisor position in Phoenix, Arizona .. PHX .. and I will continue my journey in the Valley of the Sun.

copyright 2006 - Dale A. Brinkmeyer

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