A New Life – My First Introduction to the Airline Business
In January 2016, I left a 30 year career in radio to find a new path. Fear, doubt, and anxiety filled the vacuum at that time. I had no idea where life was going to take me. These writings are about my experiences and how I landed back in radio, but I truly hope they are inspirational to those who are going through something similar. The fear, doubt, and anxiety can all lead to a tailspin. I knew that. I also knew that I had to keep moving toward something…..and hang on.
Punctuality. It was stressed on our first day at the People's Department. "Do not be late"! There could be no good reason beyond death in the family or your own death to be a valid reason for tardiness or an absence. Each time this was said, I immediately thought of I-25 South. I live in Fort Collins and I had and have no desire to move. As much as I loved this opportunity with Southwest Airlines, I was not going to move the family to Denver or in parts nearby. The family has spent too much time and have grown too many roots to pull up and move. Also, we love Northern Colorado.
Our first week of training was to take place at DIA Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. For those who have driven to the airport from Northern Colorado or do it frequently, you have already done the math. It's an hour without traffic. Then, there's the unpredictability of I-25. Even at 6 a.m., one fender bender can tie up traffic for miles. I had to factor in the "just in case" time allotment. I also had to factor in parking and shuttle bus time to the terminal. I came up with: leaving the house three hours before start time. That't right. Up at 3:30 a.m. and on the road at 4:30 a.m. to be there and ready by 7:30 a.m. That three hour prior departure routine never left me. It's what I did everyday I worked at DIA for over a year. I was NEVER late.
Our classroom was on the mezzanine level in concourse C. It's another level up after you get off the escalator's from the shuttle train. Our instructor was Wade who had been with Southwest for many a year. He was a very polite and patient instructor who, as it turns out, is a Colorado State University graduate. His patience was certainly tested as he was more accustomed to five or eight people in his class. He was dealing with 22 with our class, most of us knowing nothing of the airline business. There were about three people who had worked with another airline or with Southwest at one point.
What we learned the first week was more about Southwest as a company. The perks, like: flying free, what an "originator" is (first flight out for an aircraft) and what a "terminator" is (last flight for an aircraft), airport codes (three letter designation for an airport. Denver is "DEN"), 401k, mandatory overtime versus voluntary overtime, etc. And, the acronyms! For example, "FOD" is foreign object debris which is stuff found on the ground that, if sucked into an engine, can cause damage to both plane and persons. I remembered that from my time with Fed Ex, but the rest of the acronyms were foreign to me.
Wade was also preparing us for our trip to Dallas where we would have to go through SWA-U, their corporate training facility, also known as "TOPS". I'm sure that's an acronym, but I don't know what for. What we were learning that week would be reinforced in Dallas.
I was feeling really good about the company and the job as a ramp agent. It was all so positive and exciting. But, this was only the first week. The following week we were to get more instruction and training from a ramp supervisor. The realities of the job, and the dangers of the job, were going to be game changers.