Saturday, May 11, 2013

Third Time's a Charm, Part 2

Continued from last post (click here to read it)

Garth eagerly made the call to the VP of Flight Ops (whom I'll call Herb)—the man who had given him his card. But Herb was a busy man and it took a long time to get the call returned. When finally he called Garth back the conversation was encouraging. “I'll call the training center and ask them to schedule an interview with you ASAP,” Herb said. Garth was ecstatic. He still couldn't believe his luck. The next few weeks he was on cloud nine as he worked the aisles with his flight attendant peers.

But no letter came inviting him to the interview. He waited, growing ever more anxious. Should he call Herb back, or wait longer? Would the busy Herb even remember him. Or, was it all a dream? He paced and fretted. Finally he called Herb. The return call took agonizing days, but finally it came.

Herb was astounded that the “New Hire Department” had not followed his recommendation. He promised Garth he would follow up. Within hours Herb called back. It was done! If Garth didn't get a letter within a week, Herb wanted to know about it. Finally things were looking up. It was no dream.

The Frasca simulator

The letter came and Garth dressed in his Sunday best. He reported to the training center and began the arduous process. First the physical, then the simulator flight. Garth had been out of Navy cockpits for a few years; naturally he would be rusty. But he reasoned he had been good at very demanding and challenging flying jobs in the Navy. He should easily be able to handle a Frasca simulator. The Frasca was a very basic simulator many airlines used in their hiring process. It was designed to train general aviation pilots on instrument and multi-engine procedures, but some airllines used it for the specific purpose of weeding out those who didn't have the basic coordination and cross-scan skills to perform at this level. It was a lot cheaper than using a big jet simulator. 
Garth's Frasca ride went a bit shaky, but he figured they'd take into account his years of idleness and cut him some slack. They didn't. He was aghast when they told him there would be no final interview.

Garth went back to work in the back of the company's big jets wondering how he could ever have been so complacent. Then to his surprise, Herb called. Herb had checked up on him and learned the bad news. He consoled Garth and urged him to practice up and try it again. A second chance was almost unheard of, but Herb apparently liked him. His luck, he figured, had not yet ran out.

Garth came up with the cash to buy sim time in a simulator similar to the one in which he flunked. He re-applied. His guardian angel in the executive building was still watching. He was invited back.

This time the sim went much better. His cross-scan was much improved and he flew the holding pattern and approaches almost flawlessly. But suddenly the sim froze (stopped). The evaluator jumped up and said, “Why are you doing that?” Garth looked at him, puzzled. “Because that's the way I briefed it to you!”

“No, you did not brief me that we would do that,” the man said. Garth felt exasperated. “In the Navy we briefed everything in total detail. That's the way I do things. I'm telling you I did brief you on this and you didn't object!”

He finished the sim ride, retired to his hotel and waited word. Then a call came. His interview was scheduled the next day. He relaxed and smiled. But he was to discover that his feelings of relief were a cruel deception.

Sorry, but my time—like Garth's incredible luck—is running out. I'm in Lima, I've got to take off at midnight tonight and head north. I must try and get some shut-eye. Till next post, adios.

A welcome sight after an all-nighter up from the Deep-deep South.
Engines spooling down and the sun coming up.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Third Time's a Charm (Part 1)

Do you aspire to fly with the big leagues of the airline game? Have you been lucky enough to land an interview, only to get the dreaded letter that says they are so sorry they can’t use you and good luck in your flying career? Or do you just wonder how that whole preposterous convoluted process works? I once blogged on my experience getting hired at my airline. Click here if you wish to read it: How I Tried Not To Get Hired. But now I’m compelled now to tell you what happened to Garth (not his real name).

Garth was one of my first officers on the trip I just finished down to Sao Paulo. It was an excellent trip. Garth is easy to get along with, as was the other F/O and we enjoyed bellying up to the table at one of SP’s delightful sidewalk cafes. Garth knew exactly where to go. The place was right out of Saint Exupery, and not so far removed from it. As he cut into his tender medium-rare grass-fed bovine slab and washed it down with a rich Patagonian Malbec, he casually mentioned his last job. I froze in mid-bite. That job was highly unusual for a pilot, especially one with a military background. I then bade his story to be told, and a bizarre one it was.

Garth was a Navy pilot. He flew hellos and later T-34s as an instructor at that winged squid mecca, Pensacola. It was some of the greatest years of his life, he said. Aspiring to make himself as attractive as possible to a big airline he flew the T-34 mission as much as he could. He volunteered to fly test hops, instruction flights, evaluation flights and cross-countries. He racked up the hours. He fattened his resume, too, with some time in a bigger mount, the DC-9 which the Navy used for hospital patient flights. Then the time came for him to become a civilian airman. He separated from the USN and filed his applications.

Nothing happened. Nothing. The grocery funds got low. He pondered doing something else with his life—the airline business was obviously bypassing him. Then he hit on an idea. “I’m a people person,” he said. “I like to help people, serve them, laugh with them. I thought maybe I should become a flight attendant.” He applied.

Seeing the tall, big-shouldered handsome bronze-skinned and very articulate ex-Navy jock must have reminded the interview panel of Val Kilmer in “Top Gun” and they hired him immediately. He set about plying the skies in the aisles behind the compartment he wish to be in, but he made no complaint about his new station in life and commenced to make many friends, including a flight attendant who was to become Mrs. Garth. Then one day as he was conversing with his fellows in the forward galley, a business-suited passenger in first class overheard him mention that he was a Navy pilot.

The man beckoned him over. “I heard you say you were a Navy pilot,” the fancy-suiter said. “Why are you back here rather than up there?” His finger pointed toward the cockpit. Garth smiled and shrugged. “I couldn’t get an interview.” The man handed him a business card. “Call me later.  Let’s talk.” 

Being enjoined by his purser to get to work, Garth thanked the man and pocketed the card without looking at it. He would learn later that the bearer of the card was the company vice-president of flight operations.

So, you think Garth’s unbelievable good fortune in meeting this man became his ticket to the front office? Think again. But tune in next blog to find out, because they say you’re not supposed to make blog entries too long ;) 
Sao Paulo, Brazil was named after the Apostle Paul of Tarsus. These pictures, taken BTW by the jumpseat pilot on approach, show how it is the largest city in the southern hemisphere, and the ninth largest city in the world with over 20 million souls. Incredible. This definitely ain't Kansas.