Monday, March 30, 2009

Skip Powell part three


Watertown, South Dakota (ATY) - A Station Agent is Born:

After Becoming an 'Airline Man,' I quickly dug into maps to ATY. It was 400+ miles uphill from Kansas ; no Interstate highways then, thus a nice country drive. There, next morning, I reported to the big man, Station Manager (SM) Wayne Sherman on April 4, 1959. Wayne began his airline career July 1952 with Wisconsin Central Airlines at MDW (Chicago Midway), where he later became Senior Agent. When the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) awarded NC a number of new cities ranging from North Dakota to Nebraska and Spearfish SD to Minneapolis, Wayne became ATY SM February 1959 with 4 agents. Displaced was Braniff Airlines DC-3's. All their employees vacated ATY.

Wayne was bred, born and raised on the streets of Chicago. Certainly trepidation prevailed as his January road trip, with city born Wisconsin wife, Ione, and two young daughters, as they approached ATY. Moving to a town of 15,000, located on wide open prairie lands, whose airport (an ex-Army Air Base) was on a grain farm - from one of the world's busiest (MDW) airport - that's culture shock. ATY demonstrated its warm welcome by keeping it's temperature at zero, or below, for the next 30 days - later swapped for 90's + dry summer months.


Added qualification for this history was 'how' I spent my 10 year NC Station Agent career. I worked in 11 stations, nice as a Relief Agent, two were Class A, large stations, the balance smaller (Class C) and medium (Class B) sized. Work requirements and procedures were NC standardized. Only flight numbers, faces and surprise events varied. It was my feeling that Station Managers were taking particular caution that I learned the un-disrupted business of their domain.

Briefly most SA daily duties in Class B and Class C Stations were;
1) Respond to customer telephone and counter 'walk up' traveling and cargo queries. Often we were the only visible airport-humans, so we dealt with physical airport issues; fueling, weather, etc.
2) Quote schedules, fares and make reservations; notify pertinent NC and other airlines. Write tickets, perform similar chores for air cargo customers.
3) Check-In passengers, write tickets, lift flight coupons (insure fare valid), check luggage (if +41 pounds make added collection, listen to customer utterances) and literally HAND them to the Stewardess; NOTE: Often, interspersed with above activities and demanding immediate attentions were:
4) The 'coming and going' of airfreight, airmail, and (usta be) REA (Rail Express Air) express.
5) The 'coming and going' of flights - monitor air-ground radio and crew radio contacts
6) Interfacing with ATC(Air Traffic Control) to file and relay flights air route clearances.
7) Recording In & Out bound load on FMR (Flight Movement Report), send to downline stations
8) Calculating a/c weight & balance, MGL (Max Gross Load) and prepare Crew Weight Tab
9) Assemble weather, forecasts and winds for crew delivery
10) Receiving a/c on ramp, loading/unloading and some fueling/de-icing and crew interaction.

These daily wide ranging activities covered everything done in a large (Class A) station - except maybe ramp congestion. Of course, larger station work was divided between those having public contact, Passenger Service Agents (PSA) and SA's, separated from the public, performing flight arrival/departure duties and ramp work. 'Ramp work' was my 8-hour duty working two large stations, one during the rainy season (we wore those yellow rain suits), the other during mid-winter, freezing weather that indeed did freeze ears and other protrusions. Aside from weather extremes, a full day working the ramp was not to my liking. The glory of an SA is performing the full range of duties with each flight.

PSA duties were governed by the Traffic and Sales Manual; encompassing Reservations, Ticket Counter and Passenger Check-In duties. Additional SA duties were governed by the Station Operations Manual. My ALEA (Air Line Employees Association) Union manual also stipulated another difference, IE; Rates of Pay - several dollars further separated the two. This experience gave me a good sense of the NC operations and was my basic training for a later ESCORT Programming career, developing new ESCORT programs.

At rare times a flight required refueling. Most DC-3's had 200 left, 200 right and 200 gallon center fuel tanks. Fueling was rare but done enough to remain proficient and to check each engines 22 gallon oil dip stick. This was not car gas, it was high octane, volatile fuel. Early on, SM Wayne Sherman had spoken about 'the fears' of improper fueling procedures. This, I always closely supervised fueling, insuring aircraft and fuel vehicle were properly grounded - together. True or not, 'improper grounding an MDW fueling' had resulted in a spark, an explosion and a fully cooked fueler!

Rarer was the dreaded a/c de-icing. You can be certain it was not Florida weather that prompted its necessity, mostly falling slushy snow and freezing rain. Within smaller stations this process was as basic as hand pumping de-icing (ethylene glycol) fluid into a bucket, mounting the muscle builder front bin cargo loader near the a/c and then slopping the fluid about wing surfaces with a (just like Moms) mop. Fun - avoided, if possible.

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