A week ago this Sunday, I was standing by as a non-rev (airline speak for free or discounted employee travel passes – which happen to also be available to retirees, which includes me) for a flight from BOS to PHL. As one full flight after another left without me – believe me, non-revs are the lowest form of passenger on any flight, for obvious reasons – I couldn’t help but remember the perks of being an airline mechanic in days gone by. Ah, those were the days…
Sure there was the pay of working for the airlines, which might not have been great but was certainly adequate, and health benefits, and of course the job satisfaction of fixing those big, complex, metal flying machines, but top on the list of job perks was the flying benefits that were the envy of all my non-airline friends. Free flights for someone who wanted to see the world was part of the irresistible lure of being an airline mechanic and helped me get through many a long, frigid midnight shift at airports across the Northeast.
So while my best friend who was a mechanic at a Ford dealership in Boston brought home a higher salary than I did, he could never afford the vacations I was able to take my family on. Starting with my honeymoon trip – imagine a young, newly-wed airline mechanic being able to afford a first-class ticket from the East Coast all the way to Hawaii. My bride and I traveled in great style and comfort with what were then the typical inhabitants of first class – the very rich and famous. And we did it all as standby passengers. In the days before frequent flier miles, people actually had to pay for first class and a huge premium, so there were always empty seats – ready to be filled by airline employees using their flying privileges.
In fact, there were so many empty seats in those days that my family of five could count on flying together to major holiday destinations – like Los Angeles, San Juan, Aruba, Phoenix and Las Vegas – during peak holiday travel. Try doing that today! In fact, as I watched one full flight after another leave without me, last Sunday, a family of four was ahead of me trying to fly standby as non-revs to Charlotte. As it turned out, all four of them ended up flying on four separate flights. And they were just happy they got out on the same day to the same city. So much for airline perks.
In fact, the free buddy passes I get these days are tough to give away. Do I really want a friend to go through what we airline people do to use our perks?
Moral of the Story: At least I have my memories of the good ole days of travel by air to daydream about as I wait for a flight with an empty seat to take me on my journey.