Magenta Line, September 24 2009


Jul 30, 2002
Total Time
The Magenta Line
“If you look at the demographics of the base we have about 65% commuters in Newark. Of those 65% there are about rough justice [sic] 200 commuters from Houston to Newark. And if you are going to have a reduction, we didn’t want to force people out of Houston to backfill people that would be reduced here potentially…It’s to try to reduce some commuters…It’s an easier commute, more flights, better weather and fewer delays.” - Captain Fred Abbott, Newark Pilot Meeting, August 12, 2009

Today is Thursday, September 24, 2009 and there are 10 items for discussion.

Item 1: 2010 Vacation Bidding Opens: BID IT ALL!

Vacation bidding for 2010 opens this week and it provides us with a unique ability to show our unity to management. Imagine their angst when they look at 100% or our pilots bidding 100% of their 2010 vacation entitlement and realizing they need more pilots. It’s a beautiful thing.

Remember that you must declare how many weeks of your vacation you intend to bid during the very first, or PRIMARY bid. Hint: the correct declaration would be all of it.

You senior guys, be the hero of all the junior guys by bidding all 42 days of your entitlement. You junior guys, be the hero of your family as you use your vacation to do the yard work that piled up during all of your rolled days off.

Item 2: Management Out of Ideas; Falls Back on the Only Playbook They Have

It must be fab to be a ceo: hundreds of employees falling at your feet throwing rose petals, millions in cash and prizes, the certain knowledge that you are master of all you see. Then along come some pilots to screw it all up for you.

Last week at the Houston ceo exchange, Mr Kellner and Mr. Smisek hosted an object lesson in Union Busting 101 using the same tired play from the same tired original edition playbook. Honestly, we must ask why our board of directors is paying these guys so much money to be so completely unoriginal.

The lesson: turning the rest of the employees against the latest unionized group to be in contract negotiations. Until we sign our next contract—which will, of course, make us all friends and honored colleagues again, at least during the signing ceremony—this is one we’ll see repeatedly in various forms, from grandstanding orations designed to show the rubes that the pilots are meaningless in the venti-scheme of ceo-things, to the shopworn “greedy pilot letter” sent to all employees reminding them that if the pilots get what they want, everyone else’s kids will starve and be forced into child labor and the family dog will have to be spit-roasted so everyone can eat.

One of our pilots cornered the ceo’s:

“Mr. Kellner, you have always been a supporter and a proponent of maintaining the funding for the lump sum option for the pilots “A” plan retirement as a contractual obligation, is that correct?”

“Yes,” Mr. Kellner quickly replied. Actually, he was one of the architects of the freezing of our “A” fund and the resulting decimation, but…

Our pilot then asked, “Mr. Smisek, as the incoming ceo, are you prepared to make the same commitment to your pilots? Are you willing to publicly state that unequivocally you are committed to funding the A-Fund lump sum option as a contractual requirement?”

Mr. Smisek, relying upon his years of Harvard Law education, replied that the answer is more complex than any pilot would want to know. Translation: pilots are too stupid to understand all the calculations we had to make to be sure you guys get as little as possible. “The commitment that Larry made is the same commitment I will make—but…I will not put the company at risk to fund that plan.”

A massive round of applause for Mr. Smisek and thousands of rose petals (just kidding) followed. Picture in your mind Mussolini standing on the balcony, arms crossed in defiance, arrogant smirk welded in place and you’ll have the rough equivalent. He shoots, he scores, the crowd goes crazy! He continued, “I do recognize the obligation. And, I do want to preserve the lump sum—but…’ There’s that word again. “But, I will never put the company at risk…” We could argue that your appointment as ceo has put our company at risk—but that’s for another day. What is for today is a thought we kindly offer to the cheering throngs with the rose petals: If they can do it to us, what makes you think you’re so special? Or, put another way: Be careful what you cheer for.

Another pilot also got a chance:

“Last week I received a desperate call from one of our furloughed pilots. His wife had left him, taken their small child and cleaned out all of their belongings. The utilities had been shut off and he is on the verge of losing his house. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that his unemployment had just been canceled. If you truly care about working together, dignity and respect, and the fate of your coworkers, what are you prepared to do to assist? And, when can these plots expect to return to the company they love because they are, after all, part of our family?”

Mr. Kellner replied, “We have to be very careful to make decisions that are best for the 40,000, not best for individuals.” Unless the individuals are us, he might have added.

He committed to continuing to look for “every alternative we have,” for the 141 [sic] furloughed pilots.

Mr. Smisek put his oar in: “We can’t overstaff or we will not survive.”

Our pilot continued, “We have a scheduling department that routinely double staffs, or what we call double pumps—two duty periods in one day. We have pilots who leave on two and three day trips and get home nine days later because their days off are rolled, so I would argue that perhaps the staffing solution being solved by the pilots is not adequate. Secondly, I’d like to suggest that in lieu of a hangar party there are some people, perhaps some reservation agents and perhaps some others, who could use some help.”

Just a gentle reminder: these guys don’t give a rip about us as people—they don’t care about our families, our mortgages, the bills that continue to increase every month while our buying power decreases. They don’t care about Continental Airlines except as a mechanism of taking more and more for themselves. They have no long-term commitment or interest in our company as do we. They are passing through like locusts and when they’re done, it doesn’t matter whether or not our company is still standing—all that matters is that their pockets are full.

The obvious item of interest from the ceo exchange is that our management is perfect willing to take a negotiated retirement option from us and make us fight to retain it—while the rest of the employees cheer them on.

We have a lot of educating to do.

Item 3: Skeds Dangles the Worm; Trolls For EWR Pilots to Sit in CLE

Last week, scheduling added a new—or, new to us, anyway—trick to their bible, “Scheduling for Dummies: How to Fly 100% of Your Flights With Only 50% of Your Pilots”.

This time the offer was almost too good to pass up: go to CLE and sit reserve. We waited for the punch line, too, but that was it, that was the offer.

Forget about the contract violations contained in this limited, good-for-today-only offer and focus on the brassiness here: crew scheduling—masters of disasters, rollers of days off, flies in the ointment of our lives, the dogs amongst our cheeseburgers—wanting us to help them out of their dire straits for absolutely nothing in return.

As is the case with most bad things that happen to our good people at Continental, management is ultimately responsible for the staffing inadequacies that force scheduling to try to force us to violate our industry-worst contract.

Item 4: AmeriJet Pilots Ratify—The Strike is Over

We congratulate the pilots and flight engineers of AmeriJet International for their long and ultimately successful fight for a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement.

After five years of negotiations, mediation and a strike, AmeriJet’s pilots overwhelmingly voted to accept their new collective bargaining agreement. This new agreement addresses all of the issues that forced them to strike.

The crewmembers’ tenacity and conviction to stay the course until the company negotiated a contract that would give them a fair standard of working conditions, benefits, a grievance procedure, and wages, is something that we should all applaud. This small group has made history in the airline industry.

We would like to thank all the other unions—both airline and outside our industry—along with those former AmeriJet employees who stuck by the strikers and lent their support. We know that their support helped the strikers stay strong and united. This is a great day in the labor movement.

And our day is coming.


Jul 30, 2002
Total Time
Item 5: Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Go to Work…

As if terrorism, our management team, and the TSA were not enough, we now have this:

Expert: Airline workers may spread swine flu; Employees, contractors can leave germs on any number of surfaces

The article is some good, light reading—especially the opener: “Airline employees who report to work ill are more likely than sick passengers to spread infections such as the H1N1 swine flu virus aboard airplanes, with low-paid workers posing the greatest danger…”

That last part must make us the greatest potential disease-carriers since Typhoid Mary and gives new meaning to the term, “airborne virus”.

Couple the H1N1 virus just beginning to bloom with our punitive attendance policies as discussed in Item 6 below—maybe we should all just shut the alarm clock off and stay in bed.

Item 6: “I’m Not a Doctor—But I Do Play One in the Chief Pilot’s Office…”

The lessons of Colgan 3407 apparently have not penetrated the thick, impermeable walls of the EWR chief pilot office. Many of our chiefs—who get to take sick and personal days without question—don’t seem to find the same charity in their hearts for line pilots as they do for themselves. “Pilot-pushing” is a serious problem—and it won’t go away even if management succeeds in beating our pilots into submission.

We have an attendance and reliability program; well, we don’t have it, management does, and it’s just another cog in the machinery that ensures management can staff our airline with as few pilots as possible—and preferably a lot less.

As many of our pilots have discovered, it’s very easy to find yourself outside the parameters of the policy. More than 3 sick calls in 90 days? You’re not reliable and you will soon be discussing your unreliability with your chief pilot. When you walk in, you will find yourself in a friendly chat about why you called in sick 14 years ago, asked why you have so little sick leave after working here 20 years, and where’s your doctor’s note for your latest bout of unreliable attendance?

Now, most of us are fairly able to determine for ourselves whether we are fit to fly or not. Most things that make us unfit are not things we need to waste a $25 co-pay on. Colds, flu, pulled muscle, fell off a ladder, cut yourself shaving and you only needed 25 stitches. Most of us can self-certify our unfitness to fly on any particular day—and we don’t need no stinking and inflexible management policy dictating our ability to perform our duties.

But here’s the rub: once you’ve been through the drill a couple of times, you rapidly lose interest in ever participating again and you will do what you need to do to keep from paying a visit to Dr. Chief Pilot. Score another victory for management and their efforts to shave another couple of pilots off our list.

The a&r program is an insult to us as professionals. It was forced upon us without negotiations and it is designed to treat us as irresponsible children who need a note from mommy after missing a day of school. It is also self-perpetuating: how many pilots come to work sick to avoid contact with Dr. Mengele in the office—and subsequently infect the crews they fly with?

One thing we can say: the a&r program incorporates two cornerstones of the new and improved “Go Forward Plan”; “Making Reliability a Reality No Matter How Many Pilots We Have to Beat Into Submission”, and, “Speaking of Beatings, They Will Continue Until Everyone is Happy”.

We remind those of our pilots itching to return the favor to their favorite chief pilots that a report card for every one of our micro-managers is available on our MEC website. It can be found at After logging in, look on the upper left, just below the blue navigation bar.

Bring your red pencils.

Item 7: Working Together Can Work—But You Gotta Try Really Hard

The names, dates, and flight numbers have been omitted to protect the innocent:

Yesterday, I was listed and checked in for my commute home on Flt XX, scheduled to depart @XX:XX, EWR to XXX. I got in from XXX, bolted out of customs in terminal B, and worked up a pretty good sweat jogging over to Terminal C. I came running up to the gate with my hair on fire, right behind a Flight Attendant, who was also hustling though the airport right in front of me, hoping to get on before the door closed. It was approximately XX:XX—and both of us were turned away, with the explanation that they closed the door early to get the flight out on time.

Well, I had a feeling that would happen. I just stood there for a few moments, shaking my head in disbelief, as the agents just stared down at their computers, indifferent to our situation. The FA later said to me that the agent wouldn't even look up at him when he tried to ask him nicely to move his listing forward to the next flight. He told him to go to the CAL service center. I was getting increasingly frustrated but held my cool and just bit my lip—because I knew if I said anything, I might be sorry later. I was stewing in anger and started pacing back and forth, like a caged tiger, looking for a window where I might be able to catch the Captain's attention. I found myself mumbling to myself, What is wrong with this situation? From this particular gate there was no vantage point to make eye contact with the cockpit. I could only see the tail, and the agents knew it. So, I finally resigned myself to move on to the next flight, when the FA, as frustrated I was, approached me and asked, "Isn't there anything we can do about this? There's still time for them to open the doors and get out on time."

I said that I already tried to look out the window to see if I could wave at the Captain, but there's no clear line of sight. I mentioned that it might be possible calling scheds and see if I could get patched through, but I suggested to him that it's probably too late, and I'm sure it's a long shot. First, I said that scheds might be busy and not want to help out, especially if they knew what I was trying to do. And then the Captain may not even answer or have his phone on, especially if he sees scheds in his caller ID. The FA then said, 'Hey, we got seven minutes, why not give it a shot?' So I did. I call and get XXXXX. Surprisingly, he/she offers to call him, with the proviso that he would have to call me back. I said okay, I appreciate anything you can do. Sure enough, he doesn't answer. XXXXX gets back to me and, to my surprise, gives me his cell number, and said go ahead and try. I did, and Captain XXXXX answered. Caught him just seconds before pushing. No sooner did I explain the situation to him than he cut me off mid-sentence and without hesitation I heard him yell to someone, 'disarm that door now.'

The next thing I know, I saw something like 4 agents at the desk in the scramble mode, two of them on phones getting some 'direction' (I believe from ops, or maybe from the agent at the jetway controls), telling them to let the commuters on board now. There was some arguing back and forth between one agent and another...."they're not listed”. "yes, they are”, says another"..."just give them a seat", "but they aren't checked in"...and then I interjected and reminded them, "oh yes I am!" I guess we had been unseated...yada yada, yada...finally, the doors flew open, and she told us to get on down there and just take any seat. I said thanx very much for your help, and I couldn't help but add, 'now you know that we are not going to leave our people behind anymore!' More confusion on the jetway, as another agent scrambles to gate check our bags, since there was no room left on board. Finally, we're on and get seated.....with moments to spare.

I think the agents were completely caught unaware and totally dumbstruck that we could go around the back door like that, but I was grinning from ear to ear as I passed by them on the jetway.

Crew performance results:

Sched block out: XX:30
Actual block out: XX:26

Sched in-time @XXX: XX:46
Actual in-time @XXX: XX:40

The crew pulled out all stops to make it happen. They got everyone on board and still arrived early at destination. I want to recognize the following individuals for their union solidarity and going above and beyond in getting our commuters home yesterday:

Names unfortunately removed to protect the crew and scheduler from management retaliation for doing the right thing.

Also, special kudos to XXXXX in scheduling. I already called him/her and let him/her know that he/she indirectly helped get our commuters on board. I caught him/her in a great mood, and he/she seemed very gratified and was glad he/she could help.

Item 8: Request for Committee Volunteers

All of our committees need volunteers. If you are one of the many somewhat selfish and untested among us, if you are interested in committee work, if you have special artistic talents of any kind, or if you just like to chew the legs off your dining room table, we want you to help your fellow EWR pilots. If you are interested or have previously expressed interest via e-mail or a phone call, please confirm your continuing interest in an e-mail to Captain Kaye Riggs, Secretary-Treasurer, LEC 170 at Please put your name and the word “Volunteer” in the subject line.


Jul 30, 2002
Total Time
Item 9: Next Meetings

Our next local council meeting has been scheduled for October 28th at the Newark Airport Renaissance Hotel. This is a change from our normal meeting place at the Marriott. There is an ongoing shuttle from the P-4 AirTrain stop. Those driving to the meeting will have their parking validated just as at the Marriott.

This meeting will be an excellent opportunity to hear our outgoing Alliance Committee Chairman Alfredo Suarez. Bring your questions on our impending STAR Alliance affiliation. Also, this meeting will be early enough to get your resolutions on the agenda for the November MEC meeting, scheduled for November 2nd through 6th in Houston.

Item 10: Secretary-Treasurer’s Editorial

You Want Sarcasm With That?

Jayson, Tara, and I occasionally get notes from our fans. Like this:

Captain N. writes: “I really like The Magenta Line but I’m uncomfortable with the sarcasm and personal attacks. Wouldn’t it be better to tone it down a bit?”

The short answer is: No. That’s also the long answer.

Here’s the thing: we work for managers who would happily send us into retirement poverty—they’ve already done it to a good portion of our seniority list, me included. These are the same people who took hostages in the mistaken belief that we would fold during the negotiation process and give up anything to get them back. Our hostages are men and women with families—families who depended upon Continental Airlines for their livelihoods—thrown to the street by management to gain an even bigger advantage over us as we negotiate our next contract. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the rest of us are forced to fly sick and tired to pick up the slack their departure left for us. These are the same people who have crafted strategies of disrespect—cynically using every other employee group as surrogates—designed to make us believe we are valueless to our company so they can buy our services cheap. These are the same people who replaced every good chief pilot with soulless yes-men all vying to be the next Tom Stivala. These are the same people who cannot resist any opportunity to rub our noses in their great victory over us called Contract ’02 and who can’t take a win and call it a day, preferring, instead, to run up the score every time they get the ball.

So, no, these managers we are forced to deal with are not our honored opponents, deserving our respect and a hearty handshake whenever our paths cross. They are not where they are because they believe in treating us fairly, honoring our contract, or recognizing the amazing and valuable services we provide to Continental Airlines in keeping our operation safe, comfortable, and on time.

The pilots of Continental are now, and have always been, the go-to guys. We stand in the gap when everyone else fails to do their job properly. We fix catering mistakes, scheduling problems, passenger service issues, ramp foul-ups, maintenance boo-boos, and hundreds of other issues on a real-time basis. We fly our airplanes skillfully—after leaving our families at the gate so some manager of nothing can sit his precious behind in the seats our family was supposed to occupy.

While we only use figurative slings and arrows against our enemy, they are the enemy, nevertheless. They do not see us as people with wives, husbands, and children. They see us as parts to be had at the lowest price and anything they have to do to get to that lowest price is OK by them. They are people who long ago laid aside the true meaning of The Golden Rule and arrogantly substituted their own version.

So, no, we will not honor our enemy with the anonymity they do not deserve. We will name the names and speak of them in the manner their actions have earned.

And use some sarcasm, too.

As we close this week, please remember our 147 hostages and their families.

“It’s good for the company to have a unified pilot force…If you guys are of all one mind then it does help the negotiations.” - Captain Fred Abbott, Newark Pilot Meeting, August 12, 2009

Captain Jayson Baron, EWR Council 170 Chairman
610 442-3817

First Officer Tara Cook, EWR Council 170 Vice Chairman
610 220-8904

Captain Kaye Riggs, EWR Council 170 Secretary-Treasurer
830 431-0450

Captain Kaye Riggs
Council 170 Secretary/Treasurer
Director of Communications