Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Empire State of Mind (Part II)

Continued from Empire State of Mind, Part I, from 4/1/2014

That first night back in New York City reminded me I'm not the 24 year old smartass I was when I had originally moved to the City.  I woke up in a world of hurt the next morning, with creaky bones and muscles.  I have to hand it to them though, the Yale Club has some mighty inviting rooms and comfortable surroundings!  Not just anyone can book a room here, you have to either be a) a graduate of Yale with a Bachelor's or higher, or b) a member in good standing of the Wings Club.  Me being the in the latter category made me feel a bit overwhelmed, but I got over it and sucked it up.

I had several appointments that morning, first of which was across the street at the Wings Club offices, in the historic Pan Am Building (now known as the MetLife building), to be sworn in as a full-fledged member of this amazing organization.  Time was running short by the time the Concierge had my suit ready and pressed, luckily I was only across the street!  I made it with a few minutes left to spare, and took my oath on the Bible, wishing my amazing Wife and Dad were there to see me.  OK, it sounds tacky, but I consider this my return to the Industry I love and know all about, and it would've been nice to have family there.

Once the ceremony was over, I hustled down the escalators into the Grand Central Station to catch the 6 train up to the 59th and Lexington stop and over to my former employer, Homeric Tours, and an appointment with my old boss, Nikos Tsakanikas, who every now and then is elected President of the USTOA (US Tour operators Association) and the IATAN Board of Directors.  He was one of the few that got me started on the Travel side of the Industry, as well as the airline consulting part of my former airline career.  Walking into his office I was greeted with "What happened to the A330-200 order?!"  referring to a shelved plan to turn Homeric's charter flight operation into a full fledged in-house airline, using a long dormant Air operating Certificate from the US Dept. of Transportation.

The meeting with Mr. T (as everyone calls him), was pretty low key, and then he asked for the doors to be closed and got down to brass tacks with me.  He asked me if I wanted to take an equity stake in Homeric and take over for him, since he is in his mid-80's and ready to call it quits.  We used to joke around back in 2005 about me running things when the time was right, and I was left sitting there thinking it might all just be tongue-in-cheek, but I played along and told him if I could run things from my home office in Utah, and reopen the West Coast office in Los Angeles, as well as revive the botched A330 plan, this time with either the A330's or the new A350.  This is all heady stuff for me, but I had been around the block a few times with new entrant airlines and know what is involved.  But enough about that.  The meeting lasted about an hour, and left me in wonder, sort of.

After that meeting I had the rest of the afternoon off until later that evening and the Wings Club annual meeting.  I went back to the Yale Club and hung out in the 4th Floor Library until it was time for the gathering.  Now, mind you, this is a University's remote collection of books, but it was floor to ceiling and wall to wall bookshelves filled with the most amazing literary works known to man.  I wanted to live in there!  I settled back in one of the many recliners and buried myself in the book I was in the middle of at the time, From Beirut to Jerusalem, by Thomas Friedman.

6 O'clock rolled around quickly and off I went to the Annual Meeting of the Wings Club, where the new members (me included) were welcomed and the award for Distinguished Aviator went to Race Plane Innovator Bob Hoover, considered to be the grandfather of modern aerobatic flying.  After the festivities were over I hung around and chatted with a few of the folks there, including higher ups from companies such as jetBlue Airways, Pratt & Whitney Turbine Systems, IATA, Travel Systems International, and Airbus.  By the end of the night, I found myself having made a breakfast appointment with the former head of IATA, Giovanni Bisignani, the next morning before the luncheon with Brad Tilden of Alaska Airlines.  An eventful evening to be sure!  I waddled off to my room to call my home and hit the sack.

Thursday morning rolls around and I'm up and ready to go by 7AM.  I walked across the street to Grand Central and the famous Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, where I joined the Giovanni Bisignani, Dave Barger, and Kevin McAllister of GE Aviation for breakfast.  Giovanni signed and gave us all a copy of his new book, Shaking the Skies, detailing his time at IATA and the shakeout he enacted upon the megalith after the horrendous events of 9/11/2001.  He even signed one for my wife and invited us to Switzerland!  I think we really should take him up on the offer...

After breakfast and an amazing session of talks, the four of us headed back to the Yale Club for the luncheon, where Brad Tilden was giving his speech.  He detailed why Alaska Airlines is better off as an independent carrier, but with code shares with various other airlines, instead of going the merger or Alliance routes.  He also explained Alaska's expansions in San Diego, Sacramento, and Salt Lake City, while addressing the threat from Delta's expansion head-on, by stating that there is room in Seattle for both hubs.  This had to have been one of the most insightful speeches I've heard in a long while, and I made sure to tell him so.  That, and I support Alaska's expansion (especially in SLC).

After the speech was done, there was a brief networking session, and I happened to fall into a conversation with Peter Flynn, Sales Director of Airbus Americas.  I did everything short of gushing about how amazing the A330's are.  He then gave me his card and told me to shoot him an email once i got back to Utah, to see if there might be a future for me at Airbus (schoolboy giddiness ensued, while remaining calm and collected externally).  Needless to say, this trip to New York was incredibly fruitful, and definitely mark my return back to the airline industry.

I spent the rest of the day packing and getting all my ducks in a row for tomorrow's return to Salt Lake, via Los Angeles.

Empire State of Mind continues in Part II, due on April 7, 2014.

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