1974 – Back to New York
With my car still in the TWA employee parking lot at O’Hare, I flew to La Guardia Airport on March 31, 1974 and officially began my new job on April Fools Day; was there a message here? No, not really. In retrospect, I had made the right decision in more ways than one.
On that day I returned to an office in Manhattan with interesting challenges. My new manager, Mike Mudge, escorted me into the office of his boss, Tom McClain, Staff Vice President of Passenger Service Programs. A direct and to-the-point administrator, Tom reviewed my job description briefly and asked if I had any questions. He then informed me that I would be held accountable for these responsibilities, adding, “If you need any help, let me know.”
We shook hands and headed back to Mike’s office for a more informal review.
The Job Challenge
With my job came two supervisor positions. Larry Thierman, a seasoned veteran who cut his teeth in the corporate offices, had already filled one. I began interviewing for the open job immediately and hired John McGlade, a DCS who had ramp and maintenance experience. Two better workers you couldn’t find, both with varied backgrounds and a good deal of enthusiasm.
My new job entailed administrative responsibility for the Commissary function, which included transporting, loading and unloading food and beverage supplies on TWA aircraft. The department prepared and packed support items such as first-aid kits, liquor, soft drinks, cocktail napkins, stirrods and PSK (passenger service kit) ingredients such as aspirin, coat tags and alike. At smaller stations, our people completed tail washes on 727s and DC-9s, which got dirty thanks to throwback from engine-thrust reversers.
“Administrative responsibility” amounted to supporting the airport people who carried out these functions, writing and updating procedures and our portion of the Dining & Commissary manual. We coordinated closely with the Dining Programs department, where menus were conceived, and In-Flight Service, which was responsible for serving procedures.
I worked with some wonderful and dynamic people in the office, including some who were there during my 1969-1970 tour. Among them were Dieter Buehler, Mike Duarte and Burt Kenyon in Cabin Service Programs.
Finding a Place to Live
My hectic schedule made it difficult to find permanent housing in the New York area. After a month of living in a hotel, I really needed to put down some roots. Having purchased a condominium in Chicago a year earlier and selling it at a modest profit, I preferred to buy again. Co-ops in Manhattan were out of my price range, and even rentals were scarce and pricey. I nearly bought a house on Long Island, then finally found a condo in the charming town of Bethel, Connecticut, between Danbury to the west and Newtown to the east.
Riding the Train
The Danbury branch of the New Haven Railroad (part of Metro-North) operated two weekday, through trains to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, a short walk from my new office. It was going to be a long commute, leaving Bethel at 6:19 a.m. and returning at 7:16 p.m. During the winter months, I never saw the light of day at home during the week. Fortunately there was some travel associated with the job, which broke up the routine.
As much as I disliked the long days, the train ride was tolerable, even relaxing. Between snoozes and business-related paperwork, the southbound trip went fairly quickly. Bethel was just the second stop on the route, so there were plenty of seats to choose from on these diesel-powered trains, made up of older, hand-me-down coaches. After four stops en route to Norwalk, the “early” train proceeded direct to GCT. If I missed it, there was a second through train but it was a milk run between Norwalk and the City.
Despite their age the trains were almost always on time; the few long delays I recall involved wet leaves on the tracks in the fall, and one time when we had a “dog” locomotive that couldn’t get us up the incline between South Norwalk at Bethel. I got off at Cannondale with another Bethel commuter who called his wife; she came down and picked us up.
I joined a friendly poker game on the return ride, pretty much nickel-dime. As a newcomer, I had to sit on my briefcase in the aisle until space opened up in a regular seat. Some of the players had been riding that train for more than 20 years. One, “Crazy Eddie,” as we called him, claimed to have buried five players from that game! For the privilege of participation, the conductor collected 25 cents per person. In return, the seats were informally blocked for us and a game board was provided, along with a deck of cards. Traditionally, we only drank on Fridays, although once in awhile someone would break the rule and buy a round, but that involved a trip to the smoke-filled, crowded bar car.
I actually got into the game thanks to Pan Am pals Lyle West and John Hale, who I had worked with during my short stint at the Big Blue Ball. Also in that game was Dick Ensign, Senior VP with Pan Am, who started his career at Western and was credited with originating the airline’s Champagne and Hunt Breakfast Flights. Dick was a great guy and we kept in touch long after I left 605 and he returned to Western; I still have some of his letters. Dick just passed away within the past few years.
Standby in Rome
I was barely into my new routine when trouble began brewing at our European flight attendant domiciles. With different work rules, the Rome-based cabin crews could strike up to four hours at a time and suffer no consequences. Some began sitting down on flights and refusing to serve the passengers. To combat the situation, F/A-qualified management people were sent across the pond and placed on standby. As a recent DCS, all my qualifications were still in good standing and on May 11, and I was sent to Rome, hooking up with both DCS types and other managers.
After four days of playing tourist there, things quieted down and I was told to come home, which was fortuitous as I had a meeting in San Francisco a day later. I flew back to JFK and made a 3-hour connection out to the West Coast. Another meeting in Kansas City followed a day later, plus an overnight stop at Chicago to finish packing up and get my furniture headed east; I was gone nearly two weeks.
Five months later I was sent back to Europe after it was announced that the Rome and Paris domiciles would be closed in 60 days. To combat expected sit-downs and sick calls, five flight attendant-qualified management employees were assigned to “shadow” every intra-European 707 flight. Along with Joe Ballweg, Jan Golon, Dennis Mangus and Kathy Powers, I bounced around between Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, Athens and Tel Aviv for two weeks. Although there were some problems on other flights, all the crews we flew with did their jobs and the five of us were basically relegated to passenger status. We had a few nice layovers, including some long enough to do a little sightseeing. But after two weeks of flying every day, I was happy to wind up at Rome, then return to New York.
A big part of my administrative responsibilities was aircraft interior cleaning. Not long before I came to the job, the higher-ups at TWA decided to combine the Ramp Service function with that of Fleet Service, those folks who actually cleaned the cabin interiors. The idea was to save manpower by cross-utilizing personnel.
Frankly, it started as a marriage from Hell. Fleet Service workers were mainly women, and for the most part older and more senior than the Commissary Ramp Service men (no women yet). With their jobs combined, the women immediately migrated to indoor jobs in Commissary, assembling liquor kits and building up other supplies. In turn, the former Commissary fellows were often relegated to cleaning aircraft cabins, and they were not happy about it.
One of my first challenges was to enlist the help of some of the maintenance foremen who formerly supervised the Fleet Service workforce. A few cleaning functions remained with them, at locations where we did major aircraft maintenance. After assuring these people of my desire to improve our relationship, they were very helpful. And I needed their help.
Even as the learning curve between workforces improved, it was obvious that the aircraft cabin appearance was not up to par. Part of the problem was an ill-conceived marketing-sponsored program that began in fall 1970 with a remake of the 707 cabin interiors, part of the introduction of “Ambassador Service,” aimed at keeping these older aircraft looking as desirable as the newly introduced 747s. At the time, it was the largest capital expenditure ever undertaken for refurbishing aircraft interiors.
New fabrics were selected with 12 possible “bright, vibrant” color combinations in coach and four in first class. These patterns varied by individual aircraft, presenting a nightmare for those charged with tasks as simple as changing a soiled seat cushion. Imagine looking up a fabric part number in a phonebook-sized catalog, then actually pulling it from a storage room. In addition, the first-class pairs contained eight separate pieces of fabric.
By the time I returned to staff, the program had been extended to most of the narrowbody fleet, and it became a challenge just to keep the interiors looking presentable. The light fabrics got dirty quickly and the carpets were an even greater problem.
A plan was devised to conduct deep interior cleaning each 300 hours of flight time. The biggest task was changing out fabrics and carpets on these overnight layover projects, undertaken at Boston, New York, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Along with Fleet Service Foreman Bill Floberg from the Kansas City Overhaul Base, I traveled to locales where the “phase checks” were taking place, conducting surprise visits early in the morning. Compliance was only so-so, and it took some time to get people familiar with the task and coordinate the work.
At that point we began pressuring for a simplification of the interior fabric design. It took a good deal of cajoling but finally common sense and the prospect of saving money resulted in a reduction to nine fabric colors and a dark blue carpeting fleet-wide. After requesting a mockup of a first-class seat pair with blue vinyl replacing four fabric sections, I flew to Kansas City to see the proposed changes. It was approved on the spot by upper management. What I remember most was the fabric shop foreman who showed us the mockup. She obviously had plenty of experience in that department and explained the various facets of the seat configuration changes. I glanced at her TWA ID badge and noticed that her company seniority date was prior to when I was born. Experienced indeed.
Much of my work involved interfacing with TWA’s Corporate Industrial Engineering (CIE) department, which as domiciled at the Kansas City Overhaul Base. B.R. “Bobby Ray” Patterson was my CIE counterpart and was responsible for determining manpower requirements for ramp personnel. This was always a challenge because it directly affected our staffing. I won’t go into all the details, but CIE measured right down to the “man minutes” for every task, be it assembling liquor kits, loading and unloading galleys or running a vacuum cleaner up and down the aircraft aisles.
When upper management required station personnel to work 10% under budget, it meant only 90% of the manpower allocated by CIE would be on the payroll. This was usually done by not filling vacant positions. The problem: CIE didn’t throw around extra man minutes and without full staffing, some of the work didn’t get done.
Assembling liquor kits, cleaning audio headsets and aircraft cleaning were among the items considered “deferred work,” i.e. tasks to be accomplished when time permitted. Obviously, unloading galley equipment, freight and passenger luggage had to get done; so Commissary-related items fell by the wayside.
In January 1976, I put together a detailed presentation to upper management, showing how the 10% staffing level reduction made it impossible to properly complete Commissary responsibilities, thus hurting our product. The CIE folks were strong supporters of my claim, saying that if the work could be done with 90% of their calculated staffing level, there was something wrong with their calculations!
I saw a lot of nodding heads during the meeting as I went through the flip chart, quoting numbers and demonstrating my pitch for full staffing. When I asked for comments at the conclusion of the presentation, many of those attending who had earlier complained that this workforce reduction was unrealistic, unfair and hurting the operation, instead pledged to the senior vice president conducting the meeting that they would double down, work harder and somehow get the job done. I scratched my head, wondering why I had bothered with the whole issue in the first place. It was time to move on.
At about the same time, Mike Mudge left to assume his long-sought position as station manager at JFK. More than a year earlier, Tom McClain had become Vice President of In-Flight Service and was replaced by Ray Roda. Mike’s departure presented a good opportunity for me to leave and let his successor select his own choice for my position.
I phoned my old boss, Dick Veres and asked if he had room for another DCS at the JFK domicile. Dick said he would welcome me back and I left regular duty at the corporate offices for the last time.
Now, instead of riding the train five days a week, I would be driving to JFK five or six days a month. The two years I pledged to this job had nearly expired and I left with no regrets, considering the whole experience a character builder. We had made good progress in many areas, which made it all worthwhile.
Back in the Air, Briefly
I took a week’s vacation and returned to the DCS job on February 1. By then, the title had been changed to IFSS – In-Flight Service Supervisor, but the job description remained the same. I was given one-month assignment on domestic routes before returning to trans-Atlantic flying.
My initial overseas trip was a bit of a challenge, with a long first day (and night, and day), operating New York–Madrid–Malaga–Madrid. Instead of laying over at Madrid with the rest of the crew after the first stop, I flew down to Malaga and back. The lowly DCS did three legs straight away, allowing him/her to complete the pairing in three days instead of four. There was only a beverage service on the short segments within Spain, and TWA was not allowed to carry local passengers between the two cities, so it was an easy day for the cabin crew and a challenge for the IFSS just to stay awake. More torture came in the form of landing at beautiful Malaga, on the Costa del Sol, and not being able to get off for a layover.
I asked for more domestic trips; by summertime I was back flying within the U.S. and congratulated myself on having returned to the job I planned to enjoy until retirement, or so I thought.
The company and flight attendant workforce had been in protracted contract negotiations for some time when things began to boil over as the 30-day countdown to a strike was about to expire at midnight June 4. An agreement was reached at the last minute while I was on a San Francisco layover and I felt relieved heading for the airport the next morning. Checking in at operations, I was told to call the New York In-Flight office immediately. The news was good and bad; we had a new contract but at a price. The IFSS program was to be discontinued. Along with my fellow IFSS brothers and sisters, I would still have a job, albeit as a ground supervisor of flight attendants. So much for driving back and forth to JFK five or six days a month.
The program was gradually phased out and my last trip returned to New York on September 3. Now simply a supervisor of In-Flight Service, I was assigned 40 flight attendants to look after. This entailed check rides to occasionally break the driving commute but most of the work was in the office. The base salary was unchanged, but we no longer had very much in the way of travel expense money and business suits replaced company-provided uniforms, further adding to costs. Office space was at a premium because there were so many of us moving into the ground positions. I was fortunate to move over from JFK to La Guardia Airport, with its slightly shorter commute and a cubicle I only had to share with one other supervisor.
Nevertheless it was a long winter, fighting traffic and weather. Combined with the 60-mile commute each way, workdays stretched close to 12 hours. Just about the time I was ready to pull my remaining hair out, an opportunity arose. The TWA flight schedule was to begin expanding by spring 1977 and several hundred flight attendants would be hired. An offer was made to any of us willing to downgrade to the F/A position and go on line ahead of the first new-hire class.
I was among seven former IFSS types who took the option and went through abbreviated training the first week in April. Already service- and safety-trained, we only needed to learn how to bid our schedules and complete some other formalities. I became a line flight attendant on April 4, starting over with job seniority. Company longevity counted only towards vacation and passes. The first year’s salary was meager and it would be a struggle to survive financially. I was facing the possibility of refinancing my condo in order to get by, and perhaps even borrowing some money. My savings would not last a full year.
But this lucky man was about to fall into an opportunity that would bridge the gap.