Sunday, April 27, 2008

Remembering Chuck Doyle

Today's Minneapolis Star Tribune obituary section bears the news that Chuck Doyle of Apple Valley is dead at 91, complete notice to follow.

Where to start! I first met Chuck when he was a captain and I was a stewardess for Northwest Airlines some time in 1956. Soon he became unforgettable to me when he brought our DC-4 over his home in Apple Valley before we landed at (then) Wold Chamberlain Field. Our wing waggle was a signal to Birdie, his wife, to start mixing the martinis. He would be home soon.

A mechanical problem was discovered one hot summer day while we were on the ground in Milwaukee. There wasn't a mechanic available there to fix our problem. The airline decided to fly a mechanic over from Minneapolis. I can still see Chuck cooling his heels (and his temper) by sitting on the concrete in the shade of our airplane and reading a newspaper while we waited.

Chuck was a character who led an incredible life. Before getting a real job as a pilot for NWA he was an air racer and stunt flyer, wowing the crowds at the Minnesota State Fair and other fairs, doing a variety of daredevil stunts like motorcycle to airplane transfers and car to airplane transfers.

Chuck had a grass landing strip at his home in Apple Valley which he dubbed "Doyle International." For years he operated the only banner towing business in the Twin Cities. When he wasn't driving a commercial airliner you could count on seeing him overhead in his signature turquoise Steerman PT-17, towing banners advertising everything from beer to radio stations.

There are certainly dozens, more likely hundreds, of Chuck Doyle stories out there. If you have one to share, please tell us your story.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Hennepin County has lifted the block on Lady Skywriter. (See Spied On! blog of April 19,2008.) A librarian suggested that the white gloves I'm wearing in the old photo on the masthead must have softened the "spymaster's" heart. In any case you may now freely peruse this website right out in the open at your local library. Whew!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Triage Twins go to Washington

Hmmmmm. Lets see if I've got this right. An airline (Delta) that lost 6 billion dollars last quarter wants to buy an airline (NWA) that lost 4 billion dollars last quarter. This does give new meaning to the phrase economy of scale.

Well I guess that does work; economy of scale being one of the benefits of the merger touted by the triage twins (CEO's Anderson and Steenland) when they first heralded their impending coupling. I use the word triage here to convey the lifesaving mission (airline saving mission) these gentlemen see themselves on. The two airlines don't have much overlap in the types of aircraft in their fleets - no economy there. And they only overlap on 12 out of 1,000 non stop routes - no economy there. With the exception of the pilots, Delta is non union and NWA is thoroughly union. I don't even know how to compute that, economy-wise. The only chance for economy I see is cutting off the head (management) of one of the airlines and guess which one that might be? Right! Our little old airline on the prairie, NWA.

Have you checked out their new web site ? Of course it paints the rosiest of pictures of the merger, being a colossal public relations device. The triage twins are in Washington as I write this, attempting to smooth the way. They see the best chance for a successful merger happening during the current occupant's reign in the white house. Today and tomorrow they will meet with Minnesota Senators Klobuchar and Coleman who both have "expressed concerns" about the merger. Tomorrow Anderson and Steenland will testify before the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. And coming around the bend, Rep. Jim Oberstar D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, plans to hold hearings on the merger. Oberstar's strategy, according to one of his aides, is to try to "run out the clock," hoping that the next administration might not be as tolerant of the concept of the BIGGEST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD as the present one.

All we can do is endure for the rest of the year. I hope the count down to the NWA/Delta merger won't be as painful as the count down to the national election is already proving to be.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spied on!

Media coverage of the NWA/Delta merger is waning some. It will remain in the news for months, of course, but probably not dominate the front page of the Strib or be the lead story on radio and TV every single day like last week. No worries. I'll keep you posted right here.

But today, I have other issues.

My employer, The Hennepin County Library System, in its heroic efforts to protect its customers and employees from harm on the internet, has blocked my fledgling web site. Can you believe it? You can't imagine how chagrined and embarrassed I was when, with a puzzled look, a co worker at the library gave me this news. She tried to access my web site during her break yesterday afternoon and was denied access. "You must have typed in the wrong address," I replied. Before my very eyes she re-entered the correct address. Lady Skywriter Denied!

So what gives? Is there a stripper in Vegas or LA or maybe even Hoboken with this moniker?

The Lead Librarian, who has the immense power necessary to override the spyware on a one-time basis, checked out my web site and pronouned it clean. She even liked it! But alas, it will remain blocked in the library system computers until a request for review reaches another person with immense power in the "office of library spyware."

I am assured this will all be straightened out next week. In the meantime, you'll have to read Lady Skywriter covertly in the privacy of your own homes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Earth Shaking Developments - or - whose "fault" is it, anyway?

What a morning! Things started shakin' in the wee hours with an earthquake in Illinois, of all places, that was felt in Chicago, Milwaukee and as far west as Des Moines, Iowa. Next, on my early rounds I discover that unleaded gas has surged to $3.45.9/gal. It now costs what was a whole week's stewardess pay in 1958 to fill the small gas tank on my PT Cruiser. Surely neither the Dalai Lama nor the Pope, both visitors to the US this week, would use their holy influence to visit this pestilence upon us -Tibetan agitators and predator priests notwithstanding.

No. I lay all "fault" at the feet of Northwest and Delta, for beginning this week with their announcement of a proposed merger to create THE BIGGEST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD.

Yesterday Delta CEO (and former Northwest CEO) Richard Anderson and Northwest CEO Doug Steenland attempted to reassure the locals that the Twin Cities will be "a very important hub" in the new airline. So what exactly does that mean? Mainly it means that these fellows hope Minnesota will not call the $245 million dollar loan which specifies that Northwest maintain its hub AND corporate headquarters in the Twin Cities, which they have no intention of doing.

This morning's earthquake may not have reached Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the airline merger is shaking things up well enough, thank you.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

World Perks? Any perks?

Is it prophetic or pathetic that Lady Skywriter joins the World Wide Web the same week that NWA and Delta announce their plan to merge and create THE WORLD'S BIGGEST AIRLINE? Called Delta???

Unlike theirs, my merger with the web does not require justice department approval, nor will it please wall street or hedge fund managers or line the pockets of my executives. My executives?

Will the airline of my past glory, Northwest, become extinct? The only airline in America to have the same name for 82 years? Even I haven't had the same name for that long!

As my friend Jim Moffet would say, "Holy Amelia Earhart!"

Bit by bit, probable changes to life as we know it on the prairie are revealed. Today I learned that my NWA WorldPerks Visa card may be a casualty of the merger and that Delta is in partnership with American Express and its SkyMiles card. Oh dear.

I was immediately transported back to a jewelry store in Lucca, Italy. I had agonized for a week about whether or not I should buy a 14k gold necklace with a roman coin pendant. Day after day I wrestled with this decision and ultimately convinced myself that owning this necklace was a necessity for my future well being. I entered the shop purposefully, identified the necklace and whipped out my American Express card, only to have it spurned by the disdainful shopkeeper. "We don't accept AmEx cards," he sniffed, "their fees are too high."

Alas, it was the only credit card I had with me, being a believer of their familiar exhortation, "don't leave home without it!" Since I couldn't cover the purchase with cash, I left Lucca without it. The necklace, I mean. And when I got home, I promptly informed American Express that their "member since 1984" would no longer be needing their services.

Will I crawl back to American Express to get their Delta SkyMiles card if the NWA WorldPerks Visa becomes extinct along with the Northwest logo? Not unless a certain shopkeeper in Lucca changes his policy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Notes from Lady Skywriter

I have no delusions that there is anybody out there intentionally reading this blog yet. Perhaps you stumbled on Lady Skywriter by accident, and rediscovered friendly skies. Remember those? The days when two adults could pass one another in the aisle of an airliner without touching? Days when virtually all seating was two abreast? When someone took your coat and hung it in a coat room during the flight? When the captain got on the p.a. at cruising altitude and invited you up to the flight deck to say hello?

Yes, it took us longer to get from place to place 50 years ago, being powered by propellers and all, but if you factor in today’s crowded skies and interminable delays the net flight time in many cases isn’t all that different, jets notwithstanding.

It would be a blessing if the flights were significantly shorter these days. It would ease the discomfort factor. Today’s cabin announcements warn us to “stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened.” So stay we do, knees under our chins, not daring to turn the page in our newspaper for fear of putting out the eye of our seat mate. IF you are lucky enough to have an aisle seat, you probably paid extra for it. This may allow you to stretch out your legs into the aisle, but be cautious to avoid having them run over by the “no free lunch” snack and beverage cart being muscled along by a crew member older than your mother. Now don’t get me wrong, here. I have no objections to mothers or grandmothers working today’s flights (I have achieved both designations, myself) so long as they are pleasant, accommodating and capable.

Anyway, since you are here, welcome aboard! Please weigh in with your own travel experiences and yes, your travails as well. And if you have a great story about the golden age of passenger flight, we’re eager to hear it.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep an eye on today’s aviation happenings as well as collecting historic tales. Currently up in the air is the NWA/Delta merger which, if successful, would create the world’s largest airline, potentially doubling the number of destinations for your lost luggage. Stay tuned.