>One swallow does not a summer make

Dear Mr Fyfe,

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you’ll probably have to sack me for what I did.
One of our high value customers, Damian Christie from TVNZ, left his mobile in the Koru Lounge here.

I know that I’m supposed to tell customers that they’re responsible for arranging collection
and so on if they’re stupid enough to forget their phones, but I didn’t.
I gave the phone to one of the crew on the next flight to Wellington who got it to Damian in time for the weekend.

I know I wasn’t meant to do it, but we thought it was the right thing to do.

We figured that if it was you in Damian’s position, you’d like to find someone who’d bend the rules for you.

Raewyn B

Wouldn’t Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand’s CEO, just love to get a letter like that, instead of having to read Damian’s rant over at Cracker.

And why is it like this?

Because modern businesses bleed the initiative out of even the most motivated employee.

Before I became rich, influential, famous and chronologically gifted (well, chronologically gifted…), I worked for Lufthansa Cargo in Special Handling.
Years later, I was sitting around one day, chewing the fat with Rainer Butz, one of the guys on the Executive Board, and he said “Whatever happened to the characters in the company? Where are the new legends? It’s just so boring these days”
I said “Well, we’ve succeeded in regulating them out of the system”
He looked, but he didn’t say anything.

It was our job back then to shortcircuit the processes and procedures that Lufthansa Cargo had in place, because – designed by people who were totally out of touch with reality – they were simply too unwieldy and slow and didn’t meet the needs of our customers – all 8 of them – who generated 80% of the revenue at the hub.
Normal cutoff time for a flight was 5 hours. We’d regularly do in 2.
30 minutes at a pinch.
If need be, we’d drive forklifts, build up and recontour pallets , crawl around in aircraft bellies, play tarmac jockey (it’s actually “ramp rat”, Damian…) and do dubious deals with Customs/Weight and Balance/Ops/Lufthansa Passenger Airline and anyone you needed to make things happen.
To say that we had a certain amount of leeway, along with loads of time sitting around, waiting for something to go wrong that needed fixing, would be an understatement

So would the saying “Idle hands are the devil’s tools”.
You’d have people calling up unsuspecting coworkers or customers, claiming to be Johnny Cash’s manager with some outrageously unlikely request, or Captain Orr from the 5th Armoured Divison with a cat inbound from Dallas that was fatally allergic to anything but banana milk.
People would be sent on wild goose chases for exotic mushrooms, irate professors on the phone ranting about lost exam papers, TV magazines would be kept for a year – A YEAR – and then distributed to intense confusion and an Ops agent, stuck out on a remote position with a 707 freighter at 3 in the morning, would see his VW Beetle being towed up, all nicely tied down on a pallet with a tag for Bujumbura or Kinshasa. Or worse.
A lot of this nonsense was alcohol-fuelled, of course. We had a very nice slyglogging operation running on the side and the profits (which we’d consume in liquid form) aided creativity no end.

But we were the guys to call if we had a customer in deepest South America who needed medication unavailable locally for someone in his family.
We’d have a chat to the airport clinic who’d somehow get the stuff for us and we’d zip out to the evening flight and sweet-talk the crew into putting it in the fridge and then get one of the guys we knew down in wherever it was to met the aircraft and pick it up.

Some stuff went down in the history books, too.

There was an early cold snap in September 1974, stranding the migrating swallows north of the Alps, with no hope of survival. Local radio station talks to someone at Lufthansa who says “Sure we’ll help” and hundreds HUNDREDS of people turn up with thousands THOUSANDS of fucking swallows in shoe boxes, cartons, cages, crates. Anything.
So we’d load up the van and cruise the flight lines, looking for any aircraft flying vaguely southwards.
No radios, no IT to speak of to find out which aircraft was going where. You’d zip up the steps, pop your head in the cockpit and say “Where are you you heading for? We’ve got some swallows” and more often than not, you’d get rid of a couple of hundred to Genoa or Rome or Marseilles.
The crews would do low stress “swallow” departures and approaches, we even had captains who’d take boxes in the cockpit or requisition the forward loo if there weren’t any First Class passengers.
Moved a couple of 100,000 in a matter of weeks.
But gradually, the technocrats took over – humourless fucking bunch of wowsers – and you couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that and PEOPLE kept getting SERIOUSLY TALKED to and slowly but surely PEOPLE were fucked if THEY were going to be TALKED to ALL the fucking time and CYA became the name of the game.

And if the weather suddenly turned cold this week, the swallows wouldn’t get saved.

Think about it, Rob.

There’s a need for rules, but you need to incite people to break stupid ones if need be.

And reward them

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1 Response to >One swallow does not a summer make

  1. >Ah, but don’t forget they could be terrorist sparrows!

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