Sunday, March 30, 2014

Another Brush with Greatness

I'm very happy that I postponed my Sunday morning devotional walk around Rio de Janeiro today!

Bloomberg News is presenting an extensive profile of Sir Richard Branson, head of VIRGIN, businessman extraordinaire, and remarkable human being.

On one of my trips in 1994, I was scheduled to deadhead from Houston to New York in order to work our Madrid flight, later that evening.  Of course, I was wearing my Flight Attendant uniform, in preparation for my work assignment.  Luckily, I was upgraded to First Class on the A300 aircraft, to seat 4B.  Upgrades for crew were a rarity, as our frequent fliers in this highly competitive business market were courted with upgrades.  When I arrived at my seat, I couldn't help but notice the blond lion-maned gentleman who was to be my seatmate.  I gulped at the realization that I would be seated for the next 3-3.5 hours with Sir Richard Branson!

As I stowed my bags in the overhead compartment, I was startled by Branson's hearty greeting, "Hello!  How are you?".  (At the time, cellular telephones were a rarity and crew enjoyed the luxury of our First Class customers' attention during the always hectic pre-departure phase of flight.  It was still a surprise when a world-renowned businessman with a traytable already covered by important-looking paperwork took a moment to greet his traveling companion.)  "Very well, thank you. And you?"  What ensued was nothing short of remarkable.

Of course, businessmen are businessmen and the lion's share of the flight, Sir Richard spent studiously addressing his obligations.  However, he also prodigiously practiced his "human being skills", especially seizing the opportunity to make small talk during the meal service.  "Where are you going today?"  "How long have you been flying?"  "Have you always been a Flight Attendant?"  "How do you feel that you are treated at Continental?"  I've never been more pleasantly surprised or proven wrong.  My initial inclination on recognizing Sir Richard was that I would spend the flight in silence (OK with me!) as he addressed his rather global responsibilities.  Isn't being an important businessman a self-validating pursuit, after all?  Apparently not in this case.

As I astoundedly answered his many questions, Sir Richard became more and more enthralled to learn that I had been in management and had chosen to return to line flying.  His eyebrows arched noticeably (yes, both of them) when he learned that I'd been the youngest Station Manager in Continental's system when, at the age of 30, I was promoted to Manager, Airport Services in Honolulu.  Social pleasantry evolved into something more serious, more focused, as he pursued questioning my motivations.  He was actively assimilating my experience as a reference for his own businesses, there's simply no doubt.  I became acutely aware that his rise to greatness in business was no anomaly:  Sir Richard is a student of the human condition and does not discount any potential opportunity to increase his knowledge on the subject.

As he withdrew from our exchange, back into the world of big business, I withdrew into the shell-shocked realization of what had just transpired.  Even now, I marvel at the opportunities my career in the airline business have afforded me to rub shoulders with greatness.  Inevitably, our flight together reached its conclusion.  Our parting was as warm and memorable as our greeting, entirely attributable to the humanity of this remarkable human being.

I returned to my task at hand:  working as Spanish-speaker #1 to Madrid.  Sir Richard Branson returned to his task at hand:  building upon his legacy as one of the most successful businessmen in the world.  

But for a short time on our 3+ hour IAH/EWR flight together, we were just two guys, sharing and learning.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

PeeWee's Last Flight

"PeeWee" was a customer service agent for Southwest Airlines in Orlando Florida.  The video link gives you some idea of how PeeWee's friends and colleagues at Southwest felt about him.  The outpouring of emotion seems as though it might be a unique event.  But I remember something astoundingly similar.

The PeeWee story reminded me of my friend Delilah Williams...what a MENSCH!

Back in the 90s, she and I were flying Houston/Paris on the DC10. Delilah was someone who's very being inspired a smile, often followed by a laugh...and then another, followed by the promise of so many more.

Delilah's promise of more shared laughter died with her when she and her husband were killed in a tragic automobile accident on Interstate 10, returning home to Mobile, AL on a rainy night.  We who knew her were devastated, as you can imagine.  Adding to the tragedy, they left behind two young daughters.  It seems that everyone I knew was determined to attend the funeral services in Mobile but our service then, as now, was just a few, FULL regional jets a day.

Our airline family was much smaller then, we seemed so in touch with one another, so in tune with what we could and should do in most situations.  Our leader at the time was no exception to that.  He was "one of us".

I don't know the mechanics of the situation but what I remember is this:  a 737-500 was authorized to assure that as many colleagues could get to Delilah's family as possible.  And they did.  All in uniform.  It was memorable.

It happened for us then.  It happened at Southwest just this week.

It can, and will, happen again.

(We love and miss terribly our friend and colleague, Delilah Williams.  Peace be with all who knew and loved "PeeWee".)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Christmas in March

Christmas in March! (Why not?)

Which is the greater? Anticipation or Realization?

As we anticipate the next era of greatness in our company's history, how do we pass the time? Does greatness occur spontaneously? In my experience, greatness requires a little help. At the very least, realizing greatness requires the suspension of disbelief. It also requires that we anticipate and deal with the day-to-day obstacles that stand in our way.

I anticipate our return to greatness. And I like the way that feels. I wonder if realizing our potential will feel any better?

I live in a world of unbridled opportunity with the wide-eyed anticipation of a toddler at Christmas. It's a nice place.

And there's room for everyone.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

With one small gesture...

You can change a person's life.

Standing at the Door 3 crossaisle during boarding on our AMS-bound 777, My colleague Joel and I were greeting our UE customers.  The blind passenger we were expecting for seat 25A was coming toward us and I think that we were relieved to see that he wasn't traveling alone.  I said, "I'll take this one" to Joel and moved to intercept the couple for an individual briefing.

I introduced myself as they got settled and began my briefing.  The blind gentleman quickly informed me that he'd been flying "quite a bit" for 30 years and could probably brief me...but on we went to fulfill the FAR requirement.  As I started to talk about pressurization, he reached up to touch the panel which houses the O2 masks, compliantly participating in the briefing.  I said, "your hand went directly to the correct panel.  How did you know?"  He replied, "the only thing I don't know is how the mask 'looks'".  Light bulb moment!

I retrieved the demo kit from the J/S and was back in a flash.  "Hold out your hand."  What happened next was one of "those" moments.  He turned the mask every way but loose, able to "see" what he'd heard about so many times before.  We repeated the exercise with the life vest (which he amazingly oriented, donned and fastened correctly on the first try).  I explained the subtle differences in demo equipment versus live equipment and it ended with a big smile on his face.

"Thank you for letting me see those things.  It makes a huge difference."

Small gestures.

Don't ever underestimate your own power.

A message about the AFA LEC 64 elections:

I am as apolitical a creature as exists on Earth.  The sentiments and actions evoked by the political process are anathema to my being, so I shun the process and generally shy away from its practitioners.  I limit my participation in politics to expressing my voice and opinion with my vote.  I frequently can be found encouraging others to do likewise.  However, to live and to participate in life, one must occasionally reach conclusions on critical issues and take action that might seem "unnatural".  Here's how I see it:

The AFA's election process is one in which we, the individual voting Flight Attendants, have very little direct power.  Within this framework, the majority of our local power is vested in the LEC President.  In fact, the only opportunity that a typical AFA member has to cast a direct vote is for or against a tentative agreement (also known as "TA" or contract proposal) and to elect local officers, as we prepare to do now.  We have local council elections once every 3 years and ratification votes even more rarely.  So, the opportunity to make our voices heard through direct vote is extremely limited.  It is imperative that we capitalize on every opportunity.

In the case of a tentative agreement vote, the membership is only afforded the opportunity to vote if the TA is approved for a ratification vote by the MEC (Master Council comprised of LEC Presidents). Essentially, the office of LEC President holds the lion's share of the power in the AFA (whether it be CAL, CMI, OR UAL AFA, the structure is the same).  

To put it simply:  THIS IS OUR CHANCE!

The office of LECP (LEC President) is exceptionally powerful and wields considerable control over our work life as it is affected by our union.  It is incumbent upon us, to make sure that that individual, into whom we vest our trust and our voting power, is the best possible representative of the prevailing sentiments of our workgroup.  Further, s/he should conduct him/herself in an impeccable, respectful and respectable fashion and should strive to be above reproach.  This individual should be knowledgable, persuasive,  approachable, fair-minded and unsensational in his/her dealings with AFA peers, with our company and with the membership (you and me).

At LEC 64, we have reached a particularly crucial point in our workgroup's history.  While we seek to maintain the lifestyle, benefits and privileges we have previously enjoyed as represented by our last few contracts, the inevitability of a consolidation with our sisters and brothers from legacy UNITED is in a pending state. The longer we remain in that pending "limbo" state, the more fractious the relationship between these two groups, destined to ultimately become one, grows.   I mention these considerations because they are critical to our future success and the speed with which we reach it.

We are fortunate to have an array of candidates vying for our vote in LEC 64. While every elected office is important to the operation of our "local", the office of LECP is the most critical and demands the most thoughtful consideration.  Confusing matters somewhat, most candidates have organized themselves into "slates" which are essentially like-minded individuals who are running together to fill the available offices of President, Vice President and Secretary as a team.  

Although these candidates may offer themselves as part of a slate, it is NOT required that you vote for an entire slate.  You, the voter, are free to choose the candidate that you feel to be BEST-QUALIFIED to fill a given office, regardless of who you might select for any other office.

SLATE A:                            SLATE B:                        SLATE C:

President.                          President.                       President

Vice President.                  Vice President.               Vice President

Secretary.                         Secretary.                       Secretary

Let's say that you feel that the candidate for President is strongest on Slate B but prefer the Vice President and Treasurer candidates from Slate C.  You are free to choose as you wish; one candidate per office, regardless of slate-affiliation.  If a slate doesn't have announced candidate funning for a particular office, simply choose one of the candidates from the other slates.

Whatever your considerations, whomever you choose to support with your vote, one action is ABSOLUTELY critical:

VOTE!  Let your voice be heard.  Voting commences March 14, 2014.

For more information about voting:

For problems with voting credentials:

Call 1 800 424-2401.  Press "1", then extension "706"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Change Your Perspective; Change Your Life

Is today the day we all start to see the value rather than the faults?

Don't answer yet. Just take the question with you and ask it throughout the day. 

If you want something better, it has to start somewhere. Change your perspective and you change your life.

A Work in Progress...

There's no denying that the past day or so have been a little "glum". When events and circumstances change that fundamentally alter the way you see your world, it's like a computer reboot: it takes some time to "come back up". But while change is one of life's more pervasive forces, it usually brings with it new opportunity.

As if to reinforce that concept, when I woke from 8+ hours of sleep (the kind that you get from borderline clinical exhaustion), I parted the curtains to reveal a brilliant, clear and sunny Brazilian sky. The morning is figuratively calling me to come out and play. And I will.

The compassionate side of me shares the sorrow and disappointments of far away friends, family and fellow citizens-of-the-world but I live in the here and now. My opportunity this morning is to enjoy the warmth of the Sun, the ocean breeze carrying the signature smell of the sea, the delights of people at play on a Brazilian beach, free from the obligations of the work week.

My Sunday devotional? To make the most of the opportunities that God has placed in my path, to revel in the beauty of His creation and to fulfill my own destiny by and while helping others however I can. The goal is to be the best possible iteration of myself.

It's a work in progress...

The Aftermath of Tragedy

After the loss of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 last week, a colleague reached unsubstantiated conclusions about who might be responsible for that loss and what their motivations might be.  Her remarks were highly charged, highly polarizing and not very respectful of the diversity which exists in our shrinking world...

" For me, the last 48 hours have been like a restless slumber where nightmare after nightmare has robbed me of rest. No. It's more than that. The hours since returning from AMS on Thursday have made me skittish, furtive, unsure of reality, the way only loss of sleep compounded by loss after loss of a personal nature can do. A long-time friend is ravaged by a once-dormant disease that has become mercilessly active. Another retires suddenly after a near-death health scare late last year. An aircraft of a type that I regularly serve upon disappears on a seemingly routine service in Asia and we learn later that the aircraft has crashed into the sea, taking the lives of all aboard. All of these things matter to me. They matter a great deal because each represents a profound loss or potential loss of a personal nature.

I awaken in GIG from a fitful nap after an all-night flight and come upon this thread.

Being human, I'm subject to making the same value judgments as every other human makes, based on my life experience. I may not agree with all of the conclusions you reach. Doubtless you will not agree with all of mine. It's the very definition of diversity and, while I may not like it, I respect it.

I think that what's missing in some of the contributions to this thread is respect: respect for a calamitous loss of life, respect for something like another's religion which they hold just as dear as you or I do yours or mine, respect for someone else's perspective which is derived from the totality of one's life experience.

So who is right and who is wrong? It's not quite that easy. Right and wrong are concepts that we use to teach a toddler about values. We employ those clear concepts to prepare the adolescent for adulthood. Because in adult life, "right and wrong" give way to the real world of actions and consequences. If you feel sufficiently strongly on a topic to make what is certain to be a controversial assertion, you must be prepared to take the consequence of that action: feedback.

The Way FORWARD > > > > has been described as a respite, an oasis from the rampant negativity that is found in so many quarters in social media. That characterization is someone's "impression" of what TWF is, not it's definition. When one joins our group, s/he is directed to read the mission statement which represents our community's values. Nowhere does it say that one must be "right" or "wrong" in order to belong here. Rather, it suggests that we recognize our state of imperfection and our intensions are to help one another to do better, going forward.

Since I loathe expressions that demonize, demean, or belittle others, I will not join the ranks of those who use them. If you choose to employ those expressions in this venue, my only warning is "beware the consequences of your actions"."

LIVING Life in a Tragic World

After reading and writing about "lashing out" and all of the stress and anxiety in our lives, I find this photograph of my cousin Danny in my feed (photos taken last week by his daughter Vanessa on what will likely be their last vacation together in Florida.)

Danny is dying.  But then, aren't we all?

If this is how Danny dies, what does it say about how we live?  

On the Value of Going Forward

Posted in a Facebook group of my airline colleagues dedicated to The Way FORWARD...

"When someone "lashes out", that action is the by-product of unresolved stress. We see it EVERYWHERE due to the pressures and anxieties of our fast-paced lives: at work, in our schools, at public events, and especially in social media, where relative anonymity often engenders a certain courage to act without fear of reprisal. At it's most benign, lashing out is an opine against whatever the stressor-of-the-day might be, at it's most malignant, it can have mortal consequences.

Think I'm exaggerating? Do you remember Columbine, Sandy Hook or any number of other school shootings?

The mission of our group, while actually somewhat more specific, is generally to aid in the relief of our work-related stresses and anxieties. By sharing, sometimes a common-sense approach to a day-to-day obstacle and other times our personal philosophy of life, we seek to help others to COPE with what we are all experiencing. Our approach is to bring what works for us to the group and take away what seems to work for others in an effort to do better, moving forward. We amplify the good around us and attempt to find solutions for the not-so-good. To be clear, even together, we don't have solutions for every problem.

Whenever a new member joins the group, s/he is directed to our mission, pinned at the top so that there is no question what we seek to do here. Each of us then carries the responsibility to help fulfill that mission. Some take a very active role in doing so. Others are more passive. Both are perfetly acceptable.

What is not acceptable, as has been voiced by the membership repeatedly, is the active contravention of others who are participating in our process. Disrespect, derision, belittling, dismissive comments are anathema to who and what we are. Venues where such are allowed or even encouraged are available but The Way FORWARD > > > > is not one of them.

On the other hand, if YOU are suffering from the stress and anxiety of a situation that the group might be willing and able to help you address, I encourage you to share it, either in the group setting or in a private message to any of the Administrators. We can be fairly resourceful and stand ready to support you.

What we have here is unique in social media. We are focused and caring and willing and determined and diverse and ready, oh so ready. And we aren't going anywhere except forward.

Are you?"

The Retirement of Our Friend, the Kiwi

A Flight Attendant friend of 30 years just announced his retirement from UNITED in another group. It's the same friend who suffered a heart attack in Rio de Janeiro over Thanksgiving, last year. His announcement has come suddenly with no forewarning and has affected me even more than I would have guessed. I don't think I'm alone in that regard...

In the few hours since he posted, his announcement has accumulated 450+ "likes" and hundreds of supportive comments. A loyal friend to many, an affable colleague, a wonderful exponent of "old school" customer service, Chris Valkoff will most certainly be missed, both by those who have been his intimates for so long and by those who never have had the pleasure of working with our resident Kiwi ISM. As so many salute Chris upon his departure, it strikes me:

When someone as special and demonstrative as Chris is in our midst, do we do everything in our power to let him know how we feel?

I suppose that my question is rhetorical. Do we ever adequately express the regard we have for those dear to us in "real time"? In some ways, it's like the airline industry in the aftermath of 9/11: only when we come so close to loss do we MAKE the time and effort to acknowledge value. I suppose that's just human nature. But the strength of our humanity is that we have self-discipline to overcome our basic nature and render ourselves into something greater.

If for no other reason, many of us feel pangs of loss as a result of our merger; it's inescapable. That which we loved and which helped us to value ourselves is no more. The present is in flux and the future unknown can be a frightening place. When a valued colleague leaves us by whatever means, our loss is exacerbated. Another part of our past is irretrievably gone. Seize the moment to appreciate that which you have and value now. If that is a colleague, a friend, make your appreciation known.

Godspeed to our friend and colleague Chris as he embarks on the next chapter of his life with his wife Connie. Friends may retire. Friendship doesn't. There's a place in our hearts and in the consciousness of our little community that will always belong to a flightless bird from the South Pacific named Chris.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We meet at last!


What a lovely, clear early-spring evening in Amsterdam!  Perfect night for a walk to The Bird for Thai food.

and, of course, another selfie...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

CYBILL: My Last Trip as a Lineholder

Headed to work. My last trip as a line holder. It was an amazing month.

(on arrival in Frankfurt...)
Time for a nap and then check out the festivities. I guess they have a form of Mardi Gras here in Mainz too. Uh oh they don't know that NOLA is in da bulidin', they ain't ready. Lol