The Friendly Skies

Once upon a time there was a clever CEO (let’s call him Glenn) who ran one of the most successful airlines in the world (let’s call it United Airlines). Now into our story comes Patricia. She’s 46 with two teenagers and, sad to say, she's been a widow for a few years. Patricia is a United Airlines flight attendant with an MA in languages and,

In this golden age of compassionate conservatism and benign business practices, it’s time we begin to honor the CEOs who make this planet a better place. The moment has come to pay tribute to these heroic captains of industry with “adult fairy tales.” Here’s the first:

The Friendly Skies


Jaron Summers & John Baer

Once upon a time there was a clever CEO (let’s call him Glenn) who ran one of the most successful airlines in the world (let’s call it United Airlines).

Now into our story comes Patricia. She’s 46 with two teenagers and, sad to say, she’s been a widow for a few years. Patricia is a United Airlines flight attendant with a M.A. in languages and, over the years, she has earned 37 awards for customer service excellence.

Because of employees like Patricia, United became one of the most successful passenger airlines in the world.

Skycaps with only third grade educations made far more salary than she did. But, for Patricia, this was a labor of love, a dedication to her nice customers and, just as importantly, loyalty to a company which had promised her financial comfort in her retirement years.

Along came 9/11 and the airline industry took a dive. Passengers were suddenly afraid to fly. The Dow Jones tumbled; people cancelled or postponed their travel plans. “Oh my! OH MY! What shall we do?” said our brave hero Glenn. (Well, actually, he didn’t use those exact words but this is a family story.) “I have it. We’ll file for bankruptcy protection so that we can keep ‘Friendly Skies’ friendly and save our big salaries,” Glenn told his company board of directors.

“YES! YES!” cheered the board. “Great idea, Glenn. Let’s do that. And we’ll give you an extra $100 million for that fantastic idea which will save our company. Mr. Glenn, you are our hero. In fact, here, take another few million as an extra bonus. No one will notice.”

And that was the plan. But our hero Glenn had another even better idea up his sleeve. Just before United went into bankruptcy, he secretly told the board of directors:  “If our dedicated employees make drastic concessions and tighten their belts, then United can survive.”

“YES! YES!” cheered the board. “Hooray for our hero Glenn. Hooray!” And they all smiled and everyone was happy, so happy that they slipped hero Glenn another couple million, but don’t tell anyone.

Well, almost everyone was happy. A few 50,000 grumpy employees weren’t so happy and they expressed their thoughts in words which we can’t describe here because, remember, this is a family story.

So the employees tightened their belts and that year Glenn accepted a token two million dollar bonus, plus an ample salary, plus a retirement package of five million. A small token of gratitude, indeed, for a man with such wonderful ideas.

Glenn’s team of fine Yale and Harvard MBAs came up with another ingenious cost cutter. “Hero Glenn, how about telling two thousand flight attendants, who have worked most of their adult lives for United Airlines, to take early retirement? That way United can hire much younger flight attendants and pay them half of what the older ones earn. It’s like money in the bank.”

“YES! YES!” said Glenn. “Let’s do that. After all, those flight attendants aren’t management so they won’t know what’s happening. We’re the ones with the brains. We’re management!”

“But what about those new gals and guys? They won’t have any experience and they might make our customers angry with poor service?” whimpered one meek mousy member of the board who obviously hadn’t attended Yale and didn’t have the slightest idea of how to run a huge company like United. And the rest of the board laughed and guffawed and chuckled and then stoned him to death. Right on the spot. It was messy, but we can’t tell you how messy, because, remember this is a family story.

“Gosh,” said Patricia, “I will only have a tiny pension and I’ll have to get another job and I won’t be able to afford health care.”

“Here, here, little girl,” comforted our hero Glenn. “If you retire now, we guarantee your United health care payments won’t go up, but if you keep working, you’ll have to pay six hundred dollars a month for health care when you do hang up your wings.”

“Ok, if you say so, Mr. Glenn. You’re management so you know what’s best. I’ll take that early retirement,” said Patricia.

And so, after all those years of dedicated service to her company, Patricia quit United and went to work as a part-time taco filler (with no health care benefits). With a tiny salary, her meager pension and her savings, she barely broke even. But she and her little family had health care.

But then, hero Glenn sent Patricia a hilarious letter. It said, “Na Na Na. Joke’s on you! I was only fooling! Now it’s going to cost you seven hundred dollars a month for health care. Pretty funny, huh, Babe? Your first payment is due next week, and don’t be one day late or we’ll permanently cancel your health coverage.” And Glenn laughed and chuckled and guffawed.

Poor Patricia had to sell her house so she would have enough cash for health care. One of her payments went astray. Glenn’s people sent Patricia a default notice but they mixed up her forwarding address. It was a simple clerical error made by new hires in the accounting department.

Like in a Dickens’ novel, Patricia’s teenage boy developed renal failure. No insurance. No expensive kidney machine. He expired. Permanently.

Patricia wrote a nasty letter to hero Glenn. We won’t tell you what it said because, remember, this is a family story.

Glenn said “Business is business” and chuckled so hard, laughed so hard, guffawed SO HARD, that he had a heart attack.

The cardiologist told hero Glenn that he needed a new ticker or that he would die. But wait!! Boy, was he in luck!! See, there was this kid who had just expired and he had a perfectly healthy heart that the kid wouldn’t be needing.

So our hero Glenn got the kid’s heart and told all of the retirees that he was going to cut what was left of their pensions. “Just a tiny bit more belt tightening. It’ll be good for the company,” said Glenn.

When his employees accused Glenn of being heartless, he just laughed. He just laughed and chuckled and guffawed, just like he had done when he had his heart attack. He told those silly employees that they were all wrong. DEAD wrong! NO, he was NOT “heart-less.” Why, ha-ha, he had the heart of a fine young man.

Then he gave himself another raise and bought two more yachts and another mansion in the Cayman Islands where he had stashed his millions to avoid paying U.S. taxes. And everyone lived happily ever after in the Friendly Skies.

Well, most everyone.

It’s said that some people later said bad things about hero Glenn. BAD Things. Evil things. Terrible things. They even called him names. Yes, BAD names. But we won’t tell you what those people said because, after all, this is a family story.

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Jaron Summers wrote dozens of primetime television and radio programs, including those for HBO, CBS, ACCESS TV and CBC. He conceived the TV and Film Institute of Canada. Funded by the University of Alberta and ITV, Jaron ran the Institute for 12 years, donating his services for a decade.

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