Old Friends and New-hires ( #BIF guest post from my friend Mark Berry)
New-hires are among us. Not since before 9/11/2001 have I seen so many bright, shiny faces and new uniforms. As airline employees, we all love to fly, but the beaming smiles of new-hires are unmistakable. It has been a long time since our furloughed brothers and sisters have had the opportunity to return to work and the next generation of airline-industry employees has begun their careers. Their collective enthusiasm is contagious.
I had an awkward moment on my most recent trip. A co-pilot strolled up to me, called me by name, and said it was great to see me again since returning from his twelve-year furlough. I recognized his face, but his name refused to pop into my head. I know we have flown together, shared the hands-across-the-throttles relationship and close quarters of the cockpit, but my mind stayed blank. He asked about friends we have in common, but still his identity remained a mystery.
Have you ever encountered someone you are supposed to know, but you just can’t place him? Admitting I couldn’t put a name to his face would have been embarrassing, so I chickened-out and didn’t ask—as much as I wanted to. It was haunting, and worse than déjà-vu. I worry that brain fart was a sign that I am growing old—as if the gray hair wasn’t already an obvious signal of that.
There is little I value more than inter-personal relationships, and I work hard to remember all who I spend significant time with in the air and on the ground–although I have no special talent for it. I heard a rumor that former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher could remember every single one of his employees’ faces and names while his airline grew over the first twenty years. If that’s true, then it was truly an amazing feat. Relationships are what make us who we are.
A gaggle of new-hire flight attendants also caused me some recent consternation. Over a casual conversation between flights they revealed their ages, and to my surprise only one of them was even born when I was hired by TWA in 1988 (and she was only a year old). I told them I was a 727 flight engineer back when I was their age beginning my career. To my horror, one asked, “What’s a 727?” this was only topped by another who asked, “What’s a flight engineer?” It was then I remembered the salty captains I first flew with who proudly told me that I was just a gleam in my daddy’s eye when they started flying. I suddenly realized: I was now a full generation apart from my current crew.
Well, this old salt is happy to still be around to see the return of prosperity in the airline industry. I know that success is cyclical, and hope we are only seeing the beginning of long cycle. But whatever the future holds, I’m grinning along with the bright smiling faces I can only emulate but not duplicate.