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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Red Eye

There was a week until my Orion interview.  One of the people I called with my sob story was Mary Lou, the lady who worked for the manager of contract training at USAir.  She really ran the place.  She told me that there was a new start up airline in Orlando Florida, flying BAC 1-11s.  The chief pilot was Bob Dixon, who had been a student at the ground school when I worked there.  He was one of the guys who had flown a BAC for Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean.  Bob was one of the people I was bugging about a job, back when I worked there.

When I heard that, I considered going back to another start up airline flying the BAC, just like the one that had died beneath me.  It was not the best possible scenario, but I needed to start generating income ASAP.

Mary Lou gave me Bob's number and I called him.  "Denny Cleary, you old son of a bitch.  We were expecting your call."  I was glad he remembered me and was thinking of me.  His two check airmen had also come through the school when I was there, Jay and Mike.

After we got all the details of my circumstances out of the way, Bob said that they were flying 3 airplanes they had bought from USAir (that told me a lot about their mechanical condition - not good.)  They had enough crews to staff those planes and I would be the first guy they would hire when they got their next plane.  When I asked when that might be, Bob said, "Probably about 6 months."  I said I would not be available in 6 months.  "I'll either have a job, or I will be dead."  I added that to emphasize the urgency.  He said he would see what he could do and we said goodbye.

Bob called early the next day and asked me when I could come to Orlando for an interview.  I told him about the interview in L.A. on the 9th and said I would try to find a way to get there very soon after that.

I was able to get jumpseat privileges on Air Cal to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  That interview went well.  There had been some pilot management changes at USAir, but I called the new chief pilot, explained my situation and he gave me jumpseat privileges to fly from L.A. to Pittsburgh on a red eye flight and then to Orlando.  The reason this was special, is that, in order to ride on a jumpseat, you must be employed by an operating airline.  PacEx no longer qualified.  These people were doing me a huge favor and I really appreciated it.

When I showed up at the USAir gate in L.A. to fly to the Burgh, I saw that the captain was none other than Ron Sessa, the guy who had been the top pilot manager when I worked there.  He is the guy I think had the most to do with my not getting hired as a pilot there.  He had left management for some reason and was back on the line.

Now I was sweating whether he would let me ride the jumpseat.  He acted like he was not very happy about it, but said it was OK to ride in the back, as long as it was not in first class.  What a dick.  I was able to get three empty seats in one row and managed to get some sleep as we crossed the country late at night.  The only problem was that I looked like I had slept in an airplane all night when I arrived in Orlando.

I found my way to Dixon's office and we had some coffee.  He said we would be having breakfast with Captain Al Frink, the director of operations.  Al was a retired Pan Am 747 captain.  Start up airlines like to have experienced people like him in high management positions for credibility.

Things seemed to be going well and they asked me if I could start immediately.  I explained that my family was still in Santa Rosa, we had signed a one year lease on the house and I would have to go back soon to move them and our stuff.  Not a problem.  I was number 29 on the seniority list of 29 pilots.

When I talked to Bob about coming for the interview, he had talked about using me primarily as a first officer, who would occasionally fly as a captain.  I already had completed all the training and check rides and all I had to do was bring my training records and take a class in company indoctrination to fly for my new airline, Florida Express.

As I was flying down there, I thought this was not a good plan.  I was going to be the most junior guy, hired after all the others.  Seniority is a big deal to all airline pilots and if I was jumping first officers to fly as captain, I would be making enemies.  I mentioned that to Bob and he said, "Yeah, I thought of that too."

Bob told me much later, that Al had told him I looked "kind of rough" that day.  Bob explained that I had spent the night sleeping in my suit as I rode across the country.  My eyes really were red.

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