Two of my good friends at Florida Express had been working for Braniff during their first bankruptcy. They had been hired in all the crazy hiring spurt I mentioned a long, long time ago, when I was trying to get hired at Braniff myself, but they would not call me for an interview. Not having a college degree was their reason. Now I was here with these two guys, who had been ass bitten by Braniff One, been recalled by Braniff Two, refused the recall to stay with Florida Express, then been snagged by Braniff Two, when they bought Florida Express and stapled us to the bottom of their freaking seniority list.
We talked about this quite a bit. We were all uncertain about our future with this company. We were afraid that the new owners were scammers, who would suck all the assets out of the company, then declare bankruptcy. That had been their modus operandi at other companies. Several guys were starting to leave, to work for other airlines. My old pal, Tom, had gone to American. A couple guys went to work for United Parcel Service, who was starting their own airline, based in Louisville Kentucky.
We were in the middle of contract negotiations and what is called a "slow down". One evening, the Orlando chief pilot was hanging around the ramp outside our operations room and pleading with crews to stop the slow down. He said the company was in the middle of trying to raise $100 million on Wall Street to expand the airline, and that they were going to lease brand new Airbus A320s. This is a plane, similar to the Boeing 737, but with modern technology that made it less expensive to operate. He knew that pilots love to hear that their company is expanding and getting new airplanes. We were mostly saying, "What slow down?" Once again, we were thinking, "If we don't get ours, you don't get yours". It is not unlike a game of chicken.
The Airbus A320s began to show up and pilots were being trained on them. Soon the stalemate was broken and we had a TA, a tentative contract, that we got to study and then vote for or against. This was my first experience with an airline union and I was amazed at how quickly the union leadership made the transition from rabble rousers to contract salesmen.
It's a little complicated, but we soon learned that our BAC 1-11 copilots were getting screwed on their pay rates and were really pissed. They had supported the captains who had done so much to pressure the company to negotiate in good faith under the Railway Labor Act, which puts unions at such a disadvantage. All of us complained at union meetings and the system chief pilot got wind of the discrepancy and intervened on our behalf to make a correction that fixed most of that problem. I can't remember his name, but always thought he was an upstanding guy. I had had a small encounter with him while the negotiations were ongoing over my captain's authority and he saw my point. I would say he was a pilot's chief pilot.
The BAC was going to be parked. I guess we had taught them that they were a maintenance liability. We had been acquiring B-737s and some of them were actually worse than the BACs. There were still going to be two hubs, Kansas City and Orlando, but I was not going to be senior enough to hold a captain's slot in Orlando. For the first time in my airline career, I was going to be required to commute. I was not looking forward to that. The good news was that the pay was going to increase substantially and I could remain a captain.
One of my friends, who had worked for Baniff One, had been trying to get an interview with UPS. He was well aware that their airline was known as the "Freight Nazis", but knew the company had deep pockets and would not be as precarious an employer at Braniff One, Florida Express or Braniff Two. Some of the guys who had left and gone to UPS were still commuting between Louisville and Orlando on our jump seats and were telling the horror stores about life as a UPS pilot.
I was thinking about this avenue myself. I knew that some of these kinds of stories are exaggerated. I remembered back to my years working for the Thorofare Super Markets company in Pittsburgh, that one of my friends there had gone to work for UPS as a package car driver. I had mentioned to my boss that I wondered what it was like working there and he said the pay was good but the company was brutal to employees. I took that comment with a grain of salt, but it is tough leaving the known for the unknown, especially when there are scary stories about the unknown. It didn't matter, because soon I was drafted into the Army.
I wasn't going to be drafted into the Army this time, but I had to think about the impact of any change on my family, not just myself.
I had a bid on the 737 as a captain in Kansas City, would be making lots more money and would be flying all over the country. It was a lot to consider and there were many unknowns. Pay at UPS was considerably less than it would be at Braniff under the new contract. It was even less than what we made under the old contract and you have to go through a really lousy first year on probation at a really lousy pay. Not an easy decision at all.