Phoenix, AZ

Title: Customer Service Supervisor, Station Trainer

Phoenix was made into the Western hub and many of the displaced employees from the western part of the system including Boise and Denver were here. Almost like old home week, which made this a fun place to work. No snow, no cold weather, and no rain. Just a sandstorm every now and then. I had arrived in heaven.

The ten-hour work day and four-day work week were implemented at about this time. Having three days off to go into the desert to explore was great. However, some of us did not think three days off per week was sufficient. Thus we would work one double shift and take four days off.

Phoenix had received the new “IBM Series 1” system add on and what an improvement. The user could program a large group of keys as hot keys, reducing keystrokes needed for functions to about a fourth. Another upgrade to the fare system in the computer now allowed agents to manually store fares that would not be auto-generated. An agent could designate a queue in the computer the evening before and have these ready for the next day. Not very many needed this attention, about a dozen or so per day. However, by having all fares stored, the accuracy was greatly increased and helped alleviate time required with a customer at the ticket counter.

With the three “Hubs” now in place, some of the decision making was transferred to these cities. The control centers for the hubs were now in the initial development. Supervisors manned these and all major decisions had to be “blessed” by the “operations” center located in Minneapolis. It was found that on the scene, people could give better information, thus better decisions were made. It also stream lined the communications string so everyone was on the same page. These local centers would grow drastically within a very short time. This position was like working with a large jigsaw puzzle. Which flights could be held for connections. How could the people misconnected be accommodated with the least amount of impact on their lives. How would a delay impact the return flights. Flight crew times had to be addressed. It is not nice to have an airplane full of passengers and no one to fly it. Our aircraft fleet consisted of Convair 580, DC-9-10/15, DC-9-30, DC-9-50, MD-80, and Boeing 727-200. With the length of flights, some of these aircraft were being flown at maximum range. There was not very much money in the coffers, but some Boeing 757-200 aircraft were now ordered.

The DC-9-30 had three different engine ratings. This had to be taken into account when scheduling an airplane for a route. It was not a simple fix to just substitute another when one had a mechanical problem.

Company policy was to have one employee at customs upon the arrival of the flights from Mexico. This was an interesting area to work and I volunteered for it every chance I got. You cannot imagine how many bottles of liquor were confiscated for over the limit and destroyed. A little hint .. do not give even the airline employees static when going through customs. Remember these people work with each other on a daily basis.

Deregulation again would now play a major part in my career. By now Braniff Airways had ceased to exist and Continental Airlines went into bankruptcy shortly after being purchased by Trans Texas Airlines. Several others had been involved in mergers and the names ceased to exist. Western Airlines merged with Delta. National Airlines was merged with Pan American. Also the day of the strong competitors from the so-called “Low Cost” carriers were starting to make an impact. Southwest Airlines started to become a major player in the Phoenix market. America West Airlines started up with Phoenix as it’s home office and their major hub. Faced with this competition and the dilution of the fare basis, a decision was made to move the Phoenix hub.

Memphis, Tennessee was chosen for this purpose. Round one of the cut backs in Phoenix arrived and I had survived. The aircraft and other resources were used to open stations in several cities in the eastern part of the United States, and to serve the Memphis Hub. Republic Airlines financial picture, although improved, was not very strong. More had to be done. Round two soon arrived and I was advised my position would be eliminated. Several more cities in the eastern part of the country would be opened; Memphis would get a large increase in flights along with the other two hubs.

I bid on a supervisor position, however a new wrinkle was added to the mess. After all qualifications were met and even if you were currently a supervisor, a person was required to be interviewed by a panel consisting of two managers of the companie's choosing plus two union people. Three out of the four had to accept you or you were denied the position. The position I had bid was in a small station and by unanimous decision, I was deemed over qualified. I was ideal for a hub, but would be bored in a small station. This I found unacceptable and immediately bid another of the new stations just announced. Within less than a week of the first interview, I was interviewed by the panel again and awarded the new station of Louisville, Kentucky .. SDF .. and I will pick up my journey there.

Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Customer Service Supervisor, Station Trainer

Republic opened many new stations at this time in the eastern half of the country. Louisville was one. I bid several of these stations and landed in Louisville for the opening during “Derby Week.” You can imagine my surprise when a couple of runways were shut down to provide parking for private jet aircraft for this event. And again as usual, major construction was occurring. A new terminal was in the process of being built behind the existing one to enable the ramp areas to be utilized without new ones being constructed.

Staffing for this station was the manager, one supervisor, one full time employee, and the remainder were new hire part time employees. The ramp services were farmed out to Eastern Airlines, thus no station agents would be in the station. Many of the new hires would go on to become excellent workers, but at the time I lost a few hairs. No, not really, I lost a lot of hair. Opening a station under these circumstances would be a challenge, but the company made it even more interesting. The station managers at this time came out of the station agent ranks versus the customer service division. These were good people, but they did not have the experience needed to set up a ticket counter. Yet they ordered the start up supplies and told us how the ticket counters would be set up, and no help in the training of the new people as these would be dedicated to customer service only.

This was at the start of the big push for part time employees in the station ranks industry wide. Lets face it, you can not live on a part time salary, thus the people hired either were college students or someone living at home waiting for the right opportunity or a person using this job as the second income for a household. If these people would wish to stay in the industry, they would have to bid on open full time positions in the company at other locations. This would cause a large turn over of personnel in the small stations. If you got two years of service out of these agents, you were lucky. In other words, we trained them and the larger stations got them or they went on to other careers. It would not be so bad after you had a core group trained, but this was not a luxury we had at the time of the opening of a new station.

My stay here was very short for personal reasons as it was not my first choice of locations. Stupid me, after about a month I bid on an agent opening and was awarded Rochester, New York .. ROC .. And I will continue my journey there.

Rochester, New York

Title: Customer Service Agent, Station Trainer

I had a brother living here at the time. He was single and offered me a place until I could get into an apartment as there was anywhere from a 3 month to 6 month waiting list. I was told about the Grand Canyon of the east. My brother took me to an overlook to view this great sight. Unfortunately, I broke out laughing. Almost all states west of the Mississippi have dry washes larger. Niagara Falls was about an hours drive and on my days off I would many times go over there to relax on the Canadian side of the river. Almost like Las Vegas without the gambling.

This was another of the recently opened stations. These stations would be announced as opening; the manager and supervisor were selected prior to the station closures or downsizing announced. Thus you would get displaced agents with a lot of experience working for inexperienced people. Rochester had two full time agents. The other person was a displaced agent from Denver with about as much experience as me. Each of us alone had more time than the manager, supervisor, and part time staff combined. What a pattern for disaster. A couple of examples:

I was teaching the new hires short cut computer entries and was called on the carpet for this. They have to know the long version in case the computers fail. “DAH”. If the computers fail, neither method will work and I hope you have instructed them in the old pencil and paper methods.

The ramp was farmed out again to Eastern Airlines. The person working the weight and balance forms to supply the pilot with take off numbers was great, however he was working four different airline systems. Along with Eastern’s, he had New York Air, People Express and Republic Airlines. With my background in this field, I started working the Republic aircraft at the gates. I was able to take some of the workload off him and insure our aircraft would not be delayed for this reason. Several of the part time agents asked to be trained and I was more than happy to do so. Again, I was called on the carpet. Eastern was being paid to do this service and they would do it even if a delay would be incurred. “DAH”. Let’s shoot ourselves in the foot to spite our face.

Like the airlines, most people who make a career out of this industry have a life like a roller coaster. Very steep high points and very deep low points. These occur very rapidly with the changes that occur. Well, I thought the “ride” had bottomed out. Was I wrong. Get me out of here. Anyplace. Find me a new home without ever getting into an apartment. I looked around for a station with some old displaced friends. I bid and was awarded a supervisors position in Detroit, Michigan .. DTW .. And I will continue my journey there.

Detroit, Michigan

Title: Customer Service Supervisor

Detroit was a very interesting station. There were three major groups of people staffing the operation. The first group was the agents here before the station reductions. They were good with not much time with the company yet. The second group was the people out of the southeastern part of the country affected by station closures and reductions. Again a good group of people that really did not want to be there. The third group was the agents from the western part of the system. A lot of time with the company and with the dream of returning to the west in a very short time. Many of these agents were living three to five in one apartment or housing unit and commuting to be with their families, which were very reluctant to move to Detroit.

This station was beefed up into a major hub without the terminal being updated until after the fact, so major construction was occurring. Norm for the times. The only reason it worked, the dedication and hard work of the employees. Bottom line, it was not a nice place to work. The concourses and work areas were given colorful nicknames. Ho-Chi Min trail .. take your lunch .. you would not have time to walk back to the break room to get it. The “Leisure” gates. A large holding area on ramp level without jet bridges and different colored lines painted on the ramp for the passengers to follow to their flights. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” “I’m not Blue, but you need to be.”

However, the major hotels around the airport timed happy hours to coincide with shift changes. Now we are not talking about chips and dip. Many were better than any smorgasbord you could find. If you wanted shrimp you went to one hotel on tuesday .. If you wanted pizza you went to another on thursday. Buffalo wings on wednesday at another. We must have been a rowdy bunch. I remember walking into one hotel pub, which supposedly had been remodeled six months prior. It looked like a bomb had gone off and the pool table was chained to a support pillar.

As with most places, it did not take me long to get into trouble. First, I was not allowed to work in the Control Center. Again, not qualified even though I had worked in the Phoenix center when they were still being set up. So I bid the supervisor at the ticket counter. Wrong thing for me to do again as I really rocked the apple cart with that move. The person I displaced was old school North Central and had held that position for a long time. I soon won over the rank and file employees but had made enemies out of some other people.

Most agents do not need supervision, just guidance or someone to lead the way. I studied the check-in system being used at the ticket counter, which had one area for seat selection and baggage check only, and another for ticketing. The first thing I saw was at times one group would be doing nothing and the other group would have long lines. Other times this would be reversed. So for a simple solution, I made the three center positions, which had changeable signs for ticketing or baggage check, transition positions. When one line would get long they would change functions to keep all lines about the same. The agents would do this without me being there to advise them to switch. Worked great, but got me in trouble because someone else had not thought of it before. It just reaffirmed my belief; most people come to work with the intention of doing the job correctly if allowed.

Even though I enjoyed the challenges of working in Detroit, other instances caused me to believe my days as an airline employee were numbered if I stayed. Remember that “Roller Coaster” ride I described earlier, well I knew I was at the bottom and no place to go but up or sink. I looked at the bid sheets and noticed an opening for a supervisor in another hub. This hub was staffed primarily with displaced agents from the southern and western parts of the system. In less than a week I bid the job, went through the interview process, was awarded the position and was on my way to Memphis, Tennessee .. MEM .. And I will continue my journey there.

Memphis, Tennessee

Title: Customer Service Supervisor, Station Trainer

This station along with Detroit and Minneapolis had become one of the major hubs. Like Detroit it was staffed by large numbers of employees that had been displaced from the western and southern regions. Old home week with enough cultural differences to make it interesting and challenging. Again, there was major construction going on in the terminal.

There were four major flight times called banks. In between these banks there were usually two to three hours of no activity. During the banks there would be about 40 aircraft on the ground. These aircraft would all arrive and depart within a one-hour time span. I would not mind supervising one of the gate areas. I mean, how much trouble could I get into with only two short work periods on my shift? However, with the glowing report about me from Detroit I was assigned the ticket counter. Keeping a low profile was never one of my strong points and it caught up with me.

Apparently, a company auditor had recently audited the station. The manager had a meeting with the four primary ticket counter supervisors of which I was one. He had a list about as long as his arm of what needed to be corrected. He informed us no one would be allowed to supervise other areas until the ticket counter area ran like a well-oiled machine. Interesting first week. And I had no time to even look at or understand the current mode of operation. Remember, in each station there is someone or something that allows it to operate and you do not wish to change that.

Each agent generated a personal sales report via the computer. Computer generated tickets would be logged into this automatically. All documents not computer generated would be added in manually and the document control number checked off on a master log. With eight to ten agents per shift taking documents from the same source it was reasonable each persons log would have gaps. Missing documents would not be noticed until the next day when being reviewed by a supervisor. What happened to these? I suspect most were inadvertently thrown away.

All companies have policies governing what type of payment is acceptable and what steps have to be followed. Republic check acceptance policy needed to be followed or any returned checks here held accountable by the station. Memphis was averaging about 100 checks per month with incorrect identification. Along with this, manual fare construction had become very complicated. If you had brown shoes on and it was Friday morning, you got a special fare unless you had on a purple tie. So incorrect coding of the fare or using a fare not applicable for the travel time was also charged back to the station. Memphis station again had a high number of these. Now we are not talking about new agents as most of the counter staff had ten to fifteen years experience. These charge back items I think came out of the manager’s pay as it turned the managers purple. We had a lot of purple-faced managers.

I didn’t want to spend the remainder of my career at a ticket counter, so a solution would have to be found. I had a working knowledge of the Central Ticket Agent system being used in Detroit. Why not here? The heart of this system is a real time Master Ticket report being generated off of the agents. All monies and ticket auditors’ coupons are transferred to a person in charge at once. The same person distributes all accountable documents, audits the tickets, and checks. This allows the accountable document logs to be updated immediately and any missing documents can be accounted for prior to the end of a shift. In Detroit this was accomplished via a pneumatic tube system.

I explained it to my counterpart on the evening shift and he said go for it. When the manager in charge of this area was approached with the idea his reply, “Great .. You have a $25.00 Budget.” And he was serious. I located a desk and a computer monitor not being used. I talked the LAN Administrator into running the computer cable. For some reason that I do not know why to this day, two bricks were missing from the back wall of the ticket counter giving a slot access to the back room. Now all I had to do was train some agents. Imagine on my return after my two days off; the system was operational. My counterpart on the evening shift got the first dose without any experience with it nor any trained agents. LIFE IS GOOD. What did I do with my budget money? I purchased several zippered pouches to pass the documents and funds through the slot in the wall. This system solved the problems so well that within thirty days, we had no checks with incorrect identification charged back to the station. We also reduced fare/pricing errors to about a half a dozen per month. All accountable documents were logged correctly. I found out the managers complexions were really not purple after all.

There were many other challenges here, but a good friend of mine called me and said there was a supervisor opening in his station and asked me to bid it. I slept on it and the next day sent in a bid. I was soon awarded the position and was on my way to my next stop Denver, Colorado .. DEN .. And I will continue my journey there

Denver, Colorado

Title: Customer Service Supervisor, Station Trainer, and Load Control Instructor

Yes, back to my old standby and wait station looking for someplace better. Working with familiar people and in an area I enjoyed. Since I last left this station, it had been reduced to one of the spoke stations with only a handful of flights. The staff was now considered high seniority. How high? Well, I was the most junior employee in the station. These people knew and did the job. My functions would be limited to paperwork, keeping the coffee pot full and making popcorn. Hopefully these chores would keep me out from under their feet.

Now a new wrinkle would be tossed in. The merger between Northwest Airlines and Republic Airlines took place. Heck what’s one more merger? Can’t be any worse than the others. This is the item that now unified the former Republic and Airwest employees. Again a new “Enemy” in camp. Republic Airlines aircraft paint scheme had a green tail. Thus the former Republic Airlines staff and aircraft even to this day are know as “Green Tails”, and Northwest aircraft paint scheme had a red tail and are know as “Red Tails.” This may go away if another merger takes place or all people from this era are retired or someday a unifying issue occurs for these two groups.

Another interesting item for some. When you are hired you are given an employee number, commonly called a “clock number”. With each of the mergers the clock numbers were modified to some extent, retaining part or all of the original number. If you follow the numbering systems you can tell which of the former airlines this person has his/her origins.

This merger brought about an interesting staff retention idea. The most junior employee of each airline would be reduced out. Alternating between the two airline groups. I had more time than most senior of the former NWA employees, however I had the least of the former Republic employees. This put me on the “Hit List” along with the most junior employee from NWA. I don’t know who had a nightmare and came up with this idea, but it was implemented. The saving grace of this was I would be able to “bump” any employee in my classification with less time than me. The old “Bump the Most Junior Employee” system was gone. A labor law judge later overruled this method and people unjustly cut from the stations were allowed to return under certain circumstances. Did not really help at the time, and created as many problems as it solved as the ruling came years after the fact.

With the merger came the decision as to which computer system to retain. I question this decision to this day as POLARIS, the Northwest system was selected. Without going into a lot on this subject, let me just say it was like going back fifteen years in computerization. To make matters worse, for about a month at almost the exact time of day, the system would go down for about thirty minutes. I do not know the reason, but rumor has it one of the cleaning people unplugged a cord to utilize their vacuum cleaner. Might sound a little far fetched, but it sure sounded feasible at the time.

It was about this time I started to get seriously involved in the weight and balance end of the operation. Northwest did not have a computerized system at this time and unlike Republic Airlines, the Customer Service people do the Load Control paper work versus the Ramp Service people. The ESCORT system would be modified soon after the merger to accommodate the narrow-bodied aircraft, leaving only the wide-bodied aircraft being worked manually. Each station had to send someone to Minneapolis for training on the Northwest manual system. With my background, I was the one sent. The instructor was at the time a supervisor from the Minneapolis station Load Control office. Little did I realize our career paths would cross many times and we would become friends. (In case he reads this .. You still owe me a BEER)

Working under the cloud of being on the hit list to be reduced out became very stressful and I started looking around for a more stable environment. Back to my “Good Old Buddy” the bid sheets. Where could I go where there might be an opening and I could blend in? Well, I worked there once, so a bid was sent in for a supervisor opening in Memphis, Tennessee .. MEM .. And I would not need a map to get there and I will continue my story there............... be continued next update

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