A Death in the Family – a Frontier Airlines post-script…
The following report was written by Captain Billy Walker in 1987
on the First Anniversary of the cessation of operations at Frontier Airlines.
Bankruptcy was declared a few days later and the airline was dead.
Then the vultures moved in to feast on the remains.
Walker was MEC Chairman for ALPA, the pilots’ union, from 1982 until the end.
He had been a pilot for Frontier since 1967.
There were four other unions at Frontier in addition to ALPA.
ALEA represented agents & clerks, IAM the mechanics, AFA the flight attendants, and TWU the dispatchers.
All 5 unions formed the FEC – Frontier Employees Coalition.
It was this group that tried so desperately to save Frontier Airlines.
Wage givebacks, work rule changes, & other union efforts to save the company started as early as 1982.
August 24, 1987
ONE YEAR LATER… It was just a year ago that the safest airline in the worldwide history of civil aviation was shut- down. Why?
Surprisingly, an easy question to answer. But it would take a long time to lead someone through the series of violent roller-coaster rides the Frontier family has been on in its incredible odyssey these past few years since the start of deregulation
Actually, just prior to deregulation Frontier was one of two carriers supportive of such a radical change to the air transportation industry. Al Feldman, then president of Frontier, along with Richard Ferris (UAL) wanted deregulation. Interestingly, Frank Lorenzo did not.
Things might be a lot different now had Al Feldman stayed with Frontier. I certainly view that being better for both Al and FAL. When Big Al was C.E.O. at Frontier we went from being a troubled carrier to an incredible success story. At one point we led the nation in airline profits. But Big Al left to run Continental, and Frontier’s trouble began.
Al Feldman’s successor at Frontier was his Executive Vice President, Glen Ryland. Ryland came to Frontier from Aero- Jet General when Feldman was brought on board. After Feldman left, Ryland let the O’Neil family know he was leaving too. The O’Neils offered Ryland the job along with an incredible package.
Ryland turned out to be an incompetent manager. He failed in so many ways it was obvious to the most casual observer that Frontier would be doomed if corrections were not immediate. Ryland would not focus on the airline and its future viability. Rather, he believed it would continue to operate as it had in the past and he could diversify into other areas. He formed a holding company and bought other business interests. Then he decided Frontier did not need a feeder operation, so he sold the CV-580 fleet and began to run our little B-737’s head to head with United and other larger carriers flying wide-body aircraft on longer-haul routes. Our horrible ordeal was just beginning.
Once upon a time in 1982 some fellows went on a fishing trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Dick Ferris, Bob Crandall, Frank Lorenzo and Glen Ryland were there, only they did not go fishin.’
What they did we learned sometime later, for in July, 1983 Frontier Horizon (an alter-ego airline) was formed. Then on September 23rd, 1983 Lorenzo put Continental into bankruptcy even though he had $800,000,000.00 plus in the bank. United had a wonderful opportunity along with Frontier to stop what would become the largest airline in the free world (Texas Air), but they didn’t. Why?
The Frontier pilots offered to fly the Horizon aircraft at the same rates they were offering pilots off the street. Ryland turned us down. We offered to fly the CV-580’s on a separate contract sensing the need to retain our feeder operation and have a conduit for our furloughed pilots. Again, we were turned down. Certainly, this couldn’t be a labor busting tactic could it? Just because we are not paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get us! Right?
The Frontier pilots joined with other employee groups in a coalition. We fought hard and we eventually were able to rid ourselves of Ryland and this insidious Horizon thing. But at what cost?
Ryland hurt us in other areas too. The O’Neils had expressed interest in divesting their ownership of Frontier. The O’Neils owned around 12% of GenCorp. Gen Corp wholly owned RKO General. RKO owned 45.2% of Frontier.
Ryland attempted to personally capitalize on the O’Neil’s desire to sell by making his own moves to gain control. It was the view of we employee leaders that once Ryland gained control he would then liquidate from within. Morally bad, yet economically a good idea, as Frontier was an exceptionally strong company with an excellent asset/debt ratio.
We employee leaderss went to Gerry O’Neil who promptly canned Ryland and replaced him with Hank Lund. Lund’s credentials were excellent with the exception he had been the president of the Frontier Horizon horror. He had been with Northwest and then with Frontier many years before replacing Ryland. Regardless, Lund soon endeared himself to the Frontier family.
While the Frontier employees had begun their quest at gaining some control over their own destiny through development of an ESOP little to nothing was accomplished with Ryland. We were, however, able to make great progress with Lund’s administration. O’Neil even indicated support initially.
We later learned what a swell guy O’Neil was. He wanted Hank Lund to posture Frontier for liquidation. Lund refused and was fired. Lunds replacement was Joe O’Gorman (O’Gorman came from Aloha after being with Air Cal, United). While Lund had become an excellent C.E.O. and had worked with the Coalition O’Gorman had to overcome a lot before the employees would trust him.
O’Gorman put on the effort and developed a credible management team. With the evelopment of the ESOP (the Frontier ESOP would have been the first airline to have been totally owned by the employees), restructuring the airline was necessary. O’Neil had sold 25 B-737’s to United along with the 5 Horizon B-727’s and our 5 MD-80’s. We had to replace these aircraft in order to survive.
Frank Lorenzo was buzzing around and O’Neil was considering his offers. We employees were burning the midnight oil working on every means to thwart the Lorenzo threat.
This was happening at a time when our “brothers” at United went on strike. Here was our proud little airline crashing down about us – 35 aircraft gone to United – United Pilots on strike – and Dick Ferris inviting the Frontier pilots to cross the line for $75,000/year for Captains, $50,000/year for First Officers.
There were over 200 United pilots who crossed the strike line initially. More than 300 UAL pilots earned the name “scab” before the 29 day strike ended.
3 Frontier pilots broke ranks. Only three Frontier Pilots (2 Captains and one First Officer) became strike breakers at a time many of the Frontier pilots were certain Frontier couldn’t survive the Ryland/O’Neil destruction.
Not only did the Frontier family walk tall they kept the airline’s safety record intact despite the tremendous pressure born out of the terrible uncertainty they and their family’s lived with daily.
Ferris was having trouble training replacement pilots. O’Gorman requested our approval to use the Boeing 737 simulator as Frontier would get a bonus rate. We threatened ol’ Joe with bodily harm if he accepted. We were totally committed to the United pilots strike. To Joe’s credit he did not push the simulator proposal.
Our ESOP was approved by the Frontier Board. We employees paid a dear price to fight off Mr. Lorenzo. However, we then believed we soon would control our destiny.
Lorenzo had become enamoured with TWA. He and Carl Ican went head-to-head. Ican was the victor, but it cost the Frontier folks dearly. Lorenzo came back to the Frontier deal days before shareholder approval of our ESOP. Lorenzo’s offer was too rich for the employees to out bid.
What would I be writing about today if only ol’ Carl had kept friend Frank busy a bit longer? We looked everywhere for a white hat.
While we felt our ESOP would be successful because O’Gorman had worked a deal with Bob Crandall and American Airlines through an alliance, we would need a buyer willing to out bid Lorenzo.
Crandall was interested. O’Gorman sent Vice-Chairman Doug Bader and myself to DFW for a 3 hour meeting with the Allied pilots. The purpose of this meeting was to see if the APA pilots would help bring a group of ALPA pilots on board with American. The meeting lasted nearly all night. It was a positive meeting. Hank Duffy, ALPA president, called from an IFALPA conference in Sweden saying he would roll out the red carpet if the Frontier pilots wanted to go with American.
The next day, a Saturday, Doug and I boarded an American 727 for Denver with good feelings about our meeting. We met Mr. and Mrs. Bob Crandall on board who were traveling to Denver for a retirement party for some American pilots. Crandall sitting next to us across the isle, leaned over and said: “you know we have to have this deal done by Tuesday don’t you?” I replied:”Yes sir! We had a good meeting with your pilot leadership, and feel there will be no problem moving forward.”
That was the last we heard from Crandall. On Sunday I called O’Gorman to report on the trip and my brief conversation with Crandall. Joe then asked me to meet him in his office Monday around noon.
Monday 8:00 AM O’Gorman called to ask me to restate that which I had reported to him the day before. I restated this and then asked what was up. O’Gorman said he had been unable to contact Crandall. He felt Crandall was refusing his calls and was not returning them either.
The American deal was dead. Fred Vogel, president of APA, later informed me of a meeting called by American upper management Sunday. He said the feelings were this would be the “announcement.” Nothing happened and the meeting broke up.
Speculation was that Lorenzo got to Crandall and reminded him of a few things. Things possibly like “I won’t play in your back yard if you don’t play in mine.” American had announced big plans in the Denver market. No such plans exist today. Continental, while expanding into many back yards hasn’t done so in American’s two new hub operations. If this speculation is true, you can bet it wasn’t done on the telephone… (ref: the conversation between Crandall and Braniff’s Lawerence that caused a major public uproar a few years prior).
Meanwhile, a lot of effort was put forth looking for Mr. “White Hat,” who happened to end up being PeoplExpress’ Don Burr. Burr was in Monterey, California playing tennis with Jack Macatee a lawyer with Davis & Polk, a New York law firm who worked for Frontier in the past. Macatee was lamenting on the fact that poor ole Frontier was being gobbled up by Lorenzo. They discussed this and by lunch time Burr was very interested. All this happened on the Wednesday following the Saturday plane ride with Crandall. On Thursday Joe O’Gorman and two Frontier Coalition lawyers went to Monterey to meet Burr. They hacked out a few basic points of agreement after which Burr asked to meet the leaders of the employee groups. The Employee Coalition controlled a lot of what would happen through our “Merger Agreement” developed in the ESOP program.
We met Don Burr and his following the Saturday following the Crandall plane ride. 72 hours later we walked arm-in-arm into the Frontier Board of Directors meeting in New York and pulled the deal away from Lorenzo.
The employees had offered $19.00/share. Lorenzo offered $21.00/share until 3:00AM the morning of the Board meeting when he upped the offer to $22.00/share. The coalition was waiting in the Davis & Polk office through the night and learned Lorenzo had upped the “ante.” We approached Burr thinking he would end up in a bidding war. Interestingly, he decided to “go for broke” and offer $24.00 if the Frontier board would lock up the deal. The coalition agreed to beseech the board. We explained that if O’Neil and the board decided on going with Lorenzo we would go to war, but that if the board chose Burr’s proposal we employees would be willing participants.
The way the employees structured the deal was based on totally democratic principles. While there were ways for the union leaders to act with autonomy, at least in the case of the pilots, it was preferential to give the employees the vote on these major issues. In fact I insisted on this approach throughout my tenure as MEC Chairman.
During the ratification process of what became known as the “October 17th Agreement,” I was contacted by Frank Lorenzo.
My first conversation with Lorenzo was a secret telephone conversation held in our old friend Hank Lund’s office. Along with Hank, the Vice-Chairman, Doug Bader, and the Executive Administrator, Bob Williams, and I had a lengthy conversation where Lorenzo made us an offer considerably greater than Burr’s. Lorenzo asked for a meeting in person. I explained to him that we would carefully consider his proposal, but I needed to discuss this further with members of my MEC. Lorenzo offered his private home number and asked me to call him that evening. I agreed.
The MEC decided to keep all this very close to our chest as the pilots group would be extremely agitated at even the idea of our talking with Lorenzo at this point in time. It was obviously of equal importance to analyze ALL options available.
We did agree to meet Lorenzo personally if he would be willing to put his proposal in writing. He said he would give us a written proposal after we met personally.
My second conversation was equally cordial. Lorenzo was one to radiate confidence and he bet me the PeoplExpress thing would not work. He bet me a steak dinner. However, Lorenzo was still unwilling to give me a written proposal prior to any meeting in person. I had expressed concerns as to the credibility issue. Lorenzo sounded agitated and remarked that he did not “eat his employees. “That he was a family man with four small children.” I mentioned that there was a rumor that he ate his young. This was the one point in our conversation that caused the cordiality to dim substantially. I then commented that if anything was to grow out of our conversation I proposed to shoot from the hip. That he did not enjoy a good rating in the industry with respect to dealings with employees. I further explained that I would move forward if it was in the apparent best interests of the Frontier Family. I would, however, not meet personally without a proposal of his earlier guarantees in writing.
There were several other calls from Lorenzo. One even to me while in session with the Executive Board of Directors meeting with ALPA in Washington just a day or so before the Peoples ratification was to be final.
With more of a business relationship than the former management/labor adversary kind, I informed both Burr and O’Gorman of Lorenzo’s overture.
Burr went through the ceiling for a while on that. Burr wanted to sick the attorney’s on Lorenzo but, cooler heads prevailed. O’Gorman and I talked him out of this course of action. The employees ratified the October 17th agreement by a very high majority.
Less than a year later the PeoplExpress experiment proved a miserable failure. Burr was to the point of irrational behavior. One executive decision would be followed by something totally different. Many many things were happening which indicated our quest for “buying time” with Peoples would be short lived.
Burr announced in June of ’86 that “all or part of PeoplExpress would be for sale.” I promptly reached Joe O’Gorman, now a Vice-President with United asking for his help. I felt comfortable calling O’Gorman as we had developed a cordial business relationship while he was with Frontier. He was the one who authorized myself and the other coalition members to act on behalf of the company in our negotiations leading to the “October 17th Agreement.” I had also called Roger Hall my counter part at United.
O’Gorman called to say he had set a secret meeting in Chicago. It would be the 25th of June, 1986 when the head of the ALEA and AFA unions would, along with myself, meet with O’Gorman and David Pringle, Vice President Human Resources, at United’s hotel near the Chicago airport. It was a cordial meeting lasting a couple of hours with all feeling positive as the meeting broke up. In fact Pringle dropped the three of us off at United ALPA and AFA headquarters in his own car. We then briefed our counterparts on the meeting.
There were a few subsequent telephone exchanges to let us know things were being discussed. Then on the 9th of July Pringle called me to let me know there would be an announcement the next day that United was buying Frontier from PeoplExpress.
Jump for Joy!
Soon the employee leadership, with the exception of the IAM who separated from the Coalition prior the Peoples deal, met with United’s Pringle and others who would be involved with labor negotiations. We felt we would be treated fairly such as the PanAm/United deal a year earlier… Wrong!
It was evident United would only deal with the pilots first and then expect the other unions to follow suit. It was also obvious we were about learn some new dance steps a-la Pringle. Doug Bader,MEC Vice Chairman, Skip Taylor, MEC Secretary, and I flew to Seattle for the United pilots MEC meeting. I instructed the pilots Negotiating Committee to begin the process in hopes our initial indication was just posturing on the part of Pringle.
Our initial fears proved justified as United clearly wanted the Frontier pilots to negotiate a deal based on our then current wages and then it would be up to us to convince the United pilots to accept it. In essence, we were being asked to do something illegal. We were being asked to abrogate the United pilots contract.
At that time we felt fortunate as we had developed a great relationship with the United pilots. Doug and I had several meetings with Roger Hall the United MEC chairman. Earlier, Roger had made some efforts to approach Ferris with the hope he would be interested in acquiring Frontier. We had gone to point to agree, in principle, that a future merger would be on a straight date-of-hire basis.
The next step was to put our respective MEC negotiating committees together to work in concert.
We had several meetings both jointly and severally. The United pilots many many times promised, assured, and guaranteed the Frontier pilots that what happened August 28th, 1986 could not, would not happen. But it did. Why?
Roger Hall was called on by members of the Frontier Coalition for re-confirmation of these promises. More than once the Coalition traveled to Chicago for personal meetings with Hall and Pat Friend, United AFA Chairperson. Each time we received the same answer first espoused by Pat Austin…”We might dangle you, but we won’t let you drop.” Doug Bader requested re-assurance on several occasions.
Randy Babbitt, Executive Administrator ALPA, worried that the United pilots were in Las Vegas gambling with the Frontier pilots money. I asked what options were available. Of course there were none, only the promise that in the end all bets would be covered by our United “brothers.”
Meanwhile the two negotiating committees met on and off with Pringle and his team. There was plenty of posturing and game playing, much to the consternation of the Frontier folks. We asked Congressman Tim Wirth (later a Senator from Colo) to intercede. Tim would come to our aid many times and into the negotiations twice.
It was becoming apparent that United had structured a win-win deal for themselves and a lose-lose deal for us. Ironically, United would end up losing the Frontier assets to Continental. These Frontier Assets were acquired illegally by United. UAL paid PeopleExpress for specific FAL assets with People transferring ownership direct to United. Nothing ever flowed through Frontier. Even more ironic was the later Continental’s argument, through its new subsidiary Frontier, showed United failed to bargain in good faith with the Frontier employees.
With these concerns becoming more apparent the Frontier Negotiating Committee expressed their position, as did I for the MEC, to the United MEC.
A few days prior to the FAL bankruptcy I requested ALPA president, Hank Duffy’s, presence in Chicago. Duffy rearranged his schedule and met with Hall and myself for a complete briefing at which time I reiterated my concerns. I intimated I had been left dangling out a 40 story building. That I was hanging by a couple of finger nails, but that Roger Hall and the UAL ALPA negotiating committee assured me they would not let me drop. I explained that, although I had locked arms with the UAL MEC up to this point, I now disagreed with Hall’s view. That unless the United pilots agreed to take United up on their last offer we could well be sacrificed.
We Frontier folks should feel confident the United pilots would not let us down. After all we among their strongest supporters during the 1985 29 day strike. Probably, we were their strongest allies.
Duffy turned to Hall and asked him for his assessment, which Hall agreed was as I had described. Hall went on to reiterate his position, that he and the MEC knew this management and that they would be there to pull me to safety at the “right time.” That we might have to suffer going through a shut down of operations and possibly a bankruptcy, but that last call from Hartigan (then president of UAL) would come or Hall would make that last call himself. Believe me, if I didn’t have an ulcer by then it wasn’t for the lack of trying.
This meeting occurred hours before the shut down. The shuttle negotiations having failed, not for lack of effort by Tim Wirth and his aid Phil Clapp, brought the next crisis.
Burr threatened that unless the pilots struck a deal he was going to put Frontier into Chapter 11. Again, I requested Duffy’s presence. Again, Duffy responded and met with Hall and myself for a lengthy briefing on our situation.
Duffy asked me to assess things from my perspective. I painted the picture of having been hanging by finger nails since he left our last meeting. Only now I was certain Hall and the UAL MEC would renege on the promises, assurances, and guarantees made to the Frontier family and I had better try to work my way to safety. I went on to say I had worked my way up to the roof-top, but the building was a blazing inferno and I would burn to death or jump. If I jumped the only thing that could save me would be someone with a net. I turned to Roger Hall and looked him square in the eye and asked, “are you going to be there with that net, Roger?” Roger did not hesitate and said he would definitely be there.
In ALPA’s defense, Duffy could have done little with the way the Airline Pilots Association is structured with MEC autonomy. Certainly, with Roger Halls continued reassurances ALPA national could do little more than pressure the UAL MEC.
The following day, one year ago today, August 28th, 1986 the UAL MEC listened to my appeal, turned their brotherly backs, and have ignored the plight of the Frontier family to this day.
Certainly, there were concerned UAL individuals expressing their dismay. They, along with the rest of us found it hard to believe their management would be so stupid as to toss the golden nugget, they perceived Frontier to be, to the likes of Francisco Lorenzo.
What then is UAL ALPA’s guilt. They simply failed to judge their managements motives and misjudged their business acumen. For by throwing away Frontier’s biggest assets, the employees, (as UAL V.P. Monte Lazerus cited in a bald faced lie to the Denver City Council) they ended up the big loser by losing the material goods as well. They actually catapulted Lorenzo into 1st place, controlling well over 22% of the U.S. domestic market share.
What a long plane ride home. Instead of being met by a lynch mob, I was greeted like a conquering hero. How enigmatic!
Yet the devastation felt by the Frontier family can only be appreciated by folks like ONA, Braniff, Transamerica, Transtar, Eastern, Midway and the others sickened by the effects of incompetent management.
With the blood of the Frontier employees oozing onto the United Airlines ramp there was only one option available.
I still had a phone number given me a year earlier. I placed a call to Mr. Lorenzo. The call was placed just prior to the annual Labor Day Parade in Denver. Ironically, the Frontier unions marching that day won 1st place. The only real win since before Al Feldman left to run Continental.
Lorenzo was not in, but returned my call a couple of days later. Again, a cordial positive visit. I confirmed the fact I owed him a steak dinner for the casual bet made regarding the outcome of the PEX merger with FAL. I allowed that our position had changed and I was not attempting to try posturing. But, if we could work a “fair and equitable” arrangement for the Frontier employees it would mean a public relations coup of the century for Continental. I further agreed that the strike was over, that he had won, that it was time to put all that behind us and together fight the real enemy. Dick Ferris and United airlines!
Lorenzo stated he felt good about our conversation and that the Frontier Captains should keep their seats if something was to work out. I stated that the earlier letter sent to Burr threatening dire consequences if he dared consider a merger with Lorenzo be ignored. I wanted to see all of our pilots receive a fair and equitable integration.
While Lorenzo made no further commitments he left me with a sense of promise. Amazing, here I was asking the very man, I had joined to fight against ever owning Frontier, for a job and to buy him dinner. Steak, no less.
Shortly, we were involved with the Prince of Darkness, John Adams, Vice President Human Resources, Continental Airlines in negotiations for what was to become the “Job Preservation and Litigation Agreement.” In roughly 4 weeks through night and day efforts we produced a very complicated document that was described by Adams in meetings with the Frontier employees as “fair and equitable.” If the FAL employees would be willing to waive their bankruptcy claims against Frontier and PeoplExpress along with Continental and ALPA they would be guaranteed a job. The pilots would “keep their seats.” “Captains would be Captains – First Officers would be First Officers.” Of course an arbitrator would decide the ultimate seniority integration if the two pilot groups were unwilling or unable to resolve their positions.
In dealing with Adams we saw a tough, but fair minded man. We saw a man who had a reputation for dealing through omission rather than out-and-out lying. While deceptive practices with Lorenzo’s operation was common knowledge, we felt that, while Adams was trying to stack the deck in favor of the “scabs,” we would get a fair shake. While rumors that Judges had been bought, a Arbitrator would not act improperly especially if we used the strike method of choosing one.
We were amazed with the speed the Lorenzo machine moved in achieving the “JPA” through employee ratification. Then dismayed at how they would drag their feet in implementing the small things of relative low cost already agreed to. Yet, many of these things were important to the individuals involved.
It would take pages to outline the shabby operation former Frontier people were now experiencing. Frontier, even in her toughest time, did a much better job servicing the customer, maintaining equipment and walking tall. Where Frontier aircraft flew 12 hours daily, Continental was utilizing them half that. Naturally that made Frontier junior Captains fly as First Officers. Maybe an arbitrator would consider this in future arbitration proceedings.
In any event Continental did well through the idiocy of Ferris and his nefarious bunch. They acquired all the assets United gleaned from Frontier except a couple MD-80 delivery slots already disposed of.
However, Continental, in their desire to protect the CAL strike “scabs,” blew what would have been a tremendous public relations coup.
On October 2nd, 1986 the pilots in attendance at the meeting describing the plus’ and minus’ of the JPA unanimously directed me to sign that agreement. Following the initial ratification 492 pilots out of 558 former Frontier pilots elected to fly for Continental.
One year later…less than 390 former FAL pilots are on the Continental seniority list. When can aviation history show such an exodus. Possibly in the 30’s with E.L. Cord’s operation. Maybe today with the exodus at Eastern.
Actually, there are several of the aforementioned 390 who are on a medical leave of absence. Therefore the probable number of FAL pilots flying for Continental would be less. One more glaring example is in the perception that existed just following our being blasted out of existence by United. There would be hardly a FAL employee who did not blame all of ALPA for the sins of UAL ALPA.
However, with the “promotion” of ALPA or any union by Lorenzo in his meager efforts to offer moldy carrots to the CAL pilots, many are reassessing their earlier views as of August 28, 1986.
What exists in the way of hope for the Frontier Family? There is some hope, albeit limited, that there will be some if not total re-arbitration of what has to be a totally unfair and “intellectually dishonest” award. Other avenues of legal review are apparently being pursued as well.
The indomitable spirit of the former employees of the safest airline in the world wide history of civil aviation will never die. Her people have blown to the four winds, but they remain together in spirit, personal contact, and in a brotherhood as right as right itself and as lasting as humanity.
We had a few “warts and pimples,” but we could match our pride and professionalism with the best of ’em. As Congress evaluates the down side of deregulation and the lack of LPP’s and other inalienable rights of the very people who made the sacrifices creating company’s such as Frontier, you can bet they will refuse to correct their mistakes.
We were raped and murdered by United and further sodomized by Texas Air. If we get into the court room our proof of these facts will finally bring our Frontier family some monetary relief for the horrible damages caused by the callous acts of United Airlines and Texas Air.
Yet, as a profession we are as doomed as the Dinosaurs were… Unless we individually, and collectively resolve to abandon the cannibalism so prevalent in our professional society today.
No reflection on great airlines like Hawaiian, Southwest and America West, but based on the most stringent measure of take-offs and landings Frontier holds the safest record in the world wide history of civil aviation. Frontier flew from coast to coast, from Canada through Mexico, in and out of mountain valleys day and night in the worst of weather with mostly older aircraft and poor navigational aids, safely. Billions of miles carrying millions of passengers, safely. Frontier lost a single revenue passenger killed when an old DC-3 lost a battle to low level icing on approach into Miles City, Montana over 23 years ago.
Glen Ryland was fired by the O’Neils when we went to complain about the destruction Ryland was doing to our airline. We objected to the fact he ignored the airline and concentrated on monumental blunders like the catalog company, DFW training facility, and, of course, our then newest nemesis, Frontier Horizon. Jerry O’neil agreed and canned Ryland. Then, discovering Frontier was worth more dead than alive, he hired Hank Lund to liquidate our airline. To Hank’s credit, he sided with the employees and was replaced by O’Gorman. O’Gorman looked bad to us at first, but then he got in step with the employee buyout. However, ol’ Joe could not get along with Don Burr at Peoples Express and left for United. Larry Martin was a nice guy, but incompetent.
Later when Burr announced he was willing to sell all, or part, of Peoples Express, I called O’Gorman (by then back at United as a VP). I asked Joe if he thought UAL might want to pick up FAL in light of Burr’s announcement. Quickly, O’Gorman called back and invited the coalition out for a hush-hush visit. Remember, the employees had bought a contractual right to have a strong voice in the Frontier corporate matters by virtue of the October 17th Agreement with Peoples Express.
Myself, Carolyn Boller, and Lorraine Loflin went to Chicago. The IAM was off on their own by then and the TWU rep couldn’t go. So the three of us went and met with O’Gorman and David Pringle (UAL HR). It was a satisfying meeting after which they personally drove us over the the UAL pilots and F/A’s MEC offices. That meeting went well too. So we all crossed our fingers. That was on June 26th, 1986.
On July 9th, I received a call from Pringle who told me the next day UAL would announce they had purchased Frontier!. This was a high point in my life! On July 10th, UAL, in fact, did announce the purchase of Frontier. We employee leaders were asked to meet with UAL representatives at the FAL board room that Saturday.
From a fantastic high on the 9th, I went to one of my lowest when Pringle showed up in very casual attire along with his horse holders equally casually attired at our appointed Saturday meeting.
We were all dressed up in our finery expecting to hear good things about the UAL/FAL merger. This is when we were shocked into the reality that Buzz Larkin was , perhaps, right all along…”All roads lead to liquidation.”
Pringle announced that he was unwilling to discuss anything with any of the groups represented there except the pilots and that if UAL reached an agreement with the Frontier pilots, he would then speak to the other groups.
In essence he was asking the Frontier pilots to abrogate the UAL pilots contract! Simply put, he wanted to use us to beat up on the United pilots as pay back for the strike in 1985!
Well, the rest is history albeit a sad commentary for business ethics and the fact that Frontier never had a moments disruption to its schedule in its 40 years due to labor unrest. Go figure!
October 2018, now more than 36 years later I would happily change the outcome to where the original Frontier Airlines still graced America’s skies. But, I would not change a word of what I said those many years ago.