Tuesday, May 17, 2011

There we were all in one place, a generation lost in space...

A long, long time ago, when we were young, skinny, and fun and unencumbered with children or a mortgage, Mr. Wonderful and I worked for a little start up airline based in Orlando. 

This little airline was called Florida Express (Flex) and was eventually bought by Braniff and then eventually went out of business.

But while it was around, it was a fun place to work.

I don't think any of us realized what we had at the time. Don't get me wrong - we were all overworked and underpaid. The airplanes, BAC 1-11's, were old and rather decrepit. It was a lot of up and down, up and down flying...a lot of short little hops from Orlando to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, in which we (the flight attendants) somehow managed to do a beverage service.  

The beverage carts were strapped into a little closet in the galley with webbing and often the cans would roll off the cart during takeoff and go barreling down the aisle of the plane, sometimes spraying soda everywhere. The flights were so short that in order to do the beverage service we had to climb up the aisle, grasping seat backs to help pull ourselves along, to get to the galley in the front of the plane.  And then reverse the procedure during descent, climbing back down the aisle to return to our jumpseat for landing.

This was a long time ago, back in the days before there were videos to demonstrate emergency procedures. The flight attendants still stood in the aisle and demonstrated how to buckle the seat belt and breathe through the oxygen mask. It was so long ago that I remember the days before flight crews had to go through security - when I first started flying, we just flashed our badges and walked right past the security lines! It was so long ago, in fact, that smoking was still allowed on airplanes. And the BAC 1-11 was a British made plane. The airflow was from the rear of the plane to the front. What that means is that although in theory the smoking section was in the rear of the aircraft, the entire aircraft was usually filled with smoke.


No actually, it was fun. Because even though the days were long, the planes were old and the work was hard - the employees were awesome.

Somehow, this little low-cost airline managed to hire a fantastic group of people. Everyone was friends...pilots, flight attendants, schedulers, ramp workers...we all knew each other. By name.

The crews, pilots and flight attendants, flew with each other for an entire trip. We always "debriefed" at the end of the day - we met downstairs for a beer or a soda and some laughs. 

We were a family.

And the truly amazing thing is that we still are.

In 1989, Braniff filed Chapter 11 and went out of business. We were all unemployed. We all moved on to other jobs...I flew for Continental for several years and Mr. Wonderful has been flying for another major airline for the past 20 years. The Flex employees scattered all over the globe to find other employment. But many of us have kept in touch through the years. There have been Flex reunions. Now that Facebook is on the scene, it has been much easier to find and stay in touch with our former co-workers. We even have a group page on Facebook.

The other day I mentioned a friend that Mr. Wonderful and I used to work with who is battling cancer. He was hospitalized with numerous brain tumors. As the word spread, Flex family members began posting on the group wall - prayers and memories of him and his larger than life personality. We all came together to share our sadness about his situation and to remember the fun times we all had together. 

It struck me then that although I flew for other airlines - there are only a few co-workers that I remember and care about the way I remember my Flex family. We were unique (we still are!) and we were close and we all cared about each other. We still do.

There was a sort of magic about that time and that place and those crazy old BAC 1-11's that turned a disparate group of random people into a family. Twenty years have passed and we have all moved on to other jobs and other places. We've moved and started families and many of us have retired from other employment - yet we still have a bond. We still love each other and care about each other. We are a family. We mourn the loss of so many dear friends over the past couple of years. We miss them and we will never forget them.

This post, this sappy, nostalgic post - is my way of saying that I treasure those memories and the lifelong friends I made at Flex all those years ago. I really do.

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