Saturday, January 30, 2016

"My First Commute"

He was born in the summer of his 27th year,
Coming home to a place he'd never been before...

For 32 years, my partner, Philip, and I have lived where we worked, in the cities where we were assigned to inflight bases:  Honolulu and Houston.  The opportunity to commute (live in a city other than where we were based) was always available.  Many of our friends did it in order not to disrupt their personal lives by moving every time they had a base change which, for some, is quite often.  Some commute from the beginning to the end of their careers.  Philip and I have been regaled by the horror stories that commuters have told about how difficult their commute was to join the same trip as us at our base.  So, we trod our own paths, living where we worked, even though it might not have been our chosen locale.

Exploring possibilities, we purchased part-time homes to make the most of our travel opportunities; a small home in coastal Maine and three different homes in Florida.  But as we aged, I think that Philip and I both realized that we'd like to spend our golden years split between our families and our family homes in Atlanta and Pensacola.  So, here we are.

For the next two weeks or so, we are Pensacola commuters, while the small condominium that we've purchased in Atlanta is made ready for our move–in.  I feel like I remember feeling as a new arrival at Mrs. Hamby's kindergarten, at the age of 5!  I feel excited, anxious, apprehensive...will I know what to do?  Will I make mistakes?  Will I be successful?  Even though I have performed my job for 30+ years and flown standby on time off for the same amount of time, there's something very unsettling about putting the two together for the first time.  And knowing that there's no turning back, no safety net.

Philip and I have discussed and tried to prosper from the experiences and advice of our colleagues and friends for whom commuting has always been a way of life.  But planning and doing are entirely different things.  I flew with my friend Mary last week who reassured me that in her 21 years as a commuter, she'd only missed one trip as the result of her commute.  In my eyes, Mary epitomizes the relaxed approach to anxiety-inducing things that is most often successful.  She doesn't over-think or over-plan.  Hers is a reasonable, rational approach to a logistical problem over which she does not have total control.  I want to be like Mary!

For example, I refused to let myself be concerned about my commute from Pensacola to Houston today until the day before my working trip, yesterday.  Yesterday morning, I spent a little time evaluating the 3 flights from Pensacola that would get me to Houston within the prescribed timeframe for my trip (I.e. Earlier than my 2015 check-in).  I also looked at alternatives from the airport in Mobile, just 50+ miles away, as a backup plan.  Everything looked reasonable, so I listed for the flight I wanted and carried on with my day.  It was wonderful that I could enjoy yesterday's beautiful weather and relaxed Pensacola atmosphere unfettered by anxiety and worry.  I am and will be a responsible commuter.  

Mary had further counsel, lest things should go uncontrollably awry:  the São Paulo trip that Philip and I tend to favor is perfect for last-minute glitches.  It's a very late check-in and very popular with our Flight Attendant colleagues.  In her experience, she has had ZERO difficulty trading it away at the last minute if circumstances dictate that her commute will not be successful.  No harm.  No foul.  Just make up the loss of flight time later in the month.  That knowledge and my commitment to being responsible will allow me to get the most out of my new reality.

And what a reality it is!  Living where we truly want to live and are most comfortable.  Being near those who matter most to us.  In my mind and in my heart, I'm asking, "Should we have done this sooner?"  Likely not.  Timing is everything.

This morning, my target flight showed 4 seats available, down from the 6 showing last night before bed.  I was one of two employees listed to standby.  As an additional fallback, this 50 seat regional jet has an extra Flight Attendant jumpseat that I can occupy, unless a Flight Atttendant who works for the regional carrier operating the flight wants to exercise the same option.  No worries!  Both the other standby and I were given passenger seats with plenty of time to spare, 11A for me.  One hour, fifteen minutes later, I'm in Houston, ready for work.

Today's success is heartening.  It will be tempered by a future challenge soon enough.  So, for now, I'll just say, "the commuting life is good" and I will feel happy, content, excited, accomplished...

just like I did on my first day at kindergarten with Mrs. Hamby, 50 years ago.  Who would believe I'd ever relive those moments again?

Life.  To be continued...

Departing Pensacola, we passed just to the north of our home in Navy Point ("Blew Inn"), with NAS Pensacola in the background.  From seat 11A, one can clearly make out Sherman Field, the home of the US Navy's Blue Angels and the "Cradle of Naval Aviation". 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Moving on. Moving forward.

At 1430 yesterday, Philip and I became former residents of the State of Texas with a signature. At around 1715, we drove outside her borders to seal the deal and to begin our "next chapter". 

There are so many reasons to say "I can't", advancing age being only one. But there is that overriding compulsion that keeps us moving forward:  curiosity. 

What's next?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sharing the Wealth

It takes so little...

Last night from Sao Paulo to Houston, our Dreamliner was booked to capactiy...BEFORE the cancellations of our flights to New York and Washington Dulles due to weather.  Naturally, the standby list for Houston was miles long!

I've been working Economy Class galley lately and noticed on our Preliminary Report that we had a few elite level frequent flyers in Economy and one of our most elite, most frequent flyers, in the center seat of the very last row, right in front of the galley.  I was finishing up my prep work and decided to keep my eyes open for our very HVC (high value customer) out of curiosity as much as anything.  What would we be able to do to improve his/her lot under such circumstances?

The first person to arrive for the last row was a person of extreme size, assigned to the "F" seat but whose mass would easily intrude onto the "E" seat on one side and the aisle on the other.  I foresaw the beginnings of an ugly 9+ hour reality for our very frequent flyer and continued to wait.  Eventually, a quiet family of 3 arrived in the vicinity of row 38.  "It can't be", I thought.

It was.

I moved to greet the "K" (first letter of last name) family and let them know that we would do what we could to improve their seating situation and make them as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances, thinking all the while that all three of them (the third K was an infant in arms) would be occupying the small space that remained in 38D & E.  Since I had time, I cruised up one aisle and down the other.  Nothing was open, of course.

I passed up into the B zone (International Business Class) and noticed that seat 6K appeared never to have been occupied.  I asked the Flight Attendant working the aisle who said no one had yet arrived for the seat.  I found an agent onboard who confirmed, "NO empty seats anywhere."  I returned to the aisle FA and asked if she showed anyone on her seat map.  What a relief!  It was assigned to passenger "K"!

When I returned to row 38, I let the Ks know that there would be no additional space onboard tonight and told them how relieved I was to learn that they had seat 6K in addition to 38DE.  Mr. K got the kindest look on his face, "You have been trying to help us all this time?".  "Yes, sir.  I mistakenly assumed that the 3 of you would have to share these seats and couldn't let that go without at least trying."

We read and hear much about our highest value customers, the "GSs" (as they're known internally), in social media.  Much of it is unflattering.  I want to go on record with testimony that my experience is very much different.  Mr. K (Asian, apparently Japanese) BOWED AT THE WAIST to acknowledge what I had tried to do for he and his family.  It may sound odd in retrospect but it was so genuine and reflexive in the moment.  He said that his wife would be taking seat 6K so that she could relax after a difficult day and that he would stay with his small son in row 38.  The other Economy Class FAs and I offered all at our disposal to make this family comfortable which, in reality, isn't much.  But our efforts were APPRECIATED.

Father and son fared well, on the whole.  The gentleman in 38F received our largesse in equal measure and was appreciative and gracious.  We all made it through a very long night together; some of us seemed to have actually rested well.  Isn't that what we are here to do?  Allay anxiety and provide comfort?

Upon arrival, Mr. K came across the cabin to find and thank me for our hospitality "and please pass it on to your co-workers."

So, that's what I'm doing...

Monday, January 18, 2016

"I have a dream."

We arrive as equals. We depart as equals. Yet we spend the entirety of the intervening years striving to prove we are anything but equal. 

"A little white baby born in the rural South in 1960 could never hope to comprehend the inequities that lay ahead of him and the little black baby lying in the crib next to him.

But he could try."  - Tony Reece 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Comeback Kid

"To my United Family –

Greetings and Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

My family and I are deeply grateful for your thoughts and prayers. It's given us strength and lifted our spirits.

I'm excited to let you know that today I'm headed to my Chicago home following my heart transplant. With the help of the amazing and caring team at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, I feel as strong as ever. My doctors have been impressed with my progress and foresee a quick recovery. I feel great, and it won't be long before we are working side by side again. Until that time, I expect to participate in key meetings and be involved in strategic planning.

Description: Description:
Oscar and part of his medical team on Jan. 11: Allen S. Anderson, M.D., Medical Director, Center for Heart Failure, Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, Northwestern Medicine (at left), and Duc Pham, M.D., Director of the Northwestern Medicine Heart Transplant Program (at right)

My new heart makes me feel like I've been given a new set of wings, and that reinforces my confidence that, with the wings we all share, we can soar in our quest to make United a great airline for our customers and a cherished place to work. I will be relying on this sense of team purpose as I transition back. We have some important decisions ahead of us, and we can move forward with the necessary boldness only if we have a shared trust, confidence and respect.

I know that a lot of you spent time away from family and friends these past few weeks getting our customers home to their loved ones. Thank you. Your hard work in the face of challenging conditions was exceptional, and our customers noticed. I couldn't be more proud of what you did and am pleased to share that we received our highest customer satisfaction performance for the holiday period in more than three years! It's a fantastic achievement.

As I thought about my return, I gave careful consideration to what greater things we can do together, and that has spurred my recovery. We've made a lot of positive changes these past few months thanks to your efforts. Take pride in these accomplishments and our success. Remember, even better days lie ahead if we stay focused on consistently earning our customers' trust. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to seeing you soon.



Monday, January 11, 2016

The Moment

29 years ago, a few hundred twenty-somethings, maybe a smattering of 30-somethings and perhaps a 40-something or two migrated west to open the Honolulu Flight Attendant Base for my then airline-employer.  Shortly after the base was established, an announcement came that we would soon be shedding our venerable, traditional beige uniforms, one of the last vestiges of a previously Proud Bird airline, wrent asunder by a corporate robber-baron in bankruptcy proceedings.  The new aubergine uniform was seen as an outward vestige of our company's metamorphosis, its transition into a new reality.

For time immemorial, youthful exuberance has a way of magnifying momentousness.  The proud bird beige had become a symbol of the past, a great past but one whose day had come and gone.  Replacement pieces were nearly impossible to come by.  Individualized touches of "flair" had become de rigueur and it was sometimes difficult to determine if you and a fellow crewmember were actually even wearing the same uniform.  So, when the day came to molt and emerge anew, the young ones of the Honolulu Base led the way in celebration.

A daybreak gathering at Sandy's drew a diverse crowd from the far-flung corners of the Pacific:  early morning arrivals from the "Guam bomb", from Sydney, Auckland, and Manila joined those local comrades free from duty at the beach.  The Honolulu Base was known for "sunrise services".  None was as jubilant, as colorful, as epic as the one captured in this evocative photograph.

FRIENDS, almost 30 years later, are scattered but forever bonded by a momentous tick of the clock of circumstance.

A New Day

"Let the rain come down and wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul and drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls for a new sun
A new day has come"

Thursday, January 7, 2016


I am 55 years old. 

I took "time off" during the holidays from my regular physical fitness routine as I do most years. This year, the difference I felt in my body after the off period was remarkable:  stiff, tight, achiness resulting from little or no exertion. I returned to activity with a beginner yoga class on Sunday.  It hurt; in a good/positive way. It was exactly what my aging body needed. 

The next day, a substitute instructor for my regular step class did a more "athletic conditioning" routine:  ballistic moves, intervals, very fast-paced. It hurt; in a good/positive way.  It was exactly what my aging body needed. 

Tomorrow, I return to my routine step with resistance class. I know that it will hurt; in a good/positive way. 

The body is a mechanical vessel for the spirit. It needs routine maintenance.  Occasionally, it needs a challenge. 

Hurt isn't always a bad thing.