Author's Note: for those concerned and/or offended readers, you can read the follow-up to this blog post here. I have made the comments to this post invisible, as the airline name was disclosed & I prefer they remain anonymous to protect both the airline & myself.
In case you haven't heard, I moved to Montana! Yay! I transferred to the Kalispell, Montana location at Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) with the airline in early July. Why? Because when I first started working for the airline, I was told I could transfer stations every six months... with no babies, boys, or pets to hold me back, I am free to go wherever the wind takes me. So, when I learned that the airline serviced FCA, I wanted to be as close as possible to that location... Because Glacier National Park. Case & point, this photograph:
I'll still be a part-time Ticketing & Gate Agent, & I assure you that my encounters with passengers so far have been just as plentiful from the great state of Montana & the incredible influx of tourists that fly in & out of FCA. To begin, I want to inform you about FCA & talk about the differences from COS. Number one being the size of the airport itself. Colorado Springs is home to 12 gates & is serviced by Delta, American, United, Alaska, Frontier, & Allegiant airlines. The airline I specifically work for has 12 self-check-in kiosks, with three designated gates all to itself & has close to 30, if not more, combined total of inbound & outbound flights daily. The COS station only services the smaller fleet of aircrafts with a maximum passenger capacity of 76, so we never have mainline flights unless a flight is diverted to the station due to weather. If we have any IRROPS (irregular operations) that require rebooking, we typically always find a later flight for passengers in some fashion, or we can send passengers in a cab, shuttle, or bus to Denver International Airport, depending on the reason for the IRROPS. Communication among operations & agents is incredibly streamlined, despite the lack of radios for staff. We utilize a FIDS board, which will display any & all flight arrivals, departures, & gates, & is accessible by all employees from any computer after successfully logging in. And when I non-revved, employees were permitted to park in Employee Parking for free.
Now, let's talk about FCA. This airport services Delta, United, Alaska, & Allegiant, & operates three gates. Total. Yup, you read that correctly, three total gates divvied up between the four airlines. In the summer, we service mainline flights with a capacity of up to 130 passengers per flight. With only two (yes, only two) self-check-in kiosks, which every passenger must use to check-in unless they are First Class or passengers with mileage status, the entire check-in process gets really hectic, really fast. The most hilarious part to me is that after I tag a bag & verify the passenger's ID, I don't throw their bag on a revolving belt that goes down a complex ramp to the TSA Agents for security scanning. I literally set the bag behind me, on the ground not a belt, & a TSA Agent will pick it up or roll it to the security scanning system that is about seven feet from the Ticket Counter. What?! This blew my mind on my first day, I think I'm actually still recovering a little bit. The hardest part is when we have IRROPS & flights get delayed or cancelled, because the nearest airport is another two hours away, & we only run about seven flights each day in the summer (and barely three in the winter). My first encounter with a cancelled flight due to weather was incredibly stressful, as most passengers couldn't get out until the next day. And weather delays are considered an "Act of God," so no accommodations are covered or reimbursed by the airline. Remember me mentioning the smooth streamline of communication among operations & agents? Yeah, that's out the window in FCA, which makes me feel incredibly disorganized. In addition, they don't use FIDS for flight information, so it usually takes me four times as long to answer a passenger question because I have to go digging through other programs for the flight information they are seeking. Oh, & forget about free parking when you non-rev. The Employee Parking lot is so small that you may not even get a spot when you're working. When that happens, I have to park in Public Parking & have my parking-time validated for the time I was at work.
Taking all of this into consideration, the transition hasn't been all that terrible. Finding my place among an entirely new crew has been the biggest challenge. Being the new kid on the block at this station, people do seem to have their guards up a bit, some of them treating me like I'm an actual new hire who has no clue what's even going on. That makes my skin crawl, so I'm working on earning my stripes here. I'm not an idiot, so please don't make me feel like one. I corrected one of the more senior agents last week in front of a couple coworkers... not sure she was too pleased, but at least she learned something new. I hope. I've also been able to share a few Gate Reader shortcuts, which has helped a few of the Gate Agents when the boarding pass scanner malfunctioned last week.
On the contrary, I have had coworkers encourage me, thank me, & extend love to me. Coworkers who have invested in me & my mission to do, see, & hike everything I can. They've not only helped me find comfort in this new work environment, they have also shared their recommendations for local gear shops & trail tips, along with priceless native & "insider" information about Montana & the vibrant wilderness that is constantly breathing around us. I am forever indebted to these people & am equally inspired by them. They have been selfless & kind, which is perhaps a piece of advice that I should take as I learn how to work alongside people that I don't necessarily get along with or understand.
In addition, the station just hired a handful of new seasonal folks who didn't have the same On the Job Training (OJT) that I received in COS, so they aren't familiar at all with the programs we use & they won't be sent to training until SEPTEMBER. So, when it's slow enough or when I have the time, we make up fake scenarios together & play around in reservations (without saving the changes, of course) so they can start to learn some of the basics before the three-week training class in Denver two months from now.
The experience has been enlightening, to say the least. I've learned that COS should be a training station for my airline in particular -- they have such a wonderful team of trainers that gave me more than just knowledge about the industry, operations, & programs, but they also gave me confidence. That isn't something that can be taught in a three week classroom session, that is something that is acquired over time with the help & patience from working every single day with a team of great people who invested in my professional development. I hail from an employment background of 92% Customer Service positions, & I think airline people forget, a lot, that we are indeed a customer-focused industry. Sure, there are more rules & regulations, grey areas, & red tape, but we are still offering a service in exchange for payment. We are flying people to graduations. Weddings. Funerals. Vacations. Deployments. Adoptions. Work. Holidays. Honeymoons. You are guaranteed to find someone on an airplane when life presents its biggest celebrations of happiness, or its darkest moments of mourning. I am the lucky person who meets you in the middle, whether the excitement is pouring through your smile, or the sadness is pouring from your eyes. And trust me, I've seen both.
I'm praying to have patience with my coworkers, namely the ones who think I'm clueless & the ones who carry an ego to work. This is a team-driven industry, & quite frankly, I don't want to play in it alone. Everyone will be happier, passengers included, if we all just work together. I'm also racking my brain on ways to improve the systems FCA currently has in place... from the lack of additional kiosks, to the arrangementof stanchions at check-in. From the holes in communication, to my perspective on the lack of team work. I'm praying that my mind & heart are also open to new operations & management, that I may have the patience as I find my place & my voice among my new team. That I grant myself grace as I work through this transition. And that I seize every opportunity for self-growth, improvement in attitude, & extending love to others. I love my job, wholeheartedly. No matter where I am working, I love who I work for & the passengers we fly across the globe... & that's at the heart of why I will continue to do exactly what I do.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.