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Monday, September 12, 2016

Grumpy Rides Again.

Braniff had always had a big hub in Dallas.  During the transition of absorbing Florida Express, the main hub was moved to Kansas City, with a small hub in Orlando.  I think part of the reason the original Braniff failed, is that it shared the Dallas hub with American Airlines.  There is more to it than that, Braniff made lots of mistakes and American engaged in cut throat business tactics, but having more than one airline at the same hub can be a mess.

The marketing people decide that certain times are best for flights to arrive and depart and then try to jam all the flights into and out of the airport at the same time.  The term for these mass arrivals is bank.  If you add another airline, with the same idea about when is the best time to have a bank of airplanes at the airport, you have planes stacked up in holding patterns in the sky and lined up on the taxiways on the ground.  There are not enough runways or gates to accommodate the onslaught.  The companies play nasty games with each other to gain any advantage possible.

I thought moving to Kansas City was a good move, but what do I know?  It is centrally located in the country and we were now part of a nationwide airline.  Braniff had the place to itself as a hub airport.  

Florida Express had endeavored to avoid large cities and the big hubs of other airlines.  Braniff had a completely different strategy.  The airline was now going to the bigger cities from coast to coast.  Of course, the BAC was not suited to the larger cities and routes.  It was still used to feed the hubs from smaller cities, on shorter legs.

Airlines establish hubs as a way to serve nearly every airport in the country and to keep their passengers in their own system.  By hubbing and spoking, you can offer flights from anywhere to anywhere.  The passengers just have to go to and through a hub, most frequently by changing planes there.  

Kansas City (MKC)

There were a couple ways where the BAC routes could work their way between the Orlando hub and the Kansas City hub.  For example, we had been flying to and from Indianapolis from day one.  Now we had some flights that went on to Kansas City instead of returning to Orlando.  From there, we would fly to some other smaller cities and back to KC.  My favorite such city was San Antonio Texas.

During one of my trips to San Antonio, I had the misfortune of flying with our old pal, Grumpy.  You may remember that he was the older guy, who retired from the Navy.  I guess his demeanor as a grump served him well in the Navy, but it did not always work well at the airline.  He had upgraded to captain for a short time, but was demoted to first officer when Florida Express had shrunk.  At Braniff, we were all frozen in our present positions and Grumpy was really grumpy about that.  He had head bumping episodes with several captains, including me and the flight attendants did not like him very much.  You could tell, because they did not visit the cockpit as much when I was flying with him.

One morning, after a layover in San Antonio, we were eating breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, when a Braniff captain approached our table.  He introduced himself to me and asked if he could ride the jumpsuit to MKC.  I said yes and we chatted briefly, then he left to meet us at the van to the airport.

Grumpy was offended that this guy did not address him and this began the 'captains are assholes' narrative of the day.  Grumpy began telling stories about some of his run ins with captains.  This was intended to let our jumpseater and me know that he had contempt for all captains.  

One story was about an incident with a young captain named Pete.  Grumpy told us that he called him "Pressurization Pete", because Pete had advised him about a technique to use when adjusting the pressurization system, that reduced bumps in the feel of the pressurization changes.  You may have felt some of these bumps as sudden changes in the pressure in your ears.

When I told Grumpy that I had taught that technique to Pete when I flew with him as a first officer, during my first year at Flex, he just had a smirk on his face.  

Grumpy went on and on and there was no doubt what he was doing.  I could see that the jumpseater was getting the point.  That is when I told them the story of my newly upgraded friend, Tom, back in my USAir days.  I congratulated him and told him that now he could be the asshole, instead of working for him.  He said, "Denny, the first thing I learned when I moved from the right seat to the left seat, is that all the assholes are not in the left seat."  Our guest burst out laughing.  

As we flew on to KC, the traffic was backing up and we were cleared into a holding pattern.  When you are cleared to hold, there is a speed limit as you enter and maintain the hold.  Sometimes you can even slow down before you get there, if you advise Air Traffic Control.  Why hurry to a holding pattern, eh?  Apparently Grumpy had forgotten that and entered at our cruise speed.  Because of the nature of our conversation, I was slow to correct him.  I didn't want to embarrass him and get him more stirred up than he was.  That was probably a mistake, but it was one of those situations where there are no good options.  As he was making the first turn, he said something about how long the turn was taking and I said that might be because you are way above the holding pattern entry speed, then told him what it was.  He slowed down, but not before the controller said something about the size of our holding pattern.

When we were cleared out of the pattern, to proceed toward the airport, Grumpy maintained the holding pattern speed, instead of increasing to our cruise speed.  I could tell from the conversation between the controller and several turbo props behind us, that we were becoming a moving road block on the arrival into MKC.  I told him to pick it up and he got that Grumpy smirk again.

Then, as we were cleared for the approach, he did not seem to be aware of our location relative to the final approach fix and the glide slope intercept point and he maintained cruise speed and blasted through the glide slope.  I mentioned that and told him he needed to slow down and configure to land and get on the glide slope.  Long story short, he scared the jumpseater and we had to go around and land on another runway.  In retrospect, I should have been giving him dual instruction from the time we were given a holding clearance.  He simply was not as good as he thought he was and was distracted by his contempt for any and all other human beings.

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