History of Business Express

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Friday, September 08, 2006

History of BEX According to me


This is a completely unauthorized and probably slightly biased history of the regional airline business in Connecticut from 1979 – 1993, according to me. As a result of several mergers and acquisitions it is also a partial history for Business Express, NewAir, and Pilgrim Airlines. I have written this purely from a personal standpoint, with help from a friend or two, but basically from memory and based upon my employment with these three airlines. It may contain some inaccuracies in the chronology of events but I have tried to be as objective as possible. Agree with me or not, this is how I recall the first 14 years of my career in the airline industry.

NewAir 1978 – 1984

By 1978 New Haven Airway's charter services had expanded into scheduled airline service, though the word "airline" needs to be in quotations in that sentence because the service was provided in Piper Aztecs and Navajo Chieftains. The Aztec had 5 passenger seats and the Chieftain had 9, each of those including a passenger that rode shotgun; something I am sure the TSA would have a lot to say about nowadays. But this was before all passengers were presumed to be terrorists until proven innocent.

Initially NHA provided HVN-ISP-BWI scheduled service and did reasonably well on a morning and afternoon roundtrip. During the NHA charter heydays there was a lot of traffic between HVN and Long Island, usually Farmingdale and Islip, primarily from Yale University. So whatever traffic wanted to hop over the LI Sound was happy to sit next to those folks wanting to go all the way to BWI. The only difficult part was when the Chieftain was down for maintenance and we subbed an Aztec. Then it was "OK Baltimore passengers in back, Islip people up front."

By 1979 Pilgrim Airlines was a well established regional airline that served LGA and JFK from PVD, GON, HVN, BDL, MHT, and occasionally BDR (a coincidence of a weekend routing that sent an airplane LGA-BDR-HVN-BOS). It also served BDR and HVN from BOS, and BDL to YUL, and other assorted weird city pairs like BDL-MHT, PVD-BOS, and PVD-GON-ISP. Begun in 1962 serving Groton to Idewild in Volpars, by 1979 Pilgrim's service was provided by a fleet of venerable Twin Otters (the 100 series) with the longer haul service provided in Fokker F27's of the 1950s vintage, and a smattering of Beech 99’s mixed in for good measure. I remember flying in the F27 and listening to the pneumatics when the gear came down; it reminded me of riding in a city bus when you heard that big “psssssssh” rush of air. The interiors of the Pilgrim airplanes were very utilitarian, and I recall overhead luggage storage on the F27 was initially accomplished with netting rather than a bin with a closing door. The tray tables were think and heavy, almost a Formica-like material, the ash trays looked like they belonged in a 1962 Oldsmobile, and the general appearance of the interior kind of dank. Later on the interior on one or two F27s were refurbished with real closing overhead bins and more modern seats, and it was a nice looking airplane inside. One of the weird things about the Pilgrim F27 fleet was the myriad of configurations, some with 40 seats, some with 44, and one with 48. So it was a crap shoot which airplane you got every day, causing some station problem with bumped passengers.
Initially the service provided by New Haven Airways did not directly compete with Pilgrim from HVN, though Pilgrim had direct competition a few of its other markets.

I started work with New Haven Airways as a senior in high school in 1972 and worked through the summer before my first year in college. I worked the front desk and scheduled charter flights and flight instruction. I took a year off from school between my freshman and sophomore year and went back to work at NHA on the front desk again. After I went back to school I stayed working part time at NHA and got a job cleaning out the Allegheny Airlines Convair 580s that overnighted in HVN, which is a sweet job for a college kid. The airplane landed at 2100 and needed to be ready by 0500, and I got in to all kinds of almost-trouble. My indiscretions ranged from turning on the windshield wipers in the cockpit to once accidentally popping out an emergency window. It was one of my top 3 most favorite jobs ever, except for the part about dumping the lavs into the “honey bucket”. Even at that time, the 580s had a few miles on them and the fittings used for the lav hook-ups had seen better days. After connecting the hose to the fitting it was necessary to open a valve which invariably leaked. Being located overhead was problematic, and the best thing that would happen would be to have “blue stew” run down your arm. I began wearing a windbreaker jacket with an elastic band around my wrist to at least keep the stuff off my skin. I made up for this problem by acquiring a fairly extensive collection of Allegheny Airlines blankets.

I graduated college in 1977 and after 3 years of trying my luck at a music career, I came back to NHA as a fueler. By that time NHA has begun their limited scheduled service and after a short time I parlayed my BS in Music Education and time at the charter and flight instruction schedule desk into an airplane scheduler and fare filing job for the tiny airline.

At some point in 1979 or 1980 New Haven Airways applied for the HVN-DCA route that had been abandoned by Allegheny Airlines during the initial flurry of “route rationalization” that occurred after the Deregulation Act of 1979. Over the years HVN-DCA service that had been variously provided by Eastern Air Lines and Allegheny/USAir in anything from a 727, a BAC111, or a Convair 580 both nonstop and via PHL, was subsequently replaced by a Nord 262 (26 passenger turboprop) HVN-PHL-DCA by AL's regional partner Ransome Airlines (a really bad name for an airline). Surprising everyone (even themselves), NHA was awarded this route under what was called Dormant Route Authority. This required that NHA acquire the landing slots to be used for this service from what was then called the ATA Slot Committee. So NHA lined up next to PA, EA, TW, and the rest of the big boys and picked up enough slots to run a morning and afternoon nonstop flight from HVN to DCA. The ritual to acquire these slots happened twice a year, and I was the NHA representative attending these meetings. I got a glimpse of what must have been the “heyday” of the airline business and learned a few things from guys that were older than my Dad. I also learned that most of the slot negotiating occurred after the meeting in the bar.

Initially this HVN-DCA service was provided in the Navajo Chieftain but the loads were very good and it was soon evident that the route needed a larger airplane. Surprisingly (at least to us, since at that time we had no idea about market segmentation or even how big the HVN-DCA market was) the HVN-DCA route did not take anything away from the HVN-ISP-BWI flight, most likely due to the limited seat availability on each airplane. At some point in 1980 NHA made the "move up" to turboprops with the acquisition of an 18 seat (15 useable to DCA) twin engine non-pressurized turbo prop made in Brazil and called the Embraer Bandierante.

As the one in charge of trying to promote this service (my job had expanded a bit), the airplane name caused some me basic problems in communication. How do you even pronounce "Bandierante", never mind spell it. We shortened it to "Bandit", but somehow charging $150 each way (yes, this was before discounts) to fly for 1:45 at 10,000 feet in a rather noisy nonpressurized airplane was close enough to thievery without calling the airplane itself a Bandit. I guess Bandit is a better airplane name than Twin Otter, which was routinely shortened to "Twotter" when I was a fueler. And of course the F27 being manufactured by Fokker was close enough to the "F" word that it didn't make sense to put that in the header line of your newspaper ad - "Fly our Fokkers".

Although I can't recall exactly when the line was crossed and NHA began competing with Pilgrim Airlines, I believe it was when we started HVN-EWR service, which was on July 1, 1983. Coincidentally, the day we started service was a few days after the Mianus River Bridge collapsed in Greenwich on I-95; the main highway from Southern CT to New York. With I-95 closed, our new service was an instant success. We had anticipated that HVN-EWR would be basically a connecting market, similar to HVN-LGA and JFK flights provided by Pilgrim in their Twin Otters, and we had even negotiated a quasi code sharing deal with TWA. At that time however EWR had much less service for NHA to connect with than LGA or JFK. However with the main highway between Southern CT and New York closed, even though just temporarily, the new service started off really well.

[As an aside, some of my other airline "friends" began kidding me about sabotaging the bridge in order to ensure the success of the new HVN-EWR service. Combining that with my Italian heritage, it wasn't long before my nickname became "Guido" and the story had me sending a hit team down to Greenwich in the dead of night to disable the bridge. This was always said in fun; there were several fatalities in the incident and this in no way was meant to trivialize this serious incident.]

At this point I learned my first lesson in airline infrastructure, which is that adding airplanes and routes is the easy part – the hard part is supporting them. Up to now reservations were taken by telephone by our HVN ticket agents between flights, although we had a couple of “res only” agents. The manual system initially involved putting reservations in a notebook, but then evolved to an entire wall in our back office covered with plastic 8 ½ x 11 pouches stuffed with reservations data and a passenger manifest taped to the outside. By that time we were publishing schedules in the OAG, accepting teletype reservations, and sending out manual AVS messages (availability messages for closed out flights). As part of the TWA relationship we acquired their reservations system but it too had limitations, and we still had to manually keep track of the number of people booked and send out the AVS messages as flights closed out.

In an attempt to jazz itself up New Haven Airways changed its name to NewAir and started sporting a new logo and paint scheme. Well, almost anyway. We could do new logos on business cards and stationary but we really couldn't afford to paint all the airplanes, so the best we could do was slap the NewAir name somewhere on our airplanes. The fleet paint scheme had, shall we say, a lot of variety. I know at one point we had an orange and black Twin Otter, lovingly called "The Pumpkin", and another Twin Otter that had the name "Key Largo" painted under the Captain's side window by the previous owner. The two Bandits were in basically the old NHA paint scheme with the logo of NewAir slapped on the side of it. (One of these airplanes was featured in Flying magazine in 1981).

NewAir Management

Although there were others, my comments on NewAir management will be limited to nly two Vice Presidents of Operations. Since NewAir was still part of New Haven Airways (at least for a short time), there was typically only one senior NewAir manager, and that was the VP of Operations. Finance and Administration people split their time between the scheduled airline and the flight school and charter departments.

The first VP of Operations for NewAir is someone who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this little endeavor, and the reason why will become obvious shortly. He was a nice guy, in his 30’s, and was one of the first people to start teaching me about the airlines. He was single and had a nice car, then bought a new jeep as his “second” car, and always bought lunch.

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was no choice but to use a paper ticket, and although credit card transactions were plentiful, there were also a fair amount of cash transactions as well. The receipts for each shift were listed on a “cash out” form and deposited into a safe under the ticket counter in HVN. One day our accounting person came to me and said she had a problem with a cash out and asked me for help. In researching a refund request she had found that our copy of the ticket showed it was “void”. We checked the cash out form and saw that it was void and asked the agent who had done the cash out about it. She told me it wasn’t her writing on the cash out, it had been changed. Then I recognized the writing.

Our VP of Operations had been coming to the airport late in the evening and opening the safe (he had the combination), removing the cash and voiding the tickets that had been paid for in cash so the cash out balanced. When confronted by our finance VP, after 15 minutes of denying it he admitted he had stolen the money.

The complicating factor now was that NewAir was on the verge of an IPO and being split off from the FBO, flight school, and charter department of New Haven Airways. Having a company director thrown in the clink for embezzlement would not exactly inspire investor confidence, if in fact the IPO wouldn’t be cancelled. So the VP signed an undated resignation letter and left the premises.

Up until this point the competition between Pilgrim and NHA had been peripheral; now it got personal. One of the accelerants of this competition, besides the decision by NHA to poach HVN-NYC traffic from Pilgrim and move them to EWR, was the fact that NHA had hired a VP of OPS from Pilgrim, John Rutledge. John didn’t have any love lost for his old employer and made it obvious to whoever wanted to listen to him talk about it. My other lasting memory of him was of his girth and his tendency to wear an old black, worn out, cable stitch sweater to work all the time. As it got older the sweater shrank (or his girth grew) and it soon began creeping up is belly until you could see the bottom of his (always) white shirt as it struggled to hold in the belly. Not exactly the image of a professional pilot, but John was honest, and what you saw was what you got.

Shortly after the successful IPO of NewAir Flight, Inc I got my first lesson in airline economics and compensation. Although I was only 20-something I figured it was a good idea to invest some money for the future, so I began buying NewAir stock through payroll. Good idea, bad execution. When things started to get tough for NewAir the company gave all employees a 10% pay cut and issued stock certificates for the balance. So those two events resulted in me being the proud owner of 3,000 shares of what would shortly be useless NewAir stock. Ten years or so later I finally threw the certificates out; another EBay opportunity lost.

Soon NHA began to look like Pilgrim, in both the routes it flew as well as the aircraft it flew. During this period NHA began moving out of the Piper Chieftain airplane and into the Twin Otter, which is probably the ugliest airplane (except the Shorts) that has ever flown on purpose. Up to that point the make up of the fleet was 2 Bandits and miscellaneous Chieftains (subbed in to cover mechanicals). Eventually the gloves came off and it was an all out war between Pilgrim and NHA.

On the route development (if you can call it that) side, NewAir now had scheduled service to from HVN to DCA, BWI, PHL, EWR, LGA, and JFK, as well as ISP-BWI. The DCA market was by far the most successful so the decision was made to expand the capacity on that route by adding a "cabin class" airplane. HVN-DCA is about 250 miles and the Bandits covered it in about 1:40 southbound and 1:20 northbound. Why on earth anyone thought it was a good idea to buy a brand new Shorts 360 for this route is beyond me. Unpressurized, slow, and looking like the box that the Twin Otter comes in, the 360 was absolutely the wrong airplane for the route. The 360 had the only "official" NewAir paint scheme of the fleet, so I guess that was a plus.

We really knew the "the gloves were off" when PM announced service from GON and HVN to DCA in their (comparatively) sleek and fast F27's. This represented a knife directly on the jugular vein for NewAir. [The reader will notice that a lot of the service between PM and NewAir (who’s two letter code was NC, the old North Central Airlines code, but those cynics at NewAir said it stood for “no charge”) was to slot controlled airports. Without going into agonizing detail, suffice to say that a combination of the ATC strike in the early 80's and some fairly shrewd horse trading, both airlines found themselves with ample slots at JFK, LGA, and DCA.]

Demonstrating the finest tradition in macho airline territorial marketing, as a response to the Pilgrim entrance into the HVN-DCA market NewAir soon began serving the PM World Headquarters Airport, Groton/New London (GON). By 1983 literally 95% of the NewAir routes were in competition with Pilgrim; basically everything except PHL and an Essential Air Service (EAS) route we had somehow “won” between Newark and Monticello, NY. Pilgrim really had the stronger route system and network, and had a better selection of interline partners in New York (operating from AA facilities). However Pilgrim generally had a bad reputation with its customers. NewAir was favored by the HVN market and Pilgrim in the GON market, though it can be said that once they began competing in earnest - neither company was profitable.

Also during the mid-80's there was an airline based at Stratford/Bridgeport Airport (BDR) called Atlantic Air, who flew Navajos to PHL, BED, BOS, GON, MVY and ACK. By 1984 they were purchased by Marketing Corporation of America, based in Westport, CT. MCA was a successful consumer marketing company that, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea to get into the airline bidness. The name was eventually changed from Atlantic Air (which I always thought was a good name) to Business Express (which I always thought wasn't very descriptive. It could have been the name of a copy shop).


By late 1984 it was getting pretty desperate for both Pilgrim and NewAir. Eventually the principles of Brockway Air, based on Vermont, began talking to the principles of both NewAir and Pilgrim about doing an acquisition. Understanding that landing slots in LGA, JFK, and DCA are a coveted asset, Brockway's interest makes sense. As the talks went on it became apparent to the Pilgrim and NewAir people that the Brockway deal wasn't going to happen, so in late February 1985 Pilgrim and NewAir merged. In a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge the fallen NewAir, it was decided to call the carrier “The New Pilgrim Airlines”. A much more descriptive name of the resulting passenger experience could have been achieved had we used the name “GrimAir”.

One of the more dubious distinctions of the "new" Pilgrim was that it operated the largest (and oldest) fleet of Twin Otters in the universe, or at least in Connecticut. I can't remember the exact number, but I seem to recall writing 20 or 24 lines of Twin Otter flying at some point. Actually finding places to fly 24 Twin Otters from Southern Connecticut is a real challenge, even with 25 trips a day from GON and HVN to JFK and LGA. But more of a challenge was how to turn the route map mess into a profitable airline operation. Besides pilots, mechanics, and airport people, Pilgrim hired very few NewAir management types to work at the combined airline. As a matter of fact, I think I was the only lucky NewAir management type to survive the purge. The result was that the "new" airline gradually reverted back to what had always worked best for Pilgrim – which was no competition. I remember Joe Fugere, the Pilgrim founder and CEO, told me that at some point in the early-mid 1970's he had found a "sweet spot" and the airline was the right size to make money, and he had “a going concern” as he put it. In fact, in 1974 Pilgrim Airlines had been named Regional Airline of the Year by Air Transport World Magazine. However those days were long gone by the early and mid 80’s. Pilgrim grew larger and began losing lots of money, both from competitive forces as well as from the weight of its own mass. By the mid 1980s Pilgrim even had a fleet of one F28 jet that was assigned to fly the JFK-YOW route. So with three of their own airplane types, plus the Embraer Bandeirante and Shorts 360 from NewAir, the Pilgrim operation was infinitely more complex. It would have been a tough job to bring that all under control for even a top management team, which was not what we had at Pilgrim Airlines in 1985.

Joe wasn't known for lavishing money on equipment or people and always did things as cheaply as possible. This was before the term "low cost carrier" was part of everyday airlinespeak. But there is a line between being an LCC and just being cheap. One of the things that sticks out in my mind and highlights the difference is the remote bussing operation Pilgrim had in LGA - it used school busses. I think they were even painted in the Orange/Yellow/Green paint scheme of Pilgrim. Really classy.

The competition between Pilgrim and NewAir had damages both airlines financially. Infrastructure hadn’t been repaired or replaced like it needed to be, and Pilgrim was in no financial condition to do anything of the sort in 1985. The result was predictable and sad at the same time.

While all of the consolidation and corporate culture clash was being settled up the road in GON, Atlantic Air, by now renamed Business Express by the marketing experts at MCA, was quietly expanding its fleet and routes. At some point in the development of BEX they hired a VP of Maintenance, Chester Hooper, from one of the “Allegheny Commuter” operations in the northeast. Upon his arrival he upgraded the fleet from the Navajo Chieftain to the Beech 99, a 15 passenger (almost) turbo prop similar to the Bandit, but made by Beechcraft and with a name that was pronounceable. Soon after that the company began taking delivery of the new Beechcraft 1900, which was a 19 passenger pressurized turbo prop that was quicker than the 99 and could get over some of the weather for a better ride.

Personally, I lasted 4 months at the "new" Pilgrim until the commute from HVN to GON and the management style of my new boss just wore me down. I don’t recall seeing Joe Fugere around much at the time; the airline was being run by John Gallichon who had the title of Vice President of Administration. The one incident that put me over the edge when I had to work Memorial Day in 1985. Gallichon, was a slightly vindictive prick and told me that I could either take Memorial Day or July 4th off, but not both. I elected to work Memorial Day and I was literally the only one in the office. Going home that night and sitting in traffic on the Connecticut River Bridge with all of the returning Cape Cod daytrippers that evening I decided to say goodbye to GrimAir and find another job. I remember telling Gallichon I was leaving and where I was going, and him telling me half-jokingly to try and keep BEX out of GON. Right.

Business Express – The Good Old Days

Taking a job with BEX on July 1, 1985 I arrived after the fleet was being modernized to BE1s although they still flew some of the 99s as well. The difference in corporate culture between NewAir and Pilgrim was significant, but there were similarities in that both companies were in bad financial shape. My desk at Pilgrim had a roll of duct tape on the floor supporting one side because of a broken leg and the chair had exposed pieces of sharp metal that tore my pants on more than one occasion. BEX HQ was nestled besides the Saugatuck River in Westport at the MCA corporate HQ. Not an airport in sight! Not only did I have a matching desk, chair, and file cabinets at BEX, but I had an office that I didn't have to share with 3 other people! Besides the big improvement in my ergonomic situation, I was in charge of scheduling and pricing for a 15 airplane fleet. Coming from a 30-odd (very odd) airplane fleet at Pilgrim, well, to be honest - there just wasn't that much to do at BEX at first.

One of the neat things about BEX at the time was the provision of free inflight refreshments. This was facilitated by a cooler in the front of the BE1s filled with ice, soda, and beer, and if memory serves we also provided bags of peanuts in the afternoons. Morning flights got a couple of coffee thermoses and a box or two of doughnuts. Regular customers would grab their selection on their way to the seat, and inflight distribution became something of the buddy system, and would be refills would be passed from person to person down to the back of the airplane.

The challenges at BEX during the mid 1980's were more office-political than airline related. Chester Hooper, the previously mentioned VP hired from Allegheny Commuter, was actually the VP of Maintenance AND Operations (always a bad combination in my opinion). Chet had a strange view of the organizational chart. When I began working at BEX the management team consisted of Chet, the Director of Finance named Jim Malski, and the Director of Marketing, named Peggy Culver. The CEO of Marketing Corporation of America was James R. McManus (who I always surreptitiously referred to as JimBob during my career at BEX), was also the President of BEX. I interviewed individually with all four members of this management team and made a point to ask about the organizational structure. Three of the four described the structure of the three functional areas (Maintenance/Ops, Marketing, and Finance) reporting directly to the President. The fourth version was that the VP of Maintenance/Ops reported to the President and Marketing and Finance reporting to that VP – you can guess who gave me that org chart. A little bell went off in my head when I heard this, but the prospect of not sharing an office with three other people and having a real desk was too strong to ignore.

I worked for Peggy, whose qualification for this airline job was that she had been a flight attendant at Air Canada before taking a job at MCA. Prior to my arrival, scheduling and pricing had been done by the flight operations manager, who also did the crew scheduling, filed the flight plans, etc. Thinking again about the organizational chart, this was interesting because the flight ops guy reported to the VP Ops/Maintenance, yet the schedule was the responsibility of Marketing.

This organizational confusion was a pretty consistent theme during my time at BEX.
The first rotation I wrote while at BEX was for the November 15, 1985 schedule, and I spent lots of time on it (not much else to do anyway) tweaking things and coming up with some new routings to try and get some 1 stop traffic. I handed it in to the management team and Chet took one look and said "This is too sloppy; you need to make it neater." I laughed out loud, thinking he was kidding. He wasn't. What? Too sloppy? I'd write the Pilgrim schedules on the back of a paper bag and hand them in, it didn't matter how they looked but how they performed. My corporate education had begun.

July through December 1985 was a pretty sleepy time at BEX. It was during this time that I watched BEX market research at work. I was asked to write a flight schedule from Hartford to Boston, so I did (neatly, of course), and handed it in. I had written the schedule from Bradley International Airport (BDL) to Boston Logan, but it was quickly returned to me and pointed out that Hartford meant Brainard Airport (HFD). Huh? Nobody serves HFD on a scheduled basis. Exactly, I was told, we'll have the market cornered. I had about a million questions, like, for starters, how we were supposed to entice people to use Brainard Airport when you couldn't even find it easily from I-91?

Up to this point, the only real marketing effort I had engineered was when we introduced the Shorts 360 at NewAir. To commemorate the event I had my wife sew together three king size red, white, and blue striped sheets into a large pair of boxer shorts, which was hung in front of the Shorts 360. On queue, and with the appropriate media in attendance, our CEO, Donald Santacroce, pulled the draw string and the boxer shorts came down to reveal the Skypig (what our fuelers had named it). We also gave away T-shirts with the "Shorts" logo on them, and matching shorts with the word "Shirts" emblazoned on them in the same type face. It made for quite an ensemble, and I bet these would fetch a small fortune on EBay now. Anyway, I evidently had a lot to learn about marketing.

The marketing of the HFD-BOS service was a bit more......classy, shall we say. And expensive. Besides the dutiful reception held at the Brainard Airport terminal (they at least did have one) on the eve of service inauguration, we also had a “giveaway” for the travel agents. We gave away cash. Yep, money. Memory fails on exactly how it was set up, but I do know that the end result was that agencies got cash money from us, and it wasn't chump change. In a few short months I had gone from working at an airline that ran stripped school busses across the LGA ramp to an airline that gave away money – on purpose! One sobering note that I recall from that inaugural event was that our station manager from Boston came down for the event - and drove. I didn't think that bode well for our air service if Boston to Hartford was only a 2 hour drive.

BEX Buys Pilgrim – Delta Connection Affiliation Begins

Not being in upper management at the time I don't know when BEX started talking with Pilgrim, but at some point in early 1986 I was asked to work on a combined BEX/Pilgrim schedule. Holy shit! If the first 6 months at BEX were a vacation, the next 8 years would be a work-a-thon. I don't recall the exact date of the transaction but I do recall the price; $1 million cash, and the equivalent amount paid to Fugere over an extended period; basically a consulting contract. Plus, Joe Fugere got to keep his pickup truck, which was his Pilgrim Airlines “company car”. What a bargain.

(Interesting note here, when we bought PM they flew from BDL, so we quickly moved our empty HFD-BOS trips over to BDL, where they outperformed the HFD service from day 1 - without the need for cash payments to travel agents.)

Things started happening pretty quickly at BEX during the spring of 1986. The first combined BEX/Pilgrim schedule (the combined airline was called Business Express) was on April 27, 1986, and for me it was like coming home. Before we completed the first segment of that April schedule we had signed a deal with Delta to replace Ransome Airlines as the "Delta Connection" in the northeast. At the time Ransome was becoming a Pan Am regional feed partner, and as part of the deal we did a large slot trade with them and unloaded all, or virtually all, of our JFK slots in exchange for their LGA slots. (For a time we continued to operate the F28 JFK-YOW under the PM code since Delta wanted nothing to do with that route.) Coming out of that slot transaction with Ransome we became the largest holder of regional airline slots in LGA. We had a small pile of DCA slots as well.

One of the first casualties of the BEX-Pilgrim -Delta Connection evolution were the removal of the self service coolers from the BE1s. It is one thing to do that neat stuff when you are flying 15 airplanes around, but the operation was now becoming much more complex. I can remember getting on a BE1 flight BDR to BOS and looking inside the cooler to see a bunch of empty beer and soda cans floating around in dirty water. Not long after that the coolers became history.
As I am sure is the case with anyone else who was employed at BEX during the Spring-Summer of 1986, my memory of that time is somewhat jumbled. Compared to a year earlier when the pace at BEX was, shall we say, a leisurely stroll, the summer of 1986 was an absolute sprint. Our first "Delta Connection" schedule was June 1, 1986 and contained several new stations, gobs of new routes, and our infrastructure was just not ready for it. Somewhere along the way we had begun to replace the Pilgrim F27s with the Saab 340 as our featured cabin class airplane. The Pilgrim F28 was eventually parked and the JFK-YOW route was abandoned along with it. The Twin Otters were parked, and I think that Joe Fugere busied himself during this period selling them off, though I am not sure. The Beech 1900 was still the mainstay of the fleet, though soon to be replaced by the Saab 340 as we took on more of those airplanes to replace the F27's, and at some point we even picked up 8 Shorts 360's (the SkyPigs had followed me to a new airline).

The Flight Control office was still located at BDR as well as some maintenance, but the large Pilgrim maintenance hangar in BDL soon became a maintenance focal point. With Ops and Maintenance located 75 miles away from each other (BDL and BDR) there were obvious problems, especially with the two departments run by one VP. Speaking of VP's, by this point the Jim Malski and Peggy Culver had become vice presidents of Finance and Marketing, respectively. Chester had been made senior vice president of Operations and Maintenance.

The operation during this time was absolutely horrible. It was like Barnum and Bailey Airlines; a real circus. Crew scheduling was screwed up, maintenance was screwed up, stations were screwed up, and flights routinely operated late or not at all. DL was about the most hands-off code share partner you could have during this time, which we would find out later was cause for a lot of our support problems. But even DL had to start paying attention when their stations people would report the large variety of daily fuster clucks going on at our gates. Totally unrelated to this at the time, I was feeling the pinch from my flight attendant-turned-VP of Marketing boss. Peggy had actually written me up on a couple of chicken shit transgressions, which related to such crucial issues as not checking a rotation with her before sending it out to the management committee.

Her market planning decisions were based on, shall we say, pure unadulterated bullshit. Case in point. One of the markets we kept flying after buying Pilgrim was BDL-YUL. Primarily a business market (with Pratt and Whitney providing lots of customers), one of my decisions was to remove all Saturday service. When I put this on a preliminary schedule it came back from her with a note to keep the Saturday service in the BDL-YUL market. She couldn't provide me with a justifiable reason for this decision; however her being from Montreal was a clue. The next clue was that she was a frequent non rev passenger on the flight, and that he hair was nicely done whenever she returned off the afternoon YUL-BDL trip, one of the few passengers aboard.

The combination of my impending death at the hands of the Montreal hairdo and the fact the flight operations resembled Omaha Beach on D-Day resulted in me being offered a job in flight operations at BDR. On the surface this solved a couple of problems; 1) No more Ms. Flight Attendant as a boss, and 2) No more I-95 traffic laden drives to Westport. The downside would be that I was working in a war zone, and I would be reporting to Mr. Sr. VP, Chester the Molester. I took it.

Summer 1986 is an absolute blur in my mind. I do remember walking out of the Ops office at night on more than one occasion and forgetting where I had parked my car that morning. Considering how small BDR is, that is quite a feat. Some of the many new markets we had begun serving as DL Connection was HYA, ACK, and MVY, or "The Cape". Typical of the highly seasonal summer markets, these markets were highly directional and heavily booked, and the SkyPig was uniquely qualified to serve these markets and did it well in the summer.

One incident that stands out in my mind over that summer-from-hell was a phone conversation I had with our station manager at Hyannis, named Jeff Stranger (we called him Stranger-than-Jeff) one Sunday night after we had cancelled an outbound MVY-BOS trip due to weather, ATC delays, or both. After repeatedly denying his request for a special flight, hot air balloons, and carte blanche to offer filet mignon meals to his inconvenienced passengers, he indignantly asked me "What are your qualifications to make these decisions?" I must admit, the question caused me to pause and think about it for a bit. I remember coming back with something snarky, like I was just walking by the Ops room and somebody asked me if I wanted a job. Initially it pissed me off, but after a while I though it was pretty funny. During the summer of 1986 there were few people working at BEX who were at all qualified for what they were doing, me included.

Gradually things got a bit better during the late fall of 1986, partially as a result of improvements in our infrastructure and partially because when winter appears in the northeast, most of the passengers disappear. It was this annual disappearance of passengers that, combined with out overly aggressive scheduling, in my opinion caused the eventual demise of BEX – or at least its mutation into what it is today.


When I first met Jim McManus in 1985 I was impressed with him, the offices, and the display of client logos that adorned one of the huge walls in the MCA World HQ in Westport. I had never worked at a company that was profitable before (at least it LOOKED profitable), though since MCA was a private company I had no idea what the financials looked like.

Jim was a marketing guy, not an operations guy; therefore he liked to "dabble" at airline marketing, while he left the technical stuff to his Sr. VP of Everything. All the maintenance or Ops types had to say to McManus was "FAA Requirement" and he would back off. The defense of my scheduling decisions wasn't as easy or successful because 1) not until 1989-90 did I have people on my staff who could dig in to traffic stats and make a strong case, and 2) McManus had successfully marketed yogurt and cheese products for most of his life - how different can selling an airline seat be than that? Truth be told, for a time I also believed #2 myself. Plus, during that time I was a Manager level employee; not exactly a powerhouse position in the corporate food chain.

Although in 1986, at 30-something I was still learning about airline planning and scheduling – I was smart enough to know that HFD-BOS in general and BDL-YUL turns on Saturday afternoon were bad ideas. As we got into the DL Connection world of ready-made markets (previously served by Hostage, I mean Ransome Airlines), it was easy enough to read the DL hub schedule and route airplanes accordingly.

Here's a news flash for anyone that didn't work at BEX during the 1986-1994 period; decisions to add markets were driven by the number of airplanes McManus went out and bought. At a real airline those factors are reversed; a case is made for a market and, if necessary an airplane is acquired to fly the route. In the case of BEX, we ordered airplanes because McManus wanted to buy them. Period. The Shorts 360? That airplane was brought in because we couldn't get Saabs fast enough to replace the Pilgrim F27s, but unfortunately those 8 360s stayed around even after we had 37 Saabs on the line (a nice round number). Five BAE 146-200s? By the time that decision was made we did a market and revenue analysis between the BAE146, Fokker 50, F28, Saab 2000, and the CRJ, and the clear winner was NOT the BAE146. The decision to acquire those airplanes was not based on airline market fundamentals, nor were most of the decisions on where to fly those airplanes. We got airplanes and then tried to find places to fly them, simple (and stupid) as that. Portsmouth, NH (Pease AFB) to PHL, EWR, and LGA?? Augusta, ME to ANYWHERE? (we tried that one twice) Serving MVY, ACK, and HYA three times a day from Boston in the dead of winter in a Shorts 360? None of these were justified by the numbers, but merely necessary in order to fly the airplanes we had.

Abusing Boston

Another factor was Delta's presence (or lack of) in the northeast. Our first schedules as a DL Connection actually had more service in LGA than in BOS. Soon that changed because of the slot control issues in LGA, and obviously because of the flood of airplanes coming on the line. DL's BOS schedule was primarily one of a non-hub and it featured flights to ATL, CVG, and MCO - which were "real" DL hubs at the time. There was the odd nonstop trip to TPA or PBI, and the vestige of days gone by with an L1011 that ran BDL-BOS-BDA once a day. DL also had jets, believe it or not, flying BGR-BOS and PWM-BOS. These were the days when the hub was sacred, and overflying ATL resulted in death to the one who proposed it.

So with the slot limitations of LGA and DCA we poured 100 pounds of flights in to Boston's 1 pound of ramp space. I remember watching the people in BOS cram 7 or 8 BE1s around and under the DL BOS-BDA L1011 which parked on the gate adjacent to ours in BOS each morning (that was the gate's only flight of the day I believe). MASSPORT soon got wind of our, shall we say, overly aggressive parking plan and in short order (I think we got 1 day's notice) turned us into a bussing operation to the "North Ramp". Boston continued to grow in enplanments and importance for us, and the airport operation continued to get worse and worse. The people who worked there put up with incredible bullshit from HQ, both in terms of the number of flights they were expected to handle as well as, eventually, a reluctance to throw more money at the facility problems there. Times had certainly changed at BEX from the days of paying cash to travel agents to book flights from Brainard Airport in Hartford to Boston. We were in the airline bidness now, and we began to lose some of the sheen we had when we were a nice little operation flying shiny 1900's from Bridgeport to Philly for $200 each way.

Things were going so well (kidding) by 1989 that the decision was made to buy a small and struggling airline in Albany, NY called Mall Airways. We mauled Mall Airways by basically taking them apart and throwing away almost everything except some transborder US-Canadian routes and a leaky hangar in Albany. Some of the Canadian markets sucked as bad as our domestic ones did, like ALB-YOW. They did have some decent markets, like ALB-YYZ, and some SYR transborder routes that were marginal. They also had that maintenance hangar in ALB that BEX promptly turned in to its BE1 maintenance center.

Also around that time (again my memory of the exact chronology is a bit faded) we picked up a 12 pack of Saab 340s from Brockway Air. (It’s amazing the symmetry of this, Brockway Air being the carrier who 8 years previously had been courting Pilgrim and NewAir). These were all 340 “A” model airplanes, the lightweight model of the airplane that had some performance problems. As a marketing and planning group we had more airplanes than we knew what to do with (literally), and the flight operations department resembled Wal-Mart on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

So let us summarize to this point. MCA buys Atlantic Air, Pilgrim Airlines, Mall Airways, airplanes from Brockway Air, plus enough Shorts 360s, Saab 340s, and Beechcraft 1900s to equip the Norwegian Air Force. All in the space of 5 years, without a real bona fide DL hub to feed, no parking space in BOS, and not a hint of a schedule plan.

By some time in 1987 we had a separate VP Ops, John O’Brien, also from an Allegheny Commuter carrier and who initially reported to Chet, but eventually was a direct report to McManus. Also during this time Peggy Culver became pregnant and, although I was in the flight operations department, I assumed the duties of marketing and stations during her 4 months of leave. After her maternity leave was over it was determined she would not return to BEX. So, due to the miracle of child birth I was made VP of Marketing during that time and reported to McManus. It was this management team – me as VP Marketing, Chet Hooper as Sr. VP Maintenance, John O’Brien as VP Flight Operations, and Jim Malski as VP Finance – that had the longest tenure during the 1986-1994 period at BEX.

Around this time the BDR maintenance hangar was closed and the flight operations and flight training departments were moved to BDL. The move to BDL was interesting in that it put 3/4 of the management team about 85 miles away from McManus (Malski and the Finance department never left Westport the whole time I was at BEX). McManus used to call the three VPs in BDL "The Triumvirate", and although there were monthly management meetings in BDL attended by the Westport contingent, it really felt like two companies. As is typical in an airline operation, Operations blamed Maintenance for not fixing broken airplanes, Maintenance accused Operations of teaching the pilots the wrong way to fly the airplanes (thus making them break), Marketing blamed everybody for screwing up the flight schedule, and everybody blamed the stations for everything else.

During the final winding down of the F27 fleet we found ourselves with spare airplanes and crews awaiting their SF340 training. I am not sure how it came about, but a tour operator contacted me about running some Atlantic City charters and I thought it was a good opportunity for additional revenue. It was a pain in the butt and yet another of the numerous lessons I would learn in the airline bidness.

As I soon found out, Casinos think in terms of bus loads, so F27s having 44 seats (or 48, or 40, in our case) were desirable to them. Since our F27 had the old pneumatics they even sounded like busses, so what the heck. My boys in flight control started calling these flights “Air Cavone” in deference to the predominant nationality of the people who invariably took these flights. (I am Italian so I can say this). Pretty much the only guy that liked these flights was Jim Malski because he got the checks; to everyone else they were a pain in the butt. The pilots were especially tough to deal with on these flights, first of all because they were Pilgrim pilots and they thought the BEX management were idiots anyway. Plus, there is something about picking up a bus load of 44 hairy chested, gold-chain-wearing drunks in Atlantic City at 2AM that makes you wish you’d chosen another career.

But, I digress.

Besides the organizational issues we had with a split HQ, the airline itself was having more and more trouble finding appropriate winter homes for all of the summer ASMs, and some of our market decisions were, shall we say, reaches. But now with the Upstate New York presence we had bought with the purchase of Mall (presence may be too strong a term.....perhaps we should call it more of a liability), we found ourselves pretty squarely in the cross hairs of USAir. Our entry into markets like BOS-BUF, BDL-BUF, BOS-ROC, etc. got noticed by the folks in the Crystal Palace down in D.C. and they proceeded to sit squarely on our chests, not giving us any breathing space. It was interesting scheduling a SF340 against a B737 in the BUF-BDL market; suicidal for the company with the SF340, but interesting nonetheless. The DL code was pretty worthless in those areas, and although every passenger you would ask would profess their hate for the evil USAir, the sure seemed to carry enough people and at high enough prices to stay in and keep their market share.

In the early 1990's we had established a fairly large operation (albeit a remote operation) in Boston that lost money but moved a lot of people, while the LGA operation was smaller but with the slot protections keeping US from squashing our schedule, it was profitable. PHL and DCA were much smaller stations and vestiges of days gone by with Pilgrim and Atlantic Air. PHL was marginal while DCA made a small profit. DL seemed content to let us flail away at ourselves in Boston and not until very late in the game did they ever relinquish their flights BOS-BGR and PWM, which I will never understand. In general I think we were the oddball of the DL connections. Compared to ASA (a money mint), COMAIR (who we called Luftwaffe, in deference to their ego centric first family), and Skywest, BEX didn't have much of an opportunity to exchange traffic with DL. I think there were more connecting seat opportunities in the morning westbound complex at CVG than we had at BOS, LGA, PHL, and DCA combined in an entire day.

Up to this point I have been trying to maintain a logical chronology but I want to digress a bit and talk about the management changes that occurred throughout my career at BEX. The most significant thing about the management at BEX was that until Bryan Bedford and his merry band of henchmen came on the scene in early 1994, McManus was running the show. No matter who was the President, and besides McManus there were two others while I was there, McManus always ran the show.

BEX Management

To resolve the triumvirate dilemma in BDL, McManus hired a guy from the Allegheny Commuter operation to be BEX President and CEO in 1989. John Leonard was a very straight laced guy, conservative, and lots of airline experience; kind of the anti- JimBob. I don’t think John ever intended to stay on at BEX; his wife stayed at their home in the PHL area and he went back there most every weekend. I liked working for John because he didn’t make a decision on “gut feel”, which was the norm at BEX – John made decisions on the facts. What a concept. Anyway, he didn’t last a year before resigning, so there wasn’t really a chance for him and McManus to have conflicting opinions an anything significant. Before he left John told me that the main reason he was leaving was that he had been “mislead about the financial condition of the company”. John went back to USAir which was more his style, and I hope he lasted long enough to retire while he still had a pension.

The second BEX president was the VP of Finance, Jim Malski, who McManus named President at some point in late 1990 or early 1991, after John Leonard had left. In retrospect Malski was the best choice, though through the haze of my 36 year old ego at the time I thought I should have been considered for the job. McManus never seriously considered me though. I remember him telling me once shortly before he named Malski as President that I was “rough as a cob” and needed to refine my style a bit. The appearance and personal presentation styles of his managers were very important to JimBob, and in those categories I was most likely the lowest scoring of any VP at BEX. I was standing next to McManus at a BEX Christmas party up in BDL in 1990 and as we were watching Malski up on stage talking to the crowd McManus leaned over to me and said “He looks like a CEO, doesn’t he?”

McManus made two other outside hires for VP level jobs while I was there. One was Roy Spencer, a guy from Colorado who had worked for Frontier Airlines and was hired in to run Flight Ops. I felt bad for John O’Brien, who was the VP of Flight Operations, but at least he got to keep his title because Spencer was named Sr. VP of Operations. So now we had two Sr. VPs; one in Ops and one in Maintenance. By around 1991 Ops, Marketing, and even Flight Control had moved back to Westport.

Shortly after this McManus hired the son of a Sr. VP at Delta, named Jeff Hawkins. Jeff had no airline experience but had worked at the regional manager level for a car rental company and he was a helluva golfer. He was a nice kid, but being hired in as VP of Market Development (or something similar) he poached a few of my responsibilities. At the time my department had a lot of moving parts; I think I was responsible for around 600 people, including stations and flight attendants. What I didn’t know at the time was that Hawkins was being hired in for $15,000/year more than I made. Although he was BEX President in name, Malski had very little input on the decision to hire Jeff Hawkins. To his credit (and my benefit), Malski lobbied on my behalf and gave me the same salary that Jeff Hawkins got to start his VP job at BEX. Although I had lost a few responsibilities for marketing, sales, and advertising to Hawkins, for me it was not a bad deal at all.

Beginning of the End of the Beginning

The beefed up management team was in preparation for yet another growth spurt at BEX. In the early 90’s Pan Am decided to part itself out and DL joined in the feeding frenzy, coming out with the PA JFK terminal and a bunch of their international routes. This was a joyous occasion for McManus because finally [gasp], BEX would have a REAL HUB TO FEED! Well, kinda. At least it was a real hub between 1500 and 2100, but the rest of the day it was a ghost town. Plus, in order to have the ability to be part of this plan we had to have JFK slots. My memory fades a bit here but I distinctly remember being in bankruptcy court in New York and walking out of there with 4-6 PA jet slots in exchange for a fairly large check being made out to the PA estate. I also remember talking with my old friends at Hostage Airlines (Ransome) and cutting a deal for their JFK slots, which you may recall originally came from us when they left DL to become a PA feeder.

It was during this time that I came very close to committing career suicide, though I admit that it was my fault. Even after giving up some responsibilities to Hawkins, at this point I had responsibility for planning, pricing, scheduling, revenue management, stations, flight attendants, and the Delta "relationship". I also had a bad habit (cured by this incident) of talking to the industry press a lot; I guess I liked seeing how many different ways they could think of to spell my last name. Prior to all of the PA nonsense and us moving to acquire JFK slots I made the mistake of saying too much to a reporter at Commuter/Regional Airline News. When this came out in print McManus had major gas because of DL's wish for secrecy, even though most of the free world knew what they were doing anyway. I was still wrong, and I got whacked for it.

After my faux pas with C/R News I was summoned to McManus's office and told that my choices were to either give up my responsibilities for the Delta relationship, stations, flight attendants, and give 1/2 of my bonus money to Hawkins, or walk the plank. To be honest, giving up those other responsibilities was not a problem for me; they were all a pain in the ass anyway. What I really liked to do was schedule, plan, and price. Up to that point the company had NEVER been profitable so I never had to worry about a bonus (an entrepreneur, McManus didn't pay bonuses unless we were profitable; an admirable trait). But THIS was the year we were finally going to make a profit (the only profitable year of my 8.5 years at BEX), and I had to give 1/2 of it to somebody who had nothing to do with earning it? Not much of a choice though, and I couldn't argue about my screw up (though I could argue the penalty didn't fit the offense), so I opted for half a loaf rather than none.

In hindsight, this would have been a great opportunity for me to look for another job somewhere else but that was not the case.

Adding JFK to the BEX menu of markets was a disaster because instead of taking nonproductive ASMs and reallocating them to JFK, we just added more ASMs. Moreover, most of these ASMs were in the form of jets. Four engined mini starlifters – the BAe146. It was like throwing a drowning man a piano to hang on to. It was a ride straight to the bottom.

Having dealt with the seasonality of the northeast and the huge swings in passenger traffic between high season and low season, we were still totally unprepared for the daily seasonality at JFK. With the addition of our four engine mini-jets we added markets like DTW and CLE to the JFK mix and did pretty well feeding DL’s trips across the Atlantic. The problem was that serving JFK, especially in our jet markets, was like the ugly girl at 2AM; she looks great at night but when the sun comes up you’ve got a real problem. Our solution was to run to run those ASMs back to BOS in the morning, and then mix them around the system trying to do as little damage as possible until it came time for the one round trip that counted to JFK.

We did try a couple of markets out of BOS, but not the ones we really wanted to fly. Every time we got close to overflying a DL hub they would get heartburn and we’d have to pass. We managed to incur the wrath of NW when we invaded their DTW-BOS market; we already had US bursting a vein because in addition to our upstate NY invasion, now we were flying jets BOS-ORF and BOS-RIC.

It was around this time that the financial situation was really deteriorating. I distinctly remember having to call our field sales people, who were about to embark on a sales “blitz” of travel agencies in the CLE area, because we had decided to pull a new market BEFORE IT EVEN STARTED, because advance sales sucked so bad. Not a good sign.

Pease Soup

Concurrent with the addition of jet equipment we opened yet another maintenance base, but this one had a twist. New Hampshire had found itself with an empty Air Force Base and, bless their hearts, they were looking for someone to occupy it for them. I remember the first call I got about this and I literally thought it was a joke, and quickly forgot about the call once I hung up. Not long after McManus and Malski began talking about it like it was a good thing, and not having the financial acumen of my higher ups I was dumbfounded as to why they thought it a good idea. I soon found out that by committing to move our maintenance and employing a certain amount of local citizens at PSM, NH would offer us money. Just like BAe had given us cash for taking 5 of their jets, and Saab had been giving us cash for the Saab 340’s, though the airframers called it “integration funds”.

The good news was that only maintenance would be moving up there so my group would stay in Westport. The bad news was that now I was faced with driving a bunch of airplanes out of PSM each morning. There are only so many PSM-BOS trips you can fly before 5AM, you know? We ferried airplanes to both BOS, LEB, and MHT as I recall, and we also tried to build a couple of markets from PSM itself. EWR and LGA were tried, and I vaguely remember trips to PHL as well. To add to the surreal nature of this period, ACA began competing with PSM-EWR! BEX had no choice, but what the heck was ACA thinking?

From just about every aspect, I guess except for the fact that we got cash, moving to PSM was a disaster. The airport was 45 miles north of Boston and nobody knew it was there. We didn’t offer service anywhere that was interesting and that couldn’t be had by driving to Logan, and being on a former Air Force Base, it just wasn’t set up to be a commercial airport. By this time our schedule included 70 airplanes and it was a far cry from running 24 Twin Otters around the skies of Southern CT. I recall we scheduled 35 Saab 340s, 8 Shorts 360s, 5 BAe146-200s, and 20 Beechcraft 1900s, with a BE1 and an SF3 as spares. We had a lot of empty metal flying around and adding PSM to the mix of a ½ hub in JFK, a high level of seasonality in Upstate NY and Cape Cod, and the inability to do anything more in BOS, we were killing ourselves.

My Least Favorite Job

By this time I had found myself again in charge of the things I had lost as a result of my misstep in the industry press a year or so before. Jeff Hawkins was really a nice guy, but being in charge of stations and flight attendants is a tough job for anyone (as I knew) and he was struggling. At some point I was told that he would be reporting to me and bring along with him the marketing and station responsibilities, while flight attendants would go to flight ops. I was also given the added bonus of handling crew planning for flight attendants. I guess it is a corporate no-no for a VP to report to a VP, and since they didn’t demote him, I was made Sr. VP of Marketing and Planning.

At this point the Titanic was taking on water and the Captain ordered all of his mates to begin throwing excess furniture and baggage overboard. The management team had been operating on a 10% pay cut for a while, but now we began to jettison people. I am not sure how long after I had been given back my previous responsibilities it was, but I was subsequently given the task of firing Jeff Hawkins.

I thought this sucked, more for him obviously, but also for me. I hadn’t hired him, promoted him, nor demoted him. He hadn’t worked for me very long either. Now I had to cut him loose, and McManus was nowhere to be found, which I thought was BS. Jeff took it well and the severance package made it a bit easier for him, but I still felt like a schmuck.

I did lots of terminations while at BEX and several difficult ones. While none of them were easy (including firing a flight attendant on Christmas Eve once), there was one that I disliked even more than firing Jeff. Scott Durgin had been at Pilgrim while I was at NewAir and after they bought us in 1984 he was about the only Pilgrim employee that wasn’t a dickhead about it. After BEX bought Pilgrim it was good to see Scott was still there, and I tried to be as understanding as he was when the tables had been turned just 2 years earlier. Scott worked in stations for me and was always a valuable asset. The specific circumstances of his firing are not important now; I had to make a tough decision and sometimes they just suck. Scott was pissed when I canned him and though I tried to be kind about it, the fact was he was getting fired and he deserved to be angry. Later on in life I came across Scott when he was a CEO for a small regional airline, and although he was courteous there was an edge there. I guess it is natural he wouldn’t be a pal or anything, but I always regretted the way things turned out.

I don’t really remember feeling “vindicated” or anything like that after I had been given back my previous responsibilities. Things were pretty screwed up and I was more worried about paying my mortgage. For the first time in my life I realized that a paycheck wasn’t magic. By this time I had worked for 13 years in the airline business and for very few of those years did the company I had worked for made a profit, yet I cashed my paycheck twice a month with no problem. I saw the P&Ls at our monthly management committee meetings, and although I wasn’t privy to the balance sheet or any of the MCA financial information, I knew we didn’t have any money.

The End of The End

During the summer of 1993 I decided to do something radical and write a November 1 schedule that only operated things that either made money or had a reasonable chance of breaking even. We had a new flight scheduling software package called Mach Up (which SABRE later bought and turned it into PC Air Flight) that had good graphics (for the time) and allowed the graphic manipulation of aircraft rotations. Our regular scheduler used our older software to write the November schedule and I locked myself in my office with the new whiz bang package to do something different. I started with a clean sheet and made three decisions; 1) Park the 8 Shorts 360s, and 2) Close EWR station 3) Except for JFK and some key BOS departures, forget about trying to connect to DL and de-peak our schedule.

I handed the schedule out at our management committee meeting in June 1993. It still needed work because I hadn’t reconciled the slot issues in DCA or LGA, so it was a work in progress. However the Shorts fleet was gone as were EWR and several transborder markets, and the Cape was all BE1 and twice a day only.

It’s been almost 13 years since I handed out that schedule and I remember fairly well that the reaction was underwhelming. I think the ASM count was cut about 20-30% and although I hadn’t done any calculation of how many employees would be affected, it was going to be drastic. I remember JimBob looking me in the eye and saying “your job is to fly the airplanes, not park them.” In the end it went nowhere and I wimped out and came back with the schedule everyone expected for November; too many seats, too many airplanes, too many markets.

Late that fall Jim Malski resigned as President of BEX. I never knew whether he quit or he and McManus came to an agreement, but I do know he got a nice severance package and left on a skiing trip with his family a couple of days after he separated from BEX. I talked to him one or two times after he left and he was relieved to be out of the pressure cooker.

Like an idiot I thought I might have a chance for Malski’s old job. Why I would want the job is beyond me, but my young career ego craved the idea of running an airline. I didn’t fully realize at the time, but the only person who would ever run BEX was McManus. At least until 1994.

It didn’t take long for McManus to pop my unrealistic bubble about “reading for the part”, as he would call it. At some point in December he asked me to have lunch with a guy that was recommended by Saab (very strongly recommended) to take over. Bryan Bedford was a young guy, a bit cocky, but nice enough, and smart. His experience to that point had been mostly on the financial side, but he had held senior positions and was certainly qualified. During lunch I asked him how he usually went about coming in to a situation like we had at BEX (a mess) and turning it around. He started talking about his teams; a marketing team, a planning team, a maintenance team, an operations team, a headquarters team, etc. Although I knew what the answer would be, I asked anyway, “will I be on any of these teams?” His answer was simple and direct, “No”.

OK then. Do I still have to pick up the check for lunch?

Shortly after the first of the year in 1994, Bryan Bedford arrived on the premises along with the leader of his planning team, named Joe Wilson (who we nicknamed “Mookie”, after the Mets baseball player). I was asked (told really) to stay on for a while and help write a spring schedule and at that point they would reveal the terms of my separation. Not wanting to spend a month of 14 hour days writing a schedule only to be given a raw deal at the end, I asked for my separation terms to be discussed ASAP. That didn’t happen, but I stayed on anyway. I didn’t have much choice and BB knew it. Most of the other HQ people in my area of revenue management, pricing, and scheduling were told they would be moving to Pease in a few months if they wanted the job.

We worked on the April schedule (which incidentally included the parking of the Shorts 360 fleet and some city closings) all during January and the first half of February. Some time in the beginning of February I was presented the terms of my separation, which included 6 months of severance, a $6,000/year pay cut, and no health insurance. After the severance packages given to Jim Malski and Jeff Hawkins, I thought this sucked, so I went to McManus but he was of little help. Evidently this was a new day at BEX and I was the first to find out. McManus did give me a free office to use at MCA while I looked for a job, but that was it.

I was the first of the VP’s to get the axe and others followed before the final move to PSM was accomplished. One of the most chicken shit things Bedford and his group pulled was when they whacked my whole staff on literally their last day in Westport before they were to report to PSM. It was soon obvious that the plan was never to have schedule planning and revenue in PSM but to move it to DEN. Why DEN? Because that’s where Mookie lived, so why not? I had been gone a couple of months by then and I remember when I learned about it I was incensed. The guys in schedule planning had worked their butts off on the new schedule and for Bryan and his new “team” to take advantage of their efforts and mislead them about their future was just wrong.


After BEX I consulted for a while, which is usually a code word for “looking for a job”, but I actually did some consulting work for about 18 months. I got a job at a company that served airlines as its customers, so I got a chance to experience life as an airline vendor. I’ve been fortunate and things have worked out for me and my family. My professional career has definitely been more stable as a vendor than it was working for an airline, though I can’t say sometimes I don’t get the urge to get back into the airline bidness. I usually lay down until that feeling passes.

I do occasionally see people from my old airline days, and though most of them moved on to other businesses, I did actually see an old Atlantic Air-Business Express now American Eagle pilot the other day deadheading to work. I recognized him but he didn’t recognize me; I guess airline management is harder on your aging process than being a professional pilot. Or maybe he has better genes than me. Anyway Joe, you look great.

There are some people who I am happy I never saw again, but let us try and remain positive.
If I had to list the things about my airline career that were good for me, I’d say the experience in a dynamically growing business was very good. I’d also say that I learned how to deal with personnel issues, mostly from my dealings with flight attendants. [True story – I once had a flight attendant call out in the middle of a 4 day trip because she had left her cat in the freezer. Evidently the cat had died the morning she was to leave on her trip and she didn’t have time to make….arrangements. So she put the cat in the freezer so it would, er, keep until she returned. However, after a day or so on the line she started feeling guilty and wanted to take care of it right then and there. I let her off the trip and I don’t think she came back to work.]
My regret about my time at BEX is that I didn’t do my job very well or with very good judgment. If I had paid more attention to doing a better job and not worrying about climbing the corporate ladder, I might still be in the airline bidness. I think I’d do the job much better now because I am a bit older and wiser.

Anyway, it’s done.