On March 27th of this year World Airways - a company that was originally founded in 1948 - shut down for good, putting their employees out on the street.
How the end came was personal for me - I worked for them in their scheduled service days and it was without a doubt the most fun airline job I've ever had. The employees were incredibly tightly-knit and despite obstacles we got the job done.
The sad end beneath the orange squiggle of pain.
In 1983, I was between airline jobs and was working as a travel agent. I attended a World Airways agency event and won an all-expenses paid vacation to Hawaii.
Two weeks later, WO (the IATA code for World Airways) hired me - goodbye to my free trip!
New hires had to watch a video called "Last Flight From Da Nang". It's truly an incredible video of a flight that was originally scheduled to pick up women and children but was overrun by south Vietnamese soldiers. The pilots who got this flight off the ground were, simply put, amazing. All of our MAC pilots were. By the way, the unedited video showed Ed Daly, the company founder and president, shooting at people still trying to jump onto the damaged rear stairs as the aircraft struggled to get off the ground. He was quite the character.
WO did MAC flights for most of its history, so if you have a military background you might well have boarded one of their flights at some point. They also ran Haj charters for many years and the crews always had interesting stories when they returned.
I remember a DC-10 that we had in the fleet - the infamous a/c 112 - that the cabin crews swore was haunted. A flight attendant had been in the lower lobe galley loading carts when the elevator suddenly ascended and killed her. On a trip to London the crew arranged for a priest to bless the lower lobe galley and they claimed that the 'haunting' ended there. 112 was always broken down somewhere - it was a running joke - and on my first WO flight I glanced out the window and saw 112 taxiing into the gate. "Oh god no" I cried out, unaware that passengers could hear me. Good times.
When World shut down its scheduled service I attended a management meeting in Baltimore where we were given the heads-up. On the flight back to my base the FO came back into the cabin, sat next to me, and said "That's it, right? It's over". Passengers immediately gawked and looked a little frightened. Half of them probably thought I was sleeping with him and the other half probably thought we were going down into the ocean.
World still continued to do MAC flights but those of us on the scheduled side were laid off. My co-workers and I figured we'd live off of our unemployment for a bit, drinking daiquiris and hanging out by the pool. As a group we headed off to the unemployment office only to be told that World hadn't paid into the UI pool for the entire time we'd been operating in the state and turned us down. Was an ugly fight to finally qualify but we did, and shortly thereafter I returned to California. Up to the end, it was an iffy employer but as an employee it was really a very special place to work.
And now, the real end is here. It's over. And Dan Quayle is richer for it.
From an article by James P. Hoffa:
World Airways was a profitable company until another private equity firm, MatlinPatterson, came along and loaded it with debt. They collected handsome fees and interest until Cerberus -- run by former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Treasury Secretary John Snow -- threw the airline in the trash along with its employees. Many of the flight attendants and pilots had served their country and company since the Vietnam War.It gets worse, if that's possible.
World Airways was self-insured and its health care plan was administered by United Health Care.UHC had access to a fund with which to pay medical claims. On March 29, the company informed employees that 'first lien holder, Cerberus, has swept the bank accounts that funds the United Health Care claims.' Also gone were funds to pay for $2 million in retirement accounts owed to the crewmembers of World Airways.I'll add that after MatlinPatterson looted them, many of the unions gave up huge chunks of pay and benefits to keep them flying. And now they're just SOL, thanks to Dan Quayle and his merry band of pirates.
Saying that Cerberus 'swept the account' is a nice way of saying they looted accounts set up to pay World Airways health insurance claims.
We don't know how much was in that account. We do know it barely amounted to pocket change for Cerberus, which stands to profit handsomely from the wind-down of World Airways and the sale of assets from a sister airline. And we now know Cerberus has no shame and its greed has no limits.
How much money do these people really need? Will they only stop until they have everything and the rest of us are living underneath bridges? The ruthlessness of these people takes my breath away. I know some of the people who still worked there and my heart is just breaking for them.
I knew Ed Daly. He was a little strange but he was last in a long line of aviation pioneers. He passed away while I still worked there, and in retrospect that was a good thing so he didn't have to witness the looting of a company that he loved and nurtured.
On edit: I was looking around airliners.net on the shut-down and there were some great memories from former employees and those who had traveled on World's MAC flights. There was also a photo of the 727 from Da Nang after it arrived in Saigon and the damage to the wing was pretty incredible. Again, what a tremendous job by the pilots to keep this thing in the air.