When Kevin Sullivan got word this summer that he'd been accepted into USAir's school for flight attendants, he quit his job as an administrative assistant, hastily rearranged his life in Washington and roared up to the airline's training center in Pittsburgh. "I piled all my stuff on the car," he remembers. "It looked like the Beverly Hillbillies."
It was, he thought, the chance of lifetime for a liberal arts graduate with a relatively unmarketable degree in political science.
Within two months, Sullivan, 24, had graduated at the top of his class, had been permanently assigned to Pittsburgh and was in line for flights to enviable destinations. He had gotten his diploma, his cockpit keys, and his wings.
And then, on Aug. 12, the air controllers' strike got him.
Along with 750 other USAir employes who'd had the bad luck to be the last hired, Sullivan was out of work -- indefinitely. It's a scenario that has repeated itself nationwide since the air traffic controllers strike began and airlines cut flights back.
For Sullivan, the worst had happened. He'd given up a $12,600-a-year job, plus his efficiency apartment on Massachusetts Avenue (losing a $270 security deposit in the process). He'd taken out a $500 loan to help launch his new life in Pittsburgh, and with the help of his father, a retired military pilot, bought a used AMC Matador for $1,300. He lost the $250 deposit he'd put on a town house near the Pittsburgh airport.
And there were the uniforms -- $750 worth of tan and herringbone steward's suits, as well as a winter coat and valet bag. USAir had sold them to Sullivan on a $10-a-paycheck payment plan. The uniforms Sullivan kept, but the airlines took almost everything else. "They took my cockpit keys, my insurance cards, my luggage, everything," he said.
USAir, which had needed flight attendants so badly it had rushed Sullivan's class through training one week faster than usual, has told him it may be as long as 22 months before anyone is rehired, and laid-off unionized employes will be the first rehired.
For Sullivan and others who hadn't completed their 6-month probation period in order to be eligible for union membership, it's a classic case of don't-call-us,-we'll-call-you. "The union people have been 'furloughed,' " said Sullivan. "We've been 'separated.' "
And the landings for the "separated" haven't been smooth. Sullivan, by his own account, took it better than some. "There was one girl in our class who disappeared into her room with a fifth of Baccardi and only came out for ice."
Sullivan is back in Washington, moored temporarily in a friend's apartment on Columbia Road. He's back at his old job, but only temporarily, without insurance and other benefits. The Matador, too big for all but the largest parking spaces, sits several blocks away. "I don't even want to go find out how many tickets it's got on it."
His steward's uniforms hang neatly in a borrowed closet. And he's looking for a job, thus far, without success. "I'm running into problems. You're not very marketable as a furloughed flight attendant. They know your heart is in the air.
"I don't blame the controllers for striking," Sullivan said yesterday, "but they brought everyone else down with them. They knew they were going to lose their jobs because of their actions. But they've forced pilots and attendents to give up their jobs involuntarily."
"I don't hold anything against USAir," said Sullivan. "I'll go back if they want me. USAir is doing better than a lot of airlines. And in the airline business, I guess they expect you to roll with the punches."