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Frankie "Smooth Talk"
Pilot Strike '83
CAL CEO Suicide
Scab list of shame (pdf)
Face The Nation
"My door is always open-bring me your problems."
"Deregulation is profoundly anti-labor... there has been a massive transfer of wealth from airline employees to airline passengers."
I left Navy active duty with all the excitement and expectations appropriate for what I thought would be my next long-lasting, exciting, and fulfilling career - that of an airline pilot with Continental Airlines. Regrettably, a year after airline deregulation, my timing couldn't have been worse. Once again, my great expectations would soon be dashed.
Continental Airlines was, at the time of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, a relatively small yet very successful, premier airline. It had routes predominately throughout the western U. S. including Hawaii, in the Pacific in Micronesia, and to Australia. It was widely noted then for its superior in-flight customer service and amenities. It was also at the time, the most desirable airline for any prospective pilot.
But that would all change as the effects of airline deregulation took hold, and more importantly later, as an unscrupulous man named Frank Lorenzo ravaged my airline and the industry.
Transition to civilian life for me was easy. Many of the pilots at Continental were former Naval Aviators whom I knew well. In fact, a surprisingly large number of instructor pilots at the elite Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun) abruptly jumped ship, going to Continental rather than continuing their very promising Navy careers. (Continental had hired a large proportion of Navy pilots, following an earlier visit by a group of their senior VP's aboard an aircraft carrier during flight operations at sea. But this sudden defection of elite Top Gun instructors shocked the Navy. Fortunately it led to improvements in pay and officer retention initiatives.)
Although now on-call on reserve status with irregular hours as an airline pilot, for me that was little different than being at sea on an aircraft carrier. But in this case, my trips away from home were only a few days at a time. They were not even remotely like the weeks of my many "short" Navy deployments and detachments, nor the much longer WestPac and Indian Ocean cruises with their difficult eight months of family separation aboard Navy aircraft carriers.
Certainly flight attendants were a new and welcome addition as working partners, as opposed to the 1970s gender-segregated, at-sea Navy. Most of all, there was a contagious, upbeat spirit that permeated the company at all levels. Everyone got along and all worked together. It was refreshingly, the best working environment; but it would soon, sadly take a turn for the worse.
In May of that year, tragically, an American Airlines DC-10 crashed at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. As a result of the accident investigation, all DC-10 aircraft - including Continental's - were subsequently grounded for 38 days.
This had a severe financial impact upon the airline, especially since they were unable to fly any of their Australia, or other long-haul routes. To make matters worse, a recession began in 1980. As a result, all planned expansion for the airline was cancelled, and a reduction in force began. After little more than a year, my new and exciting second career would be cut short with a furlough notice in late spring, with the actual furlough commencing that summer.
I didn't think - or I at least hoped my furlough would not last very long, and that I could soon return to Continental. At the time, I had not yet heard the name, Frank Lorenzo. Little did I know that he would later savage my airline and my co-workers, and would be the primary reason that I would never fly for Continental Airlines again.
During this attempted hostile takeover by Texas Air's Lorenzo and the many attempts to block it, the Chairman and CEO of Continental, A. L. Feldman took his own life at the airline's headquarters.
After his hostile takeover of Continental, Lorenzo intentionally filed for bankruptcy so he could abrogate all labor contracts, fire the entire workforce and then rehire at one-half wages and benefits! This naturally led to the long and bitter, CAL pilot strike of 1983.
After wrecking the lives of so many in the industry - labor and management alike - the Department of Transportation banned Lorenzo from the U.S. airline industry. Years later his efforts to re-enter with a new airline were thankfully rebuked by the DoT.
"As a businessman, Frank Lorenzo gives capitalism a bad name." — (William F. Buckley)
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