PEOPLExpress Airlines was the darling of the airline industry twenty years ago before being absorbed into present day Continental Airlines. Like so many discount carriers after it, the airline took risks that ultimately spelled its demise. Much like PEOPLExpress Airlines, the recent demise of Independence Air shows the flying public how risky these ventures really are.
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I got my start working in the flying industry while attending Ramapo College of New Jersey in the early 1980s. At that school, they had posted an opportunity to work as a "co-op" student for an airline based at EWR. PEOPLExpress Airlines was the name and they needed students to handle reservations at their Haynes Avenue facility, which was really the UAL building.
For $5.00 per hour I took the bait and worked from February to August 1984. The job was tedious, the phone system antiquated, the company was a calamity. Still, it was fun and I enjoyed my occassional trips over to the old hangar to watch aircraft take off.
The reservations department was manned by other college students just like me from schools all over New Jersey and New York City. There was even a team of girls who came down from Canada to staff the phones as part of their school's program. I would have loved to see what they wrote on their reports!
A group of reservations would often take the first flight of the day to Boston, have breakfast, and return to Newark. I think they did this on a weekly basis and "Breakfast in Boston" was the thing to do. With 19 flights daily, including some leaving every half hour, the chance of snagging a flight to Boston was almost a guarantee.
I learned about some of the "tricks" of the airline industry too while with PEOPLExpress. For example, if bad weather was happening in Maine, the final flight from EWR would mysteriously be canceled due to a mechanical. Supposedly, the company didn't want to risk a problem with their notorious "hub and spoke" system and find that one of their aircraft was stuck in a snowstorm. We weren't told by our supervisors that this was what the airline was doing, but we pretty much figured it out. It was simply great handling those irate calls!
While at PEOPLExpress, I witnessed some phenomenal growth on the airline's part. We added San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London while I was there. Other smaller cities too.
During one month I was named "associate of the month" for my team because of my terrific customer service skills combined with my ability to process customers fast. Okay, so I like to remember it that way! Still, it was a nice thing to add to my resume and it also enabled me to gain "favor" in the site of management. My supervisor, Judith, was one of the nicest of the lot too...some CSMs were real bears!
Although it wasn't common, some students upon graduation got to work for PEOPLExpress as a Customer Service Manager [CSM]. This was a fancy name for a "flight attendant" who, when not flying, was expected to pull administrative duty too. Their starting pay was $17,000. per year, but the stock options were what really made the job. I am not sure how employees made out when the carrier came to an end in 1987, but I seem to recall some fairly well off "twenty somethings" working for that carrier.
After leaving PEOPLExpress I pursued other opportunities and did not return to aviation until 1992 when I started working for Executive Air Fleet, Inc. Yes, that is another story...for another time!