In the words of one of the heroes of my youth, "This is deja vu all over again!" Yogi Berra's magical quote nicely sums up 43 years of work in the ever-changing transportation industry.
Thirty-eight years ago, I worked as an air freight agent for a company called Emery Air Freight in
This was my introduction to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). It was a necessary introduction for sales in a town where the aircraft industry dominated the export market. I find it amazing that 38 years later, one of my top pre-retirement concerns is to leave the express services staff knowledgeable about the EAR.
That is a strange requirement for express services at the university level. My employer,
I started working in this industry in September 1963 for a company called Wings and Wheels at the old, downtown airport in
My father, who spent 35 years in train service, always told me that the diesel engine took the fun out of railroading. I thought he was crazy until I saw the forwarder-owned 727s do the same thing to air freight. Both changes improved service, lowered costs and cleared the way for industry growth. Both changes reduced the individual to a cog in the system. The new systems worked great, but the fun and excitement were gone. One more time, I saw that Dad was right.
I like the efficiency of the new system, but I miss the old days and their unique horror stories. An airline in
Strikes have always played major roles in the industry. I still vividly remember in 1966, when five major airlines went on strike at the same time. Most industry people expected the President to invoke the Taft Hartley Act and put them back to work. He did not. The major carriers removed so much of the jet aircraft capacity from the system that the rest of us had quite a challenge. The strike really came back to haunt the carriers 10 to 15 years later.
The forwarders used the remaining jet flights to bring the freight into the main hubs, like
There are still a few of us old dinosaurs around who remember the forwarder's #1 competitor of the 1960s and early 1970s the Railway Express Agency Air Express Division. It had a special working relationship with the airlines, and it had reserved space right after the USPS. It had the lowest rate in existence in a regulated rate world. It did not use computer technology to track shipments as the forwarders did. It often claimed that all it wanted was an equal opportunity to compete with the forwarders.
The major problem was that the Railway Express Agency Air Express Division got its wish. Then it was caught in a Catch 22 spiral where they raised rates to cover costs only to see another slice of volume based on rates disappear. My memory says that less than three years after getting its wish, REA was bankrupt and gone. A sad ending for a company that traced its roots to Wells Fargo. My biggest worry today is that I have heard the same request from corporate people working for another large, federally regulated player in the marketplace. This player also has a captive market. It does not have the technology to compete in the open market with either UPS or Federal Express. I hope they are careful because getting what you wish for can be painful, as the REA certainly proved.
It does not seem like 40 years since the first time my parents came to visit us in
Butch Hiatt recently retired as head of Mail Services at