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Old 05-23-2009, 07:37 PM   #1  
CAL EWR
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Default CAL Management to Flu Crew: "Drop Dead!"

Special Edition of The Magenta Line for Saturday, May 23, 2009
Today is Saturday, May 23, 2009 and there is 1 item for discussion.

Flight Operations Management to Flu Crew: “Drop Dead!”

Trusting dishonorable people almost always leads to disaster. While “hope” is not a strategy, we hoped this time it would be different, that this time our hope that flight operations management would be honest and honorable would not be rewarded with a knife in the back. You can guess what we got.

Most of you are already familiar with the story: Our EWR-NRT crew pushes from the gate, the ISM calls to tell them that they have a passenger with flu-like symptoms onboard, a discussion is held with EWR Chief Pilot Fred Stankovich, SOCC, MedLink, and crew scheduling. Medlink tells the Captain to return to the gate where a doctor from the CDC will examine the passenger and make the determination. The doctor looks, removes the passenger, and the fun begins.

First, Captain Fred Stankovich tries to convince the crew to continue on to NRT even though they’ve been exposed to the flu. The Captain, Luis Vireilha, tells Stank there’s a form provided by the Japanese government included among the ships paperwork that says, not so fast, couple of things we gotta clear up first. The Captain reads the form to Stank—who is clearly unaware that any such form exists. Among other things, the form asks if anyone has become ill on the “voyage” (as the form calls it), and has anyone in the crew had “contact” with the ill person. The Captain says he’s going to have to answer “yes” to both questions and points out that at the end of the form is an advisory that anyone exposed to the sick passenger may have to be quarantined, including one of his IRO’s who’s a single father and has no child care beyond the three days of his scheduled trip. Stank tries to convince the Captain that just taxiing around EWR airport isn’t a “voyage” and that talking to the passenger isn’t “contact”. Stank does his best to convince the Captain that he doesn’t need to answer either of the questions “yes” and hurry up and get the airplane to NRT. The Captain notices that in the background of Stank’s cell phone is noise that sounds a lot like a party. He hears a woman’s voice telling Stank to hurry it up, everyone is missing him at the wedding. Stank goes into overdrive trying to browbeat the Captain into taking the airplane and gettin’ outta Dodge. The Captain holds firm and he and his crew are removed from the flight. They are originally placed on sick leave by somebody (not the crew) then, after they call crew scheduling, the sick leave is changed by somebody (again, not the crew) to emergency drop with no pay. Stank hangs up in a huff so he can get back to being a guest at a wedding reception, his more pressing duty for the day.

Over the week that followed, the crew’s status was argued back and forth. Management initially held firm and even threatened disciplinary action but began to waver as Captain Stankovich’s egregious conduct became more of a factor. Our MEC Officers and specifically Vice-Chair, Chuck Cummins spent virtually the entire week on this one issue with Fred Abbott, trying to ensure that the crew would be paid for exercising good judgment. Captain Cummins got word that this issue would be resolved no later than Friday, May 22nd, and that he believed it looked good to get the crew paid and the issue closed.

Starting sometime before noon Friday, Captain Cummins began calling Fred Abbott to check on the decision. He made multiple calls, left multiple messages, and got multiple nothings in reply. After one final call to Abbott’s office, he was told that Abbott had taken a sick day. We can only hope Fred subjects himself to his own Attendance and Reliability Policy. Captain Cummins’s call was shunted to Jackson Martin’s office. Captain Cummins asked about the status of the crew. Martin’s reply, in essence: “Our current position hasn’t changed and Fred says he doesn’t recall telling you he was going to have an answer today.”

We thought of several initial responses—but none of them began with other than a creative stream of profanity. After some overnight thought, we decided on this: This is truly some of the more outrageous conduct we’ve yet been exposed to as pilots in the service of Continental Airlines. We truly do not know how on earth management can expect this to stand up to the scrutiny that will now be brought to bear upon them as a result of this decision.

From the beginning, Captain Stankovich, the flight operations duty officer that day, seems to have had anything but his duty in mind. He was a guest at a wedding and was put out that the demands of his office interfered with his personal plans, he seemed angry that he could not get a flight crew to falsify an official Japanese government form and get their airplane out of town, and he appeared irritated that his options were limited because we do not, and have never had, sufficient reserve crews to operate the airline. He doesn’t actually seem to think we should have more crews, he just seems to think the crews we do have should be more willing to violate every tenet of safe, conservative flight operations to get the job done.

He didn’t come up with this nonsense on his own—it flows downhill from on high like everything else. Captain Stankovich is the original “Friend of Fred”. These two have been together since being new-hires at People Express. People Express: no First-Class—in either seating or operational philosophy, pilots throwing bags or cleaning airplanes on their days off, and no seniority as we know it (until PBS came along, that is). Stank knows his future is attached like an umbilical cord to the Vice President of Flight Operations. He has his office job, he receives director’s management bonuses, and he is allowed to fly past age-60 because he is a “Friend of Fred” Abbott. Lest you think our upper management is being given a clean bill of health on this, remember that flight ops management does not exist in a vacuum—they are what they are through the support of upper management—and this particular buck stops at Larry Kellner’s office.

Like most accidents, there is a chain of events leading to the ultimate denouement. This case is no different. It begins with a philosophy of stinginess and corner-cutting at the highest levels and filters down to the bottom of the food chain where we reside. We know this philosophy when we see the embarrassing cheapness we are forced to live and work with and try not to allow it to affect our job performance. Captain Vireilha and his crew knew it the day Stankovich tried to push them into a bad corner. We knew it when we began our investigation of this incident only to be told that none of the conversations between the Captain, SOCC, MedLink, and Stankovich were taped. Captains Pierce and Cummins knew it when they were stonewalled, misled, and ultimately left holding an empty bag of management assurances—while Fred called in sick.

It’s just a coincidence, we suppose, that a management who records everything we say when we call scheduling claims that no record of the conversations between the Captain, SOCC, MedLink, and Stankovich exists—a record that, based upon all four crewmember’s statements, would prove, we believe, that Stankovich, a company director, was encouraging a crew under his supervision to falsify an official document to expedite a flight to a foreign country—and dump the resulting mess on somebody else. It’s just a coincidence that Stankovich’s impatience with this crew seemed to grow the longer he was kept away from being a wedding guest. It’s just a coincidence that Fred Abbott calls in sick on the day he promised us a resolution to this outrage—leaving Jackson Martin to do what he does best—the dirty work.

There are some things that are not coincidence. Although the Japanese Health Questionnaire form has been on the airplane since May 1st, management has no procedure to deal with any “yes” answers to the questions posed. This does not apply solely to Japan; Brazil has a similar form with similar questions—management has no plan for this form, either.

It’s also no coincidence that we have no crews to handle irregular operations. That’s what reserves are for—but we don’t have any.

It’s no coincidence that the duty officer for the day of this occurrence, Fred Stankovich, had better things to do than deal with a crew exercising their best judgment. As we have learned from our contact with him, Captain Stankovich only deals with his office duty in a remote and detached way—he wants the perks, he just doesn’t want to have to make the coffee. He needs to go—and the sooner the better for the pilots of Continental.

Flight ops sometime ago produced a video on leadership featuring Jim Starley. It was mostly useless eye-candy, trying to get us to see things management’s way, to call all the close ones for them, and use “our good judgment”—but not too much of it, of course. There was a quote we recall, something about if we exercised good conservative judgment when we made the calls we, as pilots, were faced with every day, then management would back us up. Many of us cynics, our cynicism born and nurtured in the cradle of flight ops management, thought, “yeah, sure”, but there was still a part of us that wanted to believe. We went to find this video today, hosted on the flight operations website, looking for both reassurance and an exact quote of Captain Starley’s words. The video would not play.


As we close this Special Edition of The Magenta Line, please remember our 147 hostages and their families.


Captain Jayson Baron, EWR Council 170 Chairman
[email protected]


First Officer Tara Cook, EWR Council 170 Vice Chairman
[email protected]


Captain Kaye Riggs, EWR Council 170 Secretary-Treasurer
[email protected]

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