“Fundamental Things”


Freight Dawg
“Fundamental Things”, by Dick Drury

Even he had them, thoughts of what could have been, if only things
had been different, but now it was beyond all that. This part of his
story was about to end. Yes, even Bogart had mixed emotions as Ingrid
shed a tear and then walked through the mist to the tune of old round
engines as a studio orchestra played to our hearts. Of course, the
‘usual suspects’ would be rounded up, blamed for everything. They always
are. Tomorrow would be another day, a new beginning. What is past
is history and we move onward and forward, ideally with positive lessons
learned. Wallowing in the mud of what could and should have been is
not nutritious fare.
Sooner or later all stories end. And now it is my turn. It has
come to this, an old movie fading to “THE END’. I am age sixty and
am on my way off stage. So I am now frequently asked, would I like
to change that age limit? Absolutely! I wish it were age fifty-five,
or less. But that is a personal thing. To explain is to examine the
current state of the industry – or ‘demise’ is perhaps a more apt epithet.
It is to briefly express what I miss and why.
When I first joined the ‘real’ airlines in 1973, we all knew the
fellow with the job title of “Chief Pilot’. He was not twenty or thirty
years old, but more like fifty, maybe near retirement age. His office
was full of aviation memorabilia, photos of the airplanes he had flown
with the company – and that meant all of them – in every venue, in every
bit of lousy weather from typhoons to the ice and snow of many winters,
from props to jets. He had walked the walk over and again, so when
he said something about what we did or how we ought to do it, his word
carried the weight of not only authority but true line experience.
He knew all the fundamentals, because his flight bag carried the scars
of 20 years or more of flightdeck life. The stripes on his sleeve were
even worn and fading, as the wearing away from thousands of hours doing
the real job took the sheen off new gear. In a way, this was a badge
of honor.
His office was a fun place to visit. That is if you loved airplanes,
because they had been his life. There were models of the company airplanes,
and he was an expert in all of them, wall and tables with all those
great aviation photos, even some books and magazines on aviation, from
history to current times. This place was something like a visit to
your grandfather who had done it all, who now resided in some wonderful
room of magic, and you were allowed to wander and enjoy. Unless it
was your turn to receive his fury because you had done something stupid.
Even then, you took it because you knew that he was right and this
was not political or windows-dressing nonsense. In fact, he rejected
being used in that way. He was real.
In this image, he also had merit above and beyond our respect.
He could also let the CEO and his minions – plus the FAA – know when
they were wrong, or that something they proposed was dumb, or that their
demands were preposterous. He was in a position of honor, gained by
years of line service covering every aspect of the flight operations
of the company. He stood up for the troops and we knew it. When his
type retired, another from the same mold would be there, an anchor in
our aviation careers. But those guys are long gone. And I miss them.
The corporate replacement philosophy was simple. A seasoned veteran
who speaks up was unacceptable. They wanted someone who would sell
his soul for particular financial arrangements, a special retirement
package, the opportunity to not fly except on little jaunts of their
choosing on pleasant days to enjoyable places, for the illusion of power
and prestige, and who would sing the political slant no matter how ludicrous
or harmful or even dangerous. Their personal mantra was the invidious,
“Up yours, I got mine’.
So the old offices were cleaned out and the new breed moved in.
A breed that also perpetuated themselves. At one time, you could never
be an instructor of any sort unless you had flown the line for many
years as a captain and knew every nuance of life on the line. All that
went by the wayside with the New Age. Knowing someone ‘in the office’,
whilst having no line experience and never being a seasoned captain,
was inexperience and ignorance to be rewarded. As the Samurai sword-maker
says: “All the blades are hidden within the metal.” Yes, and the character
of the blade certainly depends upon the quality of that metal.
I miss a time when the words ‘in-flight service’ was not an oxymoron.
We once had – and this is true – such people as ‘Stewards’ and ‘Stewardesses’.
Food was served on plates with real silverware. Stewards poured champagne
or mixed drinks. Stewardesses were charming, bright, and helpful, catering
to the passengers’ every need and whim. And the food was superb. Passengers
even wore decent clothes, actually dressed for the occasion, and were
well-mannered and civil.
This is all fiction now. Top executives sold the idea that an airline
seat could be had for $24.99 or some other asinine figure. Then seats
should be miniaturized so that maximum income could be gained. All
that would have to be done is take away the salary and benefits of the
company employees, among other ominous schemes. The airport became
the new bus station. Everyman should be able to fly. Now we all pay
for it with shoddy service, little concern, and certainly no enthusiasm.
Why have master craftsmen do something for five hundred dollars when
you can get a cheap imitation for $2.95?
And, naturally I miss the time when the professional airline pilot
was respected, when he was not the target of the jealous and petty,
or of some agency which needs to show a list of how many people have
been inspected – and pilots are easy targets. Those of us who love
flight and fought to fly have seen the profession deliberately disparaged
to the point where we are to be collectively humiliated before the passengers
with near strip searches, unable to speak up for fear of job loss, questioned,
belittled, probed, drug-tested, and finally blamed for every company
problem including top corporate ill-conceived tactics. We have become
the popular scapegoat. And now it is not only the wages to be ravaged
but retirement that was bargained for and promised. It may soon be
common to have worked in the profession for 30 years and come away with
absolutely nothing. That is, for the employees. It will be determined
to be ‘legal’, which has nothing to do with the reality of honor. At
least I am departing at a time when only one-half of my retirement has
been confiscated. So far …….
Even as I go, with unimaginable negativity, discord, and turmoil
in abundance within the airline industry, the usual suspects are being
rounded up. We are all being asked to do far more for far less while
the lords and masters reap the personal fortunes of kings, taking absolutely
no personal responsibility or accountability for their business decisions.
Stealing the 30-year pensions of dedicated professional employees is
considered the coup du jour. After all, how can that $30 million personal
ski mansion be built, or the executive jet be flown, or the personal
box at Monte Carlo for the Formula One Grand Prix be maintained, if
that money is not confiscated?
We have clearly seen how these members of ‘royalty’ have placed
themselves above and beyond the rules of sane, civilized behavior with
exceptional arrangements to exclude themselves from any possible corporate
downfall. Now, putting 20,000 people out of work brings forth a personal
$20 million bonus. Fundamentals of dealing with human beings, basics
known as ethics and honor and integrity, no longer have any meaning
in this corporate world. The concepts are to be ignored at all costs.
As I walk out of the door, making my exit from this morass, a huge
burden is lifted from my shoulders. In general, morale and spirit are
dead issues. The robber barons are fully exonerated for their crimes,
while the public has been conditioned to feel that all people should
be equal in misery – so the honorable profession of aviator is continually
denigrated. Its stature and glory are now long gone, and as a Japanese
friend remarked on the Japan of now versus what he knew as a young man,
“It is as though the country has lost its soul.” Indeed, this industry
has suffered that very fate.
I have experienced great years of flying the big jets around the
world. Sunrises and sunsets over the Pacific will play in my mind’s
theater forever. As best as could be done in the fleet of wide-body
jetliners, I have played out my story of joy in the sky. Co-pilots
have said, “Best trip I’ve had,” and students not only learned the consequential
things but enjoyed themselves in the process. Friends made in cities
all around the globe will always be with me. I was there when it was
not merely a profession but a celebration of flight, performed with
quality and excellence, and with a good measure of fun. Now it is time
to go and I am delighted that I can. Sure, there is a measure of sadness,
but it is akin to grief over someone who has passed away. They are
gone and we will miss them. But they are not coming back. We will
keep the memories of the best, as they were, whilst realizing that we
must carry on with our lives. The volume of the musical theme rises
while the theater lights dim. The song is playing, but to deaf ears
……. “The fundamental things apply ……. as time goes by.”


Well-Known Member
Drury has been a fixture at our place a long time. Great person to be on a layover with! I highly recommend his book, "My Secret War", as well.


Staff member
Amen, Rick.

Drury's book "My Secret War" is scary in that there's so many parallels between how he felt of the Air Force/military then, and how I feel about it now.

Military BS seemingly never changes over time.