It was 24 years ago today that along with 4500 of the most dedicated employees I’ve ever known, my job and an era ended. Late that night of November 13th, 1991 – the deal Northwest Airlines had proposed to buy Midway was retracted. Almost instantaneously – operations were ceased. The impact was large – many businesses around Chicago’s Midway Airport closed soon after. They had relied not just on the passenger traffic in the area, but as Chicago was the headquarters – the businesses had thrived with a loyal customer base of Midway employees. From restaurants to dry cleaners – the impact of our airline closing was felt near and far.
During those first couple of hours after the announcement was made and local and national news confirmed that our beloved ML had ceased operations – those waiting to board planes and those checking passengers in of course, were dumbfounded. But let us not forget about those passengers and of course the crews onboard flights that had taken off from one airport and now had to find the closest airport to land at. When the company stopped operating, so would many of the ground support services allocated to our stations out in the field. Baggage handling, cargo, fuel and the list just grew. Pilots summoned the flight attendants into the cabin to inform them of the news; not only of their sudden job loss, but that they were going to be landing in a city most likely unplanned. And that city not necessarily prepared for their arrival – with confused and lost passengers, some of them unaccompanied minors, or the elderly. Now Midway staff and our customers had to rely on availability, the ability and generosity of other airports to allow them to land, and of other ground crews to help support the offloading, and eventually, trying to find their own way home, wherever in the country that may have been.
It was a traumatic event on a large scale. Creditors eventually got what was owed to them, but the employees were not to see any pay, vacation or otherwise due to them during that final pay period – for several years. The payments made to former employees was in many ways – an insult, taking maybe a decade (I can’t recall for sure) or longer to get a percent of yet a smaller percent of what we anticipated was due to each of us, through the bankruptcy courts and processes. Matters were worse for the many married couples who worked for Midway, having abruptly lost two incomes, any health benefits, and so many had lost their spirit.
In the years since, I found myself in the HR profession almost by accident. I never planned on returning to an airline because Midway Airlines to me, was the crème de la crème. I didn’t feel like starting out all over again at a minimal wage in an airline when I had finally started to grow in my career in the industry – and recently become part of a brand new operation. I had no interest in working for the airline that was now boasting about their takeover of all of our gates and more and offering a handful of people jobs, on the low scale. So, I started anew – in a new field and industry, but not so unrelated that I would not cross paths again with some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
Not since that time have I been a part of that level of sentiment and dedication; the ownership that we all felt about what we did and who we did it for. Many of us were called upon when off duty and travelling on personal time – to assist during crisis at a station we happen to be passing through. And we would gladly roll up our sleeves and do whatever was needed. Everyone had everyone else’s back.
Over these years, there is enough passion about what we do, or what we did – that ties were never broken. Even as some went on to join other airlines and ironically – many of us found our way into the casino industry. Camaraderie and mutual respect has continued through the years – with twice annual gatherings in the Chicago area. And now, we’re able to continue or get re-acquainted through Facebook.
What is the moral of this story? It is simply that there is always something on the other side. I often coach people who have lost their jobs and don’t know where to turn or how to move forward. Some have lost their jobs through company layoffs or even closures, such as the one we had. Some had careers that ended as they may have had no choice but to start something brand new. A cease of operations was for me, the worst way to go through it – because it was so abrupt, little-to-no warning, no continuation of benefits, no Cobra, nada! No offering of assistance through an outplacement program as that was a growing trend. The city of Chicago stepped up a bit, and that was appreciated. But there was a bond that would get us through that time and ever since – a silver lining so-to-speak.
There was a grieving period and we deserve to grieve the loss of our jobs, our company, our friendships. Many of them would outlast the airline and even other airlines. I can proudly say today, some of my best friends are those I worked alongside so many years ago. Job loss affects people in different ways. Some people have a harder time getting over it than others do, but we did have each other to share in our temporary misery – back when misery loved company. So my closing thoughts to others having experienced a sudden job loss – stay connected to those who you valued working for and with. Some people have experienced layoffs more than once – and a few have gotten a bit used to it! Have confidence in your abilities to move forward. Think about what you’ve learned along the way whether technical or service related or both. There is always, albeit cliché, the other door that will open. Hoping that in the hardest of times, people know they are not alone.