Reflections From A Former Airline Agent

January 22, 2010

in Attendant & Pilot Stories

In 1988 fresh out of college, I decided I wanted to work for the airlines so I could see the world.  So, I went to the International Air Academy in St. Louis to learn the trade.  After three months at the trade school, I went to work for Braniff Airlines in Kansas City, MO. (MCI).

This was the second incarnation of Braniff, after the first bankruptcy.  Many of my co-workers had worked for the original Braniff for 20+ years.  And, these people were some of the most dedicated, hard working people I had ever met.  Most were company people all the way.

I was paid $6.25 per hour.  $12,000.00 per year!  The flight benefits were fantastic.  But, I couldn’t afford cabs, hotels or amusements at any destination, so seeing the world thing didn’t work out quite the way I had hoped.

We were members of the Teamsters Union for some reason.  And, yes I noticed many people taking advantage of the union membership… sleeping in our break room, moving slowly, etc… And, many got away with laziness.

However, we were still held to a different standard than many airline employees today, in dress, appearance and manner in which we could treat the customers.  I saw many people that were written up for shirts being untucked, or for being rude to customers.  Three write-ups and you were terminated.  And, many were fired.

Anyway, several anecdotes:

1) Still amazed at the memory of working the gate, and the number of people who would run up to the gate yelling, “hold the plane”!  Really?  They expected me to call back the plane.  Inconvenience the 180 people on the 727 that made it on time, for the convenience of one who overslept?  Of course, being customer service minded, I would tell the customer, let me see what I can do.  So, I would fake call the station manager… only for the fake station manager to say, sorry the fake FAA will not allow us to pull the plane back to the gate.

2) Amazed at the number of people who would threaten to sue because of a late flight, cancelled flight, mechanical or inclement weather.  Being a young, inexperienced kid, this scared me the first time.  These people were going to sue Braniff, the airport, the city and me personally… they were going to take my $6.25 per hour!  However, after the hundredth threat of being sued… I learned these were just blowhards.  And, while I would be polite to them.  I would inwardly laugh at their ignorance.

3)  I remember the lady whose sister had died in Los Angeles.  She made a reservation via phone.  But, got to the airport and no flights were leaving because of inclement weather.  She insisted that we make an exception in her case and let the plane leave.  I apologized profusely, called other airlines to see if they had flights to no avail.  I called our lead, and he had me sit with her for two hours until her flight finally scheduled to leave… bringing her coffee and food from the Host International Cafe.  I wonder if airlines would still do this today?

4) Remember this was 1988, I was a kid.  A flight was delayed due to a mechanical.  This gentlemen says he will lose his company if he doesn’t make this meeting.  He asks me to fax a proposal for him.  I think what the heck is a fax?  I called my lead, who calls our station manager, Braniff does not have a fax.  I call a buddy at Southwest.  Southwest does not have a fax, but he says TWA does.  So, I call TWA, walk the passenger to the TWA ops office, and look at the fax machine dumbfoundedly.  And, a secretary has to show us how to use it!

Not flights from hell but pleasant musings anyway.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

paul January 21, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Braniff brings back memories.

I worked the ramp in western canada and my buddies and me would always seem to have a side bet guessing what color the plane would be

Ahhh those were the days


D-Money January 22, 2010 at 4:52 am

Yep, those were the good "no so ol'" days. 🙂


D-Money January 22, 2010 at 4:54 am

Oops, "Not so ol'" days, I mean.

Too bad that true "customer service" has gone the way of the dodo.


Jim January 22, 2010 at 4:59 am

Hi. I am the one to originally post this story. I have to agree, working for Braniff was one of my most enjoyable jobs. Other than working holidays and weekends, and other than the lousy pay….it was a lot of fun. Most people flying at that time were quite pleasant….people going on vacation…happy to be leaving town…and, even the business travelers seemed to know the drills and be pleasant. Of course, I feel those in the airline industry at that time, had to treat the customers better….so, maybe customers were more pleasant, because airline personnel were more pleasant to them.


ps January 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Jim…Thanks…Great musings….Post some more…


Julie January 23, 2010 at 4:41 am

Here, Here!! Great musings, just what I've wanted to say. I worked for NW/9E for 5 years and when I had to quit I was heartbroken. The only job I have ever loved and I had to quit. I started out in 2001 (5 mths before 9-11) at $6.75 per hour and weh I quit I was up to $10 and change. I won't ever understand why a person working at McD's can make more money than someone handling and in control of multi million equipment and countless souls. Lucky, I'm still able to work at the airport at a travel agency-once jet fuel gets into your blood it's hard to get it out!


Demotage January 22, 2010 at 7:14 am

To answer the question you posed in 2, no they wouldn't. 3 neither.

My GF was a gate agent for Pan Am. She told me that on more than one occasion some blowhard, unhappy with something would demand it with the line " don't you know who I am?". She said that they would get on the PA and ask if anyone recognized the gentleman at the gate, because he couldn't remember who he was.


MF February 2, 2010 at 6:03 am

Who gives a rat's ass?


mike February 16, 2010 at 3:02 am

How do we know you did not also "fake call" the other times you claim you called, such as for the lady with the death in the family, and the guy who said he would lose his business?


Ilovefyling February 5, 2016 at 4:04 am

Dude this was waaay back when customer service cared!(well more then they do now at least) and come on why would they fake call for a person who relative died??? Stop being an idiot and look at the year! He said 1988 which meant stricter rules in the airports and airlines!


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