TSA: Caught with Hand in Pants

What a surprise. Today, out of Florida comes a story about a TSA agent who was “caught with his hands in his pants.” He might not have been “coping a feel” on himself but Continental Airline employees watched Mr. Nelson Santiago remove an iPad 2 from a travelers bag and stuff it in his pants.

After being arrested Monday on two counts of grand theft, police say Santiago admitted to stealing computers, GPS devices, video cameras, and other electronic merchandise from luggage he was supposed to be screening,” said the Broward Palms Times.

To make it worse, he would attempt to sell the stolen merchandise online, usually before his shift ended. Authorities estimate that Santiago’s haul totaled $50,000 over the past six months (source).

I stumbled upon another TSA/DHS related website after reading the ‘Comments’ associated with the above story. Some interesting comments, to say the least. Many of which I agree. The site is called Travel Underground and deals with “safety & security” in the travel realm. Included on this site are two “Master Lists” of TSA Abuses. These are stories and excepts that have come out from the traveling public, but are still unsure of the number of cases that go unreported.

One comment that caught my eye was from contributor, Lawerence in response to another comment about stopping flying altogether, as the TSA is now expanding operations outside the aviation industry.

“Understood. The government usually steals from other people to fund what it wants regardless of need or desire of those from whom it steals. Reduced airline revenue alone probably won’t bring justice to the TSA and shut them down, but I still don’t fly, read  on.

The TSA is performing illegal searches. I think the purpose of the advanced pat-downs, which are sexual gropings, are to intimidate the US population and to force sell body scanners via the government. In a recent TSA blog post, it was stated the terrorists are trying to change societal norms. This is false. It is the TSA that is trying to change society. Shame on all of the US citizens who accept the TSA at the Super Bowl, at that Prom, and at the airports. Our Constitutional rights do not end at the airport.”

As I have stated before I refuse to use the airline industry after spending 11 years with United Airlines in ramp service, flight dispatch and station operations. In reality a decrease in passenger service will equal a decrease in revenue, but it won’t have any effect on funding for the TSA, especially with VIPR teams and expanding scope on railways, highways and waterways.

Confessions of a Load Planner

Okay, so today’s offering really doesn’t have much to do with aviation security, but there was a Yahoo article titled, “35 Secrets Your Pilot Won’t Tell You” I read today. Spending 12 years at United Airlines and growing up with a father who was a pilot for 35 years and hearing stories from both my mother and sister who were flight attendants, I can relate to some of these comments made from individual pilots.

Some seem to be “common sense” type comments, but then again when is common sense ever common? Least of all in an aluminum tube traveling at 500 MPH. Air travelers do some stupid things, so these comments are to be taken in stride by myself as none of come off as surprising to me.

Although, much like pilots sharing this information, I too have my own list of  “things you don’t want to know about” as it relates to the operations side of an airline while at an airport. The one comment that did stand out, which I could directly relate to was, “I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” This worked conversely as well, pilots who wanted to carry as much fuel as a plane could. A good example, would be trips that departed from LAX or SYD bound for SYD and MEL. There would be pilots who would not budge when it came to their fuel load, which could mean leaving off revenue generating cargo and inconveniencing travelers who might not be able to get on the flight. Although if they are carrying minimum fuel and there are some bad headwinds, then it’s quite possible that plane will end up diverting while over the Pacific. Ever check fuel prices in Fiji?

Kids. How much do kids weigh? I don’t really know, but if I used enough of them as a load planner I would be able to make the weight and balance figures work, while being able to load the plane with cargo and all the passengers. This was another ploy used. Sometimes the number of kids used were considerably higher than the number of actual kids on the plane. I still recall bringing this to the attention of a shift manager who flat out lied to me saying, “People on my shift would not do that.” I call bullshit! I saw it. It did happen. But it was common when I was employed.

In all honesty, I did not care if you, as an air traveler missed your connecting flight. I don’t know you, nor do I care if you are going to be late to where you are traveling to. I wanted my airplanes that I was responsible for to release their brakes (aka depart from the gate) on-time. Why? Because this is where the emphasis was placed for operations, get the flight out on time, regardless. Last thing I wanted to do for 8 hours was argue with two departments over a 1 minute delay.

I would go as far as to move a connecting flight to a different gate to inconvenience passengers from getting to their connecting flight. I would remove all departure information for “close connections” off the ‘Arrival/Departure’ screens. If I really got in a pinch I would have the customer service agent lock the aircraft and pull the passenger loading bridge and let the airplane sit there for a few minutes rather than take a delay making connections.

The load planning was at best, a shot in the dark when the computers failed and you had to resort of “manual spinning” of the aircraft. All this means is you calculate weights and total and using a very primitive weight and balance computer (See Image) you would guesstimate figures needed for the pilots to enter into their flight computers in order to depart. Good article at AvStop regarding weight and balance calculations. It wasn’t until AFTER the fact when the computer came back online you would double check your work and sometimes the figures were not close, yet the aircraft still was able to depart.

In regards to weather, delays and what the FAA calls “estimated departure clearance times” (EDCT) or what pilots might call “wheels up” times, I had very little control or input on these times. I knew I had airplanes landing that needed gates, so it was common practice to load the plane and send it to a low traffic area on the tarmac to wait out these delays. If the FAA ground controller could not stash a plane somewhere I would send it to our remote maintenance area. Sometimes these delays to ORD or the east coast could be upwards of a few hours! So here I have trapped a planeload of passengers on a plane until their EDCT arrives.

I also would park planes at our hanger facility, order DOA (Department of Airports) buses to transport these passengers from the airplane to the terminal, about a 5-7 minute ride. We had so many planes, when times were good at the airlines that we did not have gate space for them. Since enroute times usually have a built in delay factor, airplanes were usually scheduled to arrive earlier than expected. So we actually planned for planes to arrive at the hanger. This could also be used to “break connections” to a close connecting flights.

Like I said, I was a bastard at the airlines.  What little motivation I ended my tenure there with, I was not about to go “above and beyond” to accommodate any passengers or any cargo. As long as my flights went out on time, management would stay off my back. Sad that local airline management (when I was still employed) only cared about their “Star Flights,” which were the early morning departures that began the day across the system. I don’t suspect things have gotten better since my departure from the airlines. These are just a few unknown facts that DO HAPPEN at the airlines.

Final Day at UA

*sigh* Well, I am the only one left in the office on my final night of work as I count down the hours. Many of my co-workers were excited to see me moving onto “bigger and better” things. I am a bit surprised that I did not get any sort of goodbye from any of the managers, let alone a party, not that I really expected them to go above and beyond or give me any sort of luck before leaving. Remember what I said about being in that “circle of trust?” I was never in it. Not that it means a damn thing to me now.

So much of my career at United Airlines could have been titled, “The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.” after the Clint Eastwood western film. Why is that? Well, things were “good” at one time, back when I was hired in June, 1995. I was thrilled to FINALLY be hired by the only company I wanted to work for, United Airlines. This was partly due to my father being employed by them for 30 years at the time (would retire 5 years later). So this was the company that put food on the table, a roof over my head and clothes on my back. Why wouldn’t you want to work somewhere that had done that growing up as a kid.

While I was the bottom of the list when I was hired as a part-time, temporary ramp serviceman, I had faith in the system, my background and my abilities. Unfortunately, one thing I did not have control over, as I found out very quickly was the politics of business. At least I had a foot in the door and this position was only temporary as I wanted to move onto bigger and better, using my BS in Aviation Management, pilot’s training and FAA Flight Dispatch License.

I took it upon myself to start to learn about a new department, operations, where I transferred to 10 months later, after observing for about 4 months and getting to know a few people who put in a good word. Thankfully an opening came up and I was selected. These were good times and I wanted to prove I was worthy to be in the position and made every attempt to go above and beyond to be the best I could and I think I was. Always received positive performance reviews and my supervisor’s enjoyed working with me.

In wanting to gain more experience I took a transfer to Chicago and the flight dispatch department, where I acted as an assistant dispatcher, building routes, entering flight times, checking NOTAMs and doing a lot of non-dispatch related functions, but having to put my time in before being able to test for a dispatch job. The pay was similar, but I was in Chicago. Cold. Snow. Windy. The suck, as I saw it, flying home to sunny and warm SoCal every weekend. Needless to say, that job did not last long, 10 months and I was back in Los Angeles chasing a supervisor position, one that I would fail to get, loosing out to politics (and a skirt).

Thankfully I would get the position a few years later and spend the better part of my 11 years in the station control center of Los Angeles and San Francisco doing what I knew, managing an operation. By 2000, the company was already in trouble, but no one wanted to admit it. I do believe bankruptcy protection was looming on the horizon, but somehow the company managed to stay out of it until 9-11-01.

September 11 changed EVERYTHING in the airline industry and for those at United Airlines, it all changed for the worse including furloughs, layoffs, cutbacks, pay cuts, or what upper management deems, “downsizing.” I hate how they sugarcoat shit, because it still tastes like shit in the end. After about 12 months salary was down nearly 33% and I was feeling the pinch. Raises…pfft. Consider those non-existant (until 2006, when I was awarded 3.25%) due to the cutbacks.

This was “The Bad.” in terms of the company. At one point I was told to be “thankfully” for making it through all the downsizing. Well, if you know your job and do it well, why should I consider myself lucky or thankfully? Now, maybe I was a bit arrogant in terms of position, but I did know my job and that of all the positions in the control center from manager on down and could do them all, so I considered myself rather valuable when it came to sizing up the other supervisors.

The “bad” continued until I left Los Angeles for San Francisco and new opportunities, so I thought. I did act as a temporary shift manager for about 4 months, after successfully passing the interview, but NOT being selected (again, one skirt was hired and some unknown from Denver). I was told I that I was “too new in the station and no one knew me?” Huh? So you hired some schmo from Denver who no one knows? Keep the smoke blowing!!!

After I finished my tenure and upgrade job, I went to midnights to finish out my tenure at United, where I spent a majority of my time in operations as my own boss, in charge of everything! Many of those opened doors soon shut and the chances for advancement were lost, “The Ugly.” soon rolled in. I was very unhappy in my role at United. With little chance for advancement and the company now hiring supervisor from outside for $10,000 more than what I made after 10+ years at the company some bitterness set in. I know for a fact this was seen as a slap in the face from many supervisors in the same position.

The ugly soon reared it’s ugly head and to be honest I hated coming to work. The working conditions were terrible, antiquated equipment, circa WW2 (you should see our radio system!), Dos applications, Windows 95 on what few computers we had and a poor planning system that was always lagging behind technology. My attitude was piss poor, but thankfully I did a solid job on midnights once everyone left. Unfortunately, none of this resulted in a positive review (2006). Prior years, we had three shift managers who were professional and capable of doing their jobs and did them well, unlike now. The three stooges we have in place now could not run an operation to save their life, all they know how to do is act like lapdogs to the department manager, but don’t get me started on her, she is truly a piece of work. Needless to say, she was hand picked for the position by the station manager (See circle of trust).

Being bitter about the company, lack of pay and assorted other things, it made time slide by very slowly and really affected me as a person. Just ask my wife. I have been a completely different person than the one she married 2 years ago. The bitterness and animosity was terrible. I would usually tab my job as the root of all my moodiness and I think it was a fair assessment. While I would not bring work home, the attitude would follow and that only created problems.

Thankfully in May a unique opportunity presented itself, one that I wanted to make good on in order to improve myself and way of life for my family. So, while it has not all been bad at United Airlines, it not been easy since 2001. I think my father got at at the perfect time, because this place has gone to hell since then. As of this writing, I vow NEVER TO FLY UNITED AIRLINES AGAIN! I do not believe in the company and will not support them or their model of business. There are many other reasons for not wanting to fly them, but just knowing what goes on and how they do business, treat customers, I don’t want to be a part of that.

I respect my sister, who also has 11 years at the company as a flight attendant and I wish her well. She is a great employee when it comes to doing her job and serving the customer. Unfortunately, I am not that type of person. So, for her benefit I hope United Airlines continues to do business.

My patience has paid off, I never thought the day would come where I would actually leave this company. But that day is here and I am ready to walk through that door and NEVER look back or second guess my decision. I know I have support in place from my friends at BART and they want to see me succeed. Thus ends a chapter in my life at United Airlines, but begins a new chapter in my life.

Tired of Work

I’m tired…sick and tired of my job at the airlines. Now, along the way there have been some good times to go along with the bad that have dominated since 2001. I can remember back to my first date in June, 1995 when I was hired as a ramp serviceman in Los Angeles. Everybody sort of sizing each other up, making some new friendships and learning the ropes of a new job.

I grew up in an airline family, so was really the only industry I knew. My father was a pilot, mother a flight attendant and just a few months prior to my being hired, my sister was hired as a flight attendant too. All my training and education has been centered around the airlines as well. I graduated with a B.S. in Aviation Management from Southern Illinois. I attended specialized training and became a licensed F.A.A. Flight Dispatcher. I also started flying in 1990, with my goal to be a pilot and follow in the footsteps of my father.

When I turned 30 I gave up on achieving my dream to be a pilot. Times were very competitive with airlines going out of business, highly experienced pilots coming out of the military and honestly, I was out of money to continue to fly on my own dime. I ventured down a few different runways looking for a change in what I was doing with the airlines. I moved over to the operations side of the industry at the end of 1995, where I have been since, with a minor stop in Chicago.

2001 was a bad year for the airlines with 9-11 shutting down the skies over the United States, something that had never happened before. It was about that time, my airline took a turn for the worse (as did many), with costs continuing to rise and profits..well lack of profits continuing to sink deeper and deeper into the red.

By the start of 2002, we had already seen a few pay cuts, these cuts would continue for another year. When it was all said and done nearly 30% of my wages had been cut! But I was reminded, I should consider myself  “lucky” for still having a job after much downsizing and reorganizing, as well as my airline filing for bankruptcy protection *sigh*.

I figured I could get a fresh start in San Francisco, but I see I see HR and upper management play the same type of games as Los Angeles did. If you are not on the “fast track” you won’t see management above the supervisor level. Quite unfortunate for me, as I know my job damn well, but was not given the chance. I don’t want to get involved with the discrimination that takes place, but it’s there. You need to be a blind moron to miss it! And I was told by one department manager and a shift manager that I was not selected because they (HR) wanted a female. Talk about getting the shaft! I’m over that now.

It is long past that time to GTFO. I am just buying my time as I work on my resume and get a real opportunity ti interview with a new company and hopefully secure a new line of work that will pay me what I am worth. Not 30%. Speaking of, my rational is this, they took 30% of my pay so I work 30% less. Fair, right? Logical? Right? But in reality upper management wants you doing more with less. Typical, huh?

The way the company is managed (or is that mismanaged) at the local level is amazing. We do things the same way over and over, yet toss some weather or a mechanical or something out of the ordinary and it’s SNAFU! A great example, just last night I had a flight delayed for nearly 5 hours, after which time I was told maintenance could not fix. But instead of being upfront and honest about it, they kept stringing me along for 30 minutes a pop before I knew it, the flight attendants were going illegal, walking off the aircraft and I was out of options.

The airlines are no longer glamorous, regardless of the “cheap” tickets or free travel that comes with it. These days nearly ALL airline tickets are cheap. I would not be surprised if you, the non airline employee could find some tickets to rival what I pay with my benefits. Not to mention, if there are no seats, I don’t fly.

Even IF our company comes out of bankruptcy things won’t change. We have “performance reviews” every year, but realistically what does it matter how we score? We are not going to see a raise. The company, while improving will still not turn a profit. *sigh* It’s the same old thing, year after year. Nothing gets better, it only gets worse. And that 30% I will never see it again as long as I stay as an employee with this company.

Blurred Reality – Flight Attendant School

What the hell is going on here? I think the entertainment industry is attempting to make a mockery of the airline industry. Okay, so I have not been that excited to part of this industry since…uh, since 9-11-01. That is approximately when our company started cutting our pay, which finally stopped at about a 30% cut. But, I won’t rant about that today.

First A&E ripoffs that UK sitcom called Airline, and now produce an ‘Airline‘ of their own based on low-cost, no frills carrier, Southwest. I just wrote about this a few days ago. But this morning while listening to the Armstrong & Getty morning show I understand there is now something called, Flight Attendant School based around Denver based, Frontier Airlines.

What the hell? Do viewers really find watching a bunch of bimbos and gay guys learn and train to become a flight attendant, entertaining? Don’t get me wrong, my sister is a flight attendant, as was my mother. My sister is damn good at her job too. But she tells me horror stories from training through actually working trips. It is amazing that some of these “stewardesses” continue to keep their jobs.

But these days, flight attendants are whiny prima donnas that are so damn lazy when it comes to doing their job that this “reality” show will be no more real than Airline is!I guess this puts me one step closer to bringing my video camera to work and documenting what ACTUALLY happens at an airline. I can guarantee you it is look at reality, while these shows are nothing but a sham and cast a bad light on the airline industry.

I am beginning to wonder why I even have a television.