(Time to ‘uncork’ one…Warning: Contains adult language, and directed contempt.)
I went to work for Northwest Airlines in January 1989. I left the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, having served as a flying squadron commander. The challenge I was facing if I stayed past 20 years in the USAF was, not making (full) colonel; it was having to quit flying. A ‘desk job’ would have killed me… and not being one of the “anointed college boys,” I was headed for a Mk 1, gray steel desk for sure. So I hung up my g-suit and headed off to the airlines…
I was excited to have a job where I only had to fly. And for a few years it was all good. Then I began to see the impact of our CEOs on the flying operation, and the company overall. Specifically their obsession with “the bottom line,” at the expense of everything else. In fairness, I think a ‘business’ has to consider ‘the bottom line,’ for sure – but not at with the draconian measures I saw at Northwest Airlines.
Yes, we were ‘protected’ by a union – ALPA. But I soon began to see where the allegiances of our elected union representatives really sat. In the 17 years I was at Northwest the union did in fact, do a great deal of good for the rank and file. However, there was always an ‘undercurrent’ that somehow I felt as if certain powerful individuals were “in bed” with the company.
At one time in the industry pilots ran the airlines – not shoeclerks. If a line pilot had a buddy who was looking for a job, all he had to do was carry the guy’s resume into the chief pilot, and the guy was hired. Captains actually held “authority” at one time for the operation of their flights, and were held in respect. Then it all began going to hell…
(This next part here is (perhaps) an oversimplification of events; but it works.) The airlines were not formed by East-coast educated college boys. No; they were founded by aviators! I envision a couple former WW I aviators sitting around one day, drinking beer after flying and talking. “You know,” one of them might have said, “there’s some money that could be made by taking people from Point A to Point B in aeroplanes.” “Damned straight,” would have been the reply – and the rest is history…
Form the beginning through the mid-fifties and early sixties pilots were prevalent in upper management. As the airlines grew, more and more people were needed to run the operations. “Real pilots” – aviators – have little interest or time for the “mundane” tasks that are critical for the smooth operation of an airline. Things like training, finance, flight operations, human resources, weather, and so forth. So the airlines began hiring “shoeclerks.” The problem is, they began hiring lawyers and accountants – as well as “businessmen.” And it was this collection of cretins that began to slowly remove pilots from company management positions – to the point that today I don’t think there is a single pilot in upper airline management anywhere!
What we had at Northwest when I left was a collection of arrogant, self-centered well-educated shoeclerks. When given the opportunity, they all would gleefully tell anyone who would listen, just how educated they were! I wouldn’t have let any of them carry my helmet bag! As we went through tough times, at the turn of the century (9/11 and bankruptcy) it was the employees who took the hits – not management. I lost 40% of my salary at one time. The mantra we continued to hear was: “We need to pay our upper management their good salaries, or they will go somewhere else.” Over and over, we continually heard that. Well folks, who’s guidance was it that drove us into bankruptcy? I certainly wasn’t asked what I thought about anything. The truth is, for the whole time I flew at Northwest Airlines, upper management never gave a shit what I, or any other employee thought. Our CEO reminded us (the pilot group) at a meeting one day, that he had a degree from an ivy league school, manga cum laude; and he asked what any of us carried! (He was the guy with the weasel face, the unkempt beard and buck teeth. You would have thought with the money he was making he would have had the decency his teeth straightened! If not for himself, for those of us who had to see him upon occasion.) Then the company “awarded”: this guy with a $26M bonus for successfully steering the company through tough times! YGBSM! They overlooked who’s leadership it was that drove us into bankruptcy!
When I left Northwest in 2006, pilots were treated as nothing more than ‘bus drivers.’ And that attitude permeated down throughout the company. As a Captain, I had the responsibility for the safe operation of my flights but little-to-no authority. That had all been taken by the company attorneys. In the end, gate agents had more say about certain aspects of my flight than I did…Play theme song as you read along
Bud Light Presents, Real Men of Genius…
Today we salute you,
Mr. Airline Corporate Executive Guy!
(Chorus): Mr. Airline Corporate Executive Guuyyyy…
Oh yes, you sir – you with the ill-fitting Joseph Banks suit and the your ever-present ‘deer-in-the headlights’ look.
(Chorus): Ohhh please…. don’t let ’em shoot me!
We know you have a magna cum laude degree from some east-coast university: you’ve told us at our pilot meetings – over, and over and over again. And you keep telling us, laude and laude – sometimes without profanity.
(Chorus): We get it, Mother Fucker!
You tell us we need to take pay cuts and take concessions, while you continually take even greater bonuses. For steering us out of bankruptcy. Well, who drove us into bankruptcy in the first place?
(Chorus): Who’s flying this damn thing anyway?
So crack open a nice cold Bud Light, oh master of mumbling, highly-educated double-speak, this Bud Light’s for you! And find comfort that we still love our fucking company, because our company still loves fucking us… “