Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fading Away



I enjoyed another nice layover in Sao Paulo despite the madhouse atmosphere on the streets over the coming World Cup. That and the social unrest over the government’s spending on that event, to the exclusion of other things the country needs, is fueling bad juju with the folks.

Nevertheless they all are excited about the games. I heard that Team USA checked into our hotel while I was sleeping off the all-night leg down from Houston, but I never saw any of them during the layover.

We had decided earlier to splurge a bit to celebrate my coming freedom and so planned to dine at Bovinas. While waiting for the restaurant’s van to pick us up another United crew showed up. Good. The more the merrier.

As the two crews sat across the table exchanging pleasantries and news of mutual friends I noticed the other captain, a guy named Bill, was mostly quiet. When Bill got up to go to the salad bar one of his guys told me he was about to retire—the very day before I do. I thought I would humor him a bit. When he got back I said, “Bill, I just heard you retire July 19th. You old fart!”

He looked back at me, expressionless. Then he looked aside at his first officers. “I told you guys not to bring that up.” They laughed nervously and goaded me to tell him when I retire. I told him. I was expecting at least some emotional response from what I considered some sort of a brother now that we were virtually walking out the door together. All I saw was a guy looking down picking at his salad.

I decided to leave it be, but the outher guys started pelting me with questions about what I was planning to do (see previous post for answer). After a spirited and funny exchange with them, curiosity overcame me and I asked Bill what retirement trip he had in mind. With absolutely no emotion in his face or voice he shook his head and said, “Nothing. I just want to fade out.”

I pondered that for a minute and knew it was best to change the subject, but I couldn’t help but ask him one more question, the one I had been answering profusely to the other guys for the last ten minutes. What was he going to do in retirement? His terse answer: “Look for a job.”

I was astounded. This guy had been hired in 1978. He was super-senior. He could easily have two million in his retirement accounts; could hold any airplane he wanted as captain; could have any base he wished; any schedule, any vacation. He was a top dog on the much revered seniority list. But why was he so bitter?

I was not to find out, but the next night on the northbound flight we discussed it. Maybe he had personal problems. Maybe the company had done him wrong somehow. Maybe financial problems. Two or three ex-wives, perhaps? Who knows? There are unlimited ways a guy can screw up his life. I wrote Bill off as an oddity and hoped his future would be bright. My thoughts turned to my own much anticipated retirement trip. I would see the boss next morning about it.

The company had established an impressive method of sending its pilots into retirement, to include special consideration on where the honoree wants to go; two free reserved first class seats or four free reserved coach seats for his or her guests; up to two extra hotel rooms at corporate rates; a water cannon salute upon return—courtesy the airport fire department; and a cake and a presentation in the pilots lounge at the completion of the trip. I wanted all of this. I would not be a bitter fader-outer like Bill.

The “flight manager” as he is called, welcomed me into his office. He congratulated me and asked the usual questions about what I planned to do (see last post again). Then I asked him what the protocol is for arranging that final celebratory flight. He said, “Well, it’s a bit early yet. We need to see what your July line looks like when it comes out and we’ll make adjustments. Where do you want to go?”

I said, “Frankfurt. But I’m not a line holder. I’m a reserve.”

He frowned. He took out a copy of the rulebook mumbling, “Hmm. I’ve never done this for a reserve pilot before.” A minute passed as he read and rubbed his chin. “This is not very clear,” he said. “Excuse me for a minute.” He went out, apparently to seek consultation with someone.

He came back with a long look on his face and drew a deep breath. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you.”

I sat stunned, mouth agape, not knowing what to say. He continued saying, “ALPA and the company apparently got together and decided that you guys can’t pick your trip because that would usurp the seniority protocol.” He shrugged. “All you can do is take what they give you or try to pick up an open trip. I’m sorry.”

I slowly got up and turned away. I remember mumbling to no one in particular, “So, that’s that.”

As I walked out his door without further comment he said, “It didn’t used to be that way around here.” I didn’t look back.

I found a quiet place and sat and tried to make sense of it. Even if I was lucky enough to find an open Frankfurt trip, or any other exactly when I needed it, it would be too late for all those other arrangements. Those things needed time and coordination. The promised reserved seats had to be booked early, not hours before I got the trip assignment.

I rubbed my face and stared at the floor, unbelieving it had come to this. The company and the union—if the flight manager had been right—had thrown me and all other retiring reserve pilots under the bus. My 25 years of service—most of which I spent as a line-holder, not as a reserve—meant nothing. I didn’t feel special in the least. I was simply a paper clip used and thrown away in the everyday business of corporate commerce. There would be no fini flight. My family had been talking about it for weeks. Some of them wanted to go along. What would I say?

The vision of Bill sitting across that table looking down at his salad came to mind, and his statement, “I plan on just fading away.”

I guess that's what I'll do too.
"Old soldiers never die. They just fade away."
--Gen. Douglas MacArthur
The northern Andes decompression escape procedure depicted on the EHSI.

            
 I just spent ten and a half lonely, dark hours in that office.

20 comments:

The Crow said...

I wandered over here from Mike Mulligan's blog (Memoirs of a Cardiopulmonary Guy).

What a crappy thing for a company to do, after such loyal, dependable service. Sorry to read about this, but don't fade away. I hope your comrade in arms, Bill, won't, either.

Best wishes and good luck!

Capt. Schmoe said...

Alan,

Congrats on your retirement! Sorry it didn't work out the way you intended. I'm sure that had you known, you would have bid a line for your last month. As you didn't know, I'm just guessin' that not many ultra senior captains bid reserve.

It's still kind of crappy that things couldn't have been handled better.

Pulling the pin is a pretty monumental event for many of us. I underestimated how much I would miss parts of my career field, though many parts I am grateful I will never again have to deal with.

Bill will have to come to terms with post career life, as will you. Each will have a different approach in dealing with the issue, there really is no checklist or flow to resolve the issues.

The manner in which you leave is part of the process, one which might cause a change in plans or short term goals.

Either way, it will invariably work out.

Whatever you do, don't stop writing.

Cedar Glen said...

Hi Alan,
Echoes of Capt. Schmoe above; It sucks. You have countless ways to quietly express your displeasure, but as a professional you will not use them. Operational and contractual considerations are none of my business or that of many other regular readers. We know who you fly for and they will sell a bit fewer seats this summer while a few of us make other arrangements. Even if your employer screws you one last time, you will not just fade away. With the gift of words and much to say, some of which has been restricted, you have a voice that needs to be heard. After your retirement is official, don't let that voice get stale. When that is completed, you have many other topics to share. I hope that you continue writing. Best wishes - please don't become a "Bill." -C.

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson opened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. You are just finishing a record and beginning to start a new one, and I am sure that it too will be a hit.

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson opened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. You are just finishing a record and beginning to start a new one, and I am sure that it too will be a hit.

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson opened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. You are just finishing a record and beginning to start a new one, and I am sure that it too will be a hit.

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson opened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. You are just finishing a record and beginning to start a new one, and I am sure that it too will be a hit.

tuttputt said...

I am now a robot in a death spiral
As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson opened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. You are just finishing a record and beginning to start a new one, and I am sure that it too will be a hit.

Anonymous said...

Paper clip was a good analogy Alan, for I too was in your shoes as I faded out the door. On reserve on the 400 I thought too of the last flight. It appeared a shock to the front office that I was about to retire and nothing was said or done, other than a handshake, quick picture and a boot out the door. Finding things to keep the brain and body occupied is the challenge now because the job was ALL. Take care Alan ...been nice knowing you.
Ramon Navarro ex-ORDFO

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson reopened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror that the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. I guess it could also be expressed by my other self " OllyPharton" that "life is a series of flights and glides between where my wings depart and return to earth". You are just finishing a flight and beginning to start a new flight and I am sure that it too will be a good ride......Frank Tuttle...come glide with us at Eagleville

Alan Cockrell said...

Ramon! Great to hear from you. I didn’t know you had retired. Your boyish good looks deceived me. I always regarded you as an articulate, thoughtful person and a consummate professional. But the job is not ALL, as you said. It’s just a chapter that’s been read. Start a new one. There a lot of ways you can use your life experiences to help people down there in south Florida, or wherever you go. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Best wishes, ole friend. And I hope you have finally forgiven me for leaving popcorn crumbs on your carpet.

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson reopened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror that the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. I guess it could also be expressed by my other self " OllyPharton" that "life is a series of flights and glides between where my wings depart and return to earth". You are just finishing a flight and beginning to start a new flight and I am sure that it too will be a good ride...
Frank tuttle...come glide with us at Eagleville

tuttputt said...

As a friend used to say, press on and don't look back. Please do not not fade away and do consider to continue to "let it out" every now and then for us in your new future. Not sure if you watch movies, but the movie " Schmitt" with Jack Nicholson reopened the eyes a bit as to "company" attitude and pre conceived retirement ideas. I am confident that after you rip off your rear view mirror that the unrestricted view ahead will be just as informative and interesting. When you look and an old record player, the only place that makes music is where the needle hits the record. There is no music in front of that needle or behind of that needle. I guess it could also be expressed by my other self " OllyPharton" that "life is a series of flights and glides between where my wings depart and return to earth". You are just finishing a flight and beginning to start a new flight and I am sure that it too will be a good ride...
Frank tuttle...come glide with us at Eagleville

dedgemon said...

Welcome to way the rest of world lives Alan. :-) Don't worry, you'll eventually get used to the idea that you're not entirely special. Hopefully this isn't too harsh, but I have to say that for the great majority of other professions, fading into retirement is entirely normal. Maybe a 2 hour retirement party with a bad cake and thats about it.

Enjoy your RV and your freedom and don't fret over the company antics that are beyound your control. Its the people that matter, not the ceremony.

Alan Cockrell said...

Thanks, Dave, but I disagree. This profession is special. That's what I've been trying to demonstrate all these years with this blog. If it were tradition to put a water cannon salute across an engineer's desk on his last day and that didn't happen, I think he might wonder why they forgot about him.

dedgemon said...

Actually Alan, my point was that it USED to be special. Don't believe me, ride in the back sometime!. Just like so many other professions used to be considered special. It was once the norm to spend your entire career at one company. Now we tend to spend our entire career at one discipline but multiple companies. Companies come and go. The younger generations will not even do that.

Enjoy the road ahead and don't have angst about what used to be. (Easy for me to say right!)

Anonymous said...

i'm with Captain on this one: the day when being responsible for 100+ souls at fl300 is "just another job", is the day i'll chose to drive rather than buy a plane ticket. Ahem, wait, i am doing this already :(

keep us posted, Captain, definitely don't fade away. And thanks

Jan Ahlers said...

Captain,

congratulations on your upcoming retirement and thank you once more for your excellent blog. Of the multitude of aviation blogs I follow, yours is the best. Keep it going!

Cheers from Germany
Jan

PS: What an honor for EDDF to be your choice for your last trip - I keep my fingers crossed that it will work out for you!

Anonymous said...

Well, that's really crappy. I'll never understand the detached machinations of large organizations.

I also don't understand by what machinations they can have you there for 25 years and not have you holding a line.

I also hope you continue writing!

Alan Cockrell said...

Dear Anon: When I took the 767 captain bid I was a lineholder. Then the company began down-sizing and I was forced down the list into reserve status. I could have taken a bid to Airbus captain or to right seat on a 747 and been a line holder again, but it was my choice to stay put.