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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bran Flakes and Fibber McGee

Because of our old call sign, Flexair and we always abbreviated it to Flex, the Braniff folks called us Bran Flakes.  We thought it was funny too.  Some times you have to have a sense of humor in this bidness.

Soon after the merger, it was announced that Braniff, Inc. was being sold.  For the first five years after the reorganization, Dalfort, the parent company had been owned by the Pritzker family.  They owned the Hyatt Hotel chain.  We got to stay at Hyatt hotels on our layovers in cities where they were available.  This was a definite upgrade from the Florida Express days.

One of the Braniff captains had told me the Pritzkers became involved in reorganizing Braniff and restarting the airline for tax purposes.  I am not an expert on this, but at the time, there was an advantage for them to own the airline for 5 years, then it ended.  We were approaching 5 years since the rebirth of the airline.

Part of the tax situation required that the airline did not make much profit.  For 4 of the 5 years, it just broke even, paying its own way, but not really being profitable.  There was that exceptional year, when United went on strike and Braniff couldn't help itself, it did very well.  

At any rate, the Pritzkers had helped the Braniff employees get the company back on its feet, it had established itself with a small hub in Orlando and it was moving its major hub from Dallas to Kansas City.  It was now time for them to move on.

The buyer was Jeffrey Chodorow.  If you follow that hyperlink, you will get a little preview into where we are headed here.

Chodorow had a reputation of being someone who bought businesses in distress, sucked out all the valuable assets, then dumped the company, including its investors and employees.  At least, that is what was going around at this time among the employees.  He was kind of a mini Frank Lorenzo.  There was a lot of that going on in the airline industry at that time.

In 1987, my old employer, USAir, acquired Piedmont Airlines.  USAir top management survived, Piedmont top management moved to Orlando as the new managers of Braniff, Inc.  The new CEO was William McGee, who had "retired" from Piedmont in 1988.  If you follow the hyperlink on his name, you will see that his obituary there does not mention his association with Braniff, Inc.  Not his proudest moment, I guess.

Mr. McGee came around for a meet and greet with the employees in the crew room in Orlando.  I was standing there in the front row, close enough to touch him, when I mentioned the rumored history of the new owners and asked him point blank if we were in for a similar treatment.  He said, "Blah blah blah, blah blah, blah."  It wasn't long before we started calling him Fibber McGee.  (You gotta be a real geezer to make that connection.  We did not own a TV in our house, until I was 10.) 

I hope my fellow airline employees don't spit on the picture of Francisco when they see this.  It might mess up their computers.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pro and Cons

In order to become a part of Braniff Inc., our pilots all had to take a pay cut.  Braniff was flying 727s and we were flying smaller BAC 1-11s.  Most airline pay scales are weight based, the bigger the plane, the more the pilot pay.  We had been making more than the Braniff II pilots.

Braniff employees were very loyal to the company.  That was obvious immediately.  They all talked about the glory days, before their first bankruptcy.  They had 747s and Concordes in a system of both domestic and international flying.  They all referred frequently to the "Flying Colors" days of varied, but colorful paint jobs on their planes.

Under Braniff Inc.,  the colors were more standard and uniform.

The employees were friendly toward the former Florida Express employees, in my experience.  The pilots tried to get our pilots involved in the activities of the union, Airline Pilots Association (ALPA).  I became a member of the safety committee and the accident investigation committee.  I attended classes provided from ALPA national on accident investigation and met some legendary pilots.  I attended an annual ALPA safety forum in Washington DC.  The other members of the committees were very welcoming to me.

It was kind of fun to fly with some of the Braniff flight attendants.  We had been accustomed to mostly younger flight attendants, who had zero flying experience, but now we were literally flying with grannies.  No problem, just noticeably different.  One night, in the middle of a big goat rope involving major changes in our schedule, the first officer and I were in a huddle with our new flight attendants.  They both appeared to be significantly older than me.  The senior flight attendant addressed me as "Sweepea".  I laughed and said, "Captain Sweepea".  We all got a good chuckle from that one.  That was one of the things I liked about the flight attendants who could hang around for years.  They were all usually easy to get along with and had a good sense of humor.

Just to prove a point, I will tell you about a guy I used to fly with a lot, named Dennis.  He had been an undertaker and we called him "Digger".  When we were on a longer flight and one of the flight attendants came to the cockpit to check on us, I always told a joke about Digger.  He usually just smiled and shook his head when he knew it was coming.

I explained why we called him Digger and told about a day on which the funeral home had two men who were in the place for the first visitation at the same time.  The widows were there for a last minute check, when they noticed that Digger had gotten their suits on the wrong bodies.  They were very upset and Digger tried to calm them and told them he would make everything right.  He asked them to leave while he did his thing.  Time was short, but when the doors opened a few minutes later, the suits were on the correct corpses.  At this point, I would ask the FAs if they knew how he had done it.  They always said no.  I waited for the proper joke timing and said, "He swapped heads".