I now look back on the Florida Express days as an idyllic time in my life and in my career. I was flying as well as I had ever flown since my first lesson in a Cessna 150. I had the respect of everyone in the company, other pilots, the company management, the flight attendants and the mechanics, who were sometimes in an adversarial position. I had a wonderful family. Doreen was great with the children. She was the parent who was with them 100% of the time, I was gone half the time. I thought it was wise to let her set the agenda for raising them, while I backed her up. I had input, but I saw myself in a supportive position in her program. In retrospect, I believe that worked out well. We raised two great, high achieving children.
I loved my job. I enjoyed going to work so much, that I had a feeling very much like guilt when I left my family. I knew they did not like seeing me leaving, but I was so excited about the rewards of job satisfaction, that it made me feel I was being a little selfish when I left. I got over it quickly. I have always been able to compartmentalize things like that. When I went to work, I was at work. When I came home, I was at home. One of the things I did as soon as I came home was to clean the pool. It was a mindless, routine process that kind of allowed me the opportunity to get myself adjusted back into home life.
It had been nearly 20 years since I made the first steps toward an aviation career. Every day was telling me that I had made the correct choice. I was always meeting people who were telling me they wished they had been pilots. It was a career choice I was feeling a little smug about. When I told people what I did for a living, I always had a big smile on my face. I don't think everyone is as fortunate as I was to get myself in exactly the best profession I could have gotten myself into. I know many, many people who are just kind of sleep walking through their lives, because they are unhappy about what they must do for a living. I felt that I had very precisely dropped myself into exactly what I was cut out to do. If you read this blog from the very beginning, you may be able to understand that and see how it developed.
This is one of the reasons I am writing this blog. I still have vivid memories of the struggles in my life to find the niche into which I would fit. It had to be something that captured my imagination, that interested and excited me, that motivated me to give my best effort.
I have tried many times to talk about this subject with youngsters, but often see a lack of understanding of why this is so important. What are you going to do in your life to support yourself and your family? Have you thought about what it will be like to spend 40 or 50 years doing something that makes your mind go numb? This is one of the most important decisions you have to make, because everything else in your life will be painted in vivid colors or in dull shades of gray, based on how you play this. All of your other relationships will be impacted by how you feel when you are going to work. I loved going to work. I wish everyone could feel like that when they go to work. Why didn't everyone want to be a pilot? I just didn't know.
I had worked at many jobs in my early life. Stock clerk/cashier at a super market, car salesman, insurance salesman, real estate salesman, motorcycle mechanic. Theater usher, hamburger flipper, grocery deliverer, as a high school student. I hated all of them, except for the motorcycle mechanic job. I simply could not get myself motivated to do the best I could do. Flying planes was what I was made to do. I loved everything about it, good or bad. The only other possible career choice for me could have been the military, but it would not have provided the juice that flying airplanes had done.
I try to tell the young people I encounter in my life to spend the time and effort to explore all the different possible ways that you can spend your life. I tell them they may not have any knowledge of the job they are best suited for. Go to the library, get a book on careers, shadow people who are doing things you think you might want to do. It is one of the most important things you have to work out in your life. I didn't know all this at that time, but I am able to see it with retrospect.
All those years of working as a flight instructor, air taxi pilot, flight engineer instructor, ground school instructor and even the time at Pacific Express had been building the foundation for being where I was at Flex. I could have been very happy spending the rest of my career there, when things were going well.
Unfortunately, the good times did not roll indefinitely. Things started going badly. I guess there are many opinions about how things started going down the tubes. I think much of it had to do with the mechanical issues of the BAC 1-11.
One of our captains told me that while he was on a layover in Norfolk, he called a travel agency, pretending to be looking for a flight to Orlando. He said the agent made an eight point argument about why he should pay more and go through a hub like Atlanta or Charlotte with one of the older airlines, instead of flying on Florida Express.
When the airline started and only had three planes and one of them broke in the bank that was going north, a decision had to be made about which flight was going to be hosed. It was always the one with the fewest passengers and that was frequently the one going to Norfolk and Richmond. That flight was canceled.
The CEO had told us at a pilot meeting that the brain trust had assumed most of our passengers would be people going on vacation, not repeat customers, such as business people. He also said they believed most of our passengers would be booking flights through our own reservation system. They thought they could get away with a certain level of mechanical delays and cancelations, because they would not be screwing the same people over and over. He told us they had tried to maintain the planes to a higher percentage of reliability, but that had been too expensive. They backed off to a lower level, that was much less costly. They thought they could get away with that.
They were wrong about one of their assumptions. Most of our people were booking through travel agencies. Therefore, even though our passengers may not have not repeaters, the travel agents were. They kept hearing horror stories about how their clients were getting screwed and having their vacations ruined by our junky BAC 1-11s. This explains why they were selling so hard against our little airline, despite our low fares. Furthermore, there were also lots of business people flying with us. They know how to save a buck.
One of the things the management looked into when things were going badly, was to talk to KLM about a code sharing deal. KLM would fly one of its 747s from Amsterdam to Orlando. Our pilots would then fly it around the US to several cities, picking up and dropping off passengers, then back to Orlando, where their crew would take it back across the pond to its home airport. We would also be carrying passengers from their inbound flights in our system and then feeding their return flights to Amsterdam.
This plan would have been tap dancing around the edges of the cabatoge rules in place at the time. The big domestic airlines would not appreciate our efforts. We were attracting their attention. Previously, they were ignoring us, as long as we were flying to medium sized cities with small planes and not going to their hub airports. This would have been stepping on their toes in a big way.
There were several mergers taking place at this time among the big airlines. Northwest purchased Republic, Continental merged with People Express, Frontier and New York Air. Previously these airlines each had planes competing on many of the same routes. When they merged, there were some extra planes, so they started flying some of our routes. This was something I had seen at Pacific Express. The bigger airlines would fly our routes, with better planes, at the same fares, with the express purpose of bleeding the smaller airline. They had many more flight segments and could subsidize the lower fares against us. This was starting to look like deja vu all over again.