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It’s hard to imagine life without cellphones. That was reality for the average person back on September 3, 1999. Now, it is hard to believe we could be inaccessible for any length of time. That day, I had flown many commuter airline flights with minimal time in between. By late evening, I checked my home voice-mail and received a message: “This is United Airlines Flight Officer Employment, please call us back at your earliest convenience.” Two days prior, I had interviewed with United. Was this the news I was waiting for?
I immediately hung up the phone and splurged on another long distance credit card call to the 303 number. No answer. UGH!!! It was Friday night of Labor Day Weekend. I knew I would have to wait until Tuesday to find out why she called. I finished my trip Monday, went home, and waited for Tuesday morning.
That Tuesday, with my nine month old son in my arms, I reached the employment representative at United. “Congratulations,” she said. They offered me the job. At that moment, I experienced a euphoria third only to my wedding and the births of my children. Everything I worked for up until that point in my life had just paid off. Pass a medical, pass training, and I was going to be a United Airlines pilot.
On October 25, 1999, my wife and I attended the first day of training at United Airlines. I thought inviting the spouses was a really nice touch. She was able to sit in on the benefits presentations and see where I would be spending the next six weeks of my life. She also was there when I received my first assignment: 727 Flight Engineer in San Francisco. Not ideal, but, at least it wasn’t the DC-10 in Anchorage or Honolulu.
After the briefings, we went back to the hotel, turned on the television and learned that PGA Professional Payne Stewart’s Learjet had crashed. What a tragedy. My emotions were suddenly reversed as I felt complete sorrow for his wife, children, family and friends. I also hoped it wasn’t a sign as to how the career at United was going to play out.
However, the images on the television faded quickly. That night, United threw a big dinner for all the new pilots and their spouses. The spread of food and drinks in the lavish hotel conference room was impressive. We ate, we socialized, and not one of us could wipe the stupid grin off our faces. I just could not stop smiling. I was SO happy to be there.
After dinner, the moral inflation continued. We heard several speeches from some important managers. That evening, we were told:
1) Congratulations, you “made it.”
2) In two to four years, you’ll be a captain.
3) In ten years, you’ll be halfway up the seniority list.
4) “Contract 2000” will be “seamlessly negotiated” to “industry leading” levels.
5) You basically just won the lottery.
I was still smiling.
I bought every single bit of it.