1. Return to JFK:
Two decades after Austrian Airlines launched its original, but unsuccessful transatlantic service to New York–a joint operation with Sabena Belgian World Airways inaugurated on April 1, 1969 with a Boeing 707-320 registered OE-LBA that made an intermediate stop in Brussels-it returned to the US on March 26, 1989, this time with an Airbus A-310-300 sporting registration OE-LAA. The occasion not only introduced intercontinental service to its route system, but a widebody aircraft with its first three-class cabin configuration to its fleet. Unlike the previous attempt, this one proved successful, but signaled the beginning of another two decades of elasticity, paved with numerous aircraft types, airline alliances and strategies, terminals, handling companies, and computer systems. This is its story.
2. JFK Station Evolution:
Initial training, held at Austrian Airlines’ North American headquarters in Whitestone, New York, and taught by Peter “Luigi” Huebner, commenced on February 6, 1989, or six weeks before the inaugural flight, and its curriculum included “Passenger Handling I” and “Adios Check-In” courses.
Austrian Airlines’ first JFK location, the East Wing of the no-longer-existent International Arrivals Building, was a shared facility with Icelandair and encompassed five Austrian-specific check-in counters equipped with computers, automated boarding pass printers, and laser-scannable baggage tag printers, and the jointly-used, upper level Icelandair Saga Lounge.
Entirely employed and trained by Austrian and outfitted in its uniform, its staff performed all ground operations functions: Passenger Service, Ticket Sales-Reservations, Lost-and-Found, Load Control, Administration, Supervision, and Management, while Icelandair personnel served on the ramp, overseeing aircraft servicing and baggage, cargo, and mail loading.
However, the success of the operation relied upon the equipment that serviced it and it was only Airbus Industrie’s decision to offer a shorter-fuselage, lower-capacity version of its signature A-300 that made the reinstated transatlantic operation possible with the A-310.
This long-range, twin-engine, widebody design, of concurrent technology, offered the same range and dual-aisle comfort as the comparable quad-engine 747 or the tri-engine DC-10 and L-1011, yet at the same time offered reduced capacity to facilitate profitable, year-round operations. Because of Austrian’s market size, the larger 747, DC-10, or L-1011 would otherwise have operated at a loss outside of the peak summer Travel season. Any of the other then long-range aircraft, inclusive of the Boeing 707 and the McDonnell-Douglas DC-8, featured older-generation, fuel-thirsty, four-engine Stage 1 technology of the early-1960s and would have been banned from US service unless they had been hush-kited or altogether engine-retrofitted. The very A-310 made Austrian Airlines’ long, thin Vienna-New York route sector possible.
The initial 1989 timetable offered six weekly frequencies during the summer and five in the winter, at which time two A-310-300s served New York and Tokyo, the latter with an intermediate stop in Moscow. Alternatively, they also augmented the longer-range routes, such as those to Tel Aviv, Istanbul, and Teheran.
During the first six months of JFK operations, an aircraft never experienced an excessive delay because of scheduling, resulting in exemplary on-time performance.
In-flight service naturally represented a large portion of an airline’s expenditure. As a result, many carriers began to reduce this in order to decrease costs. Austrian Airlines, however, remained unique in a world aloft characterized by snacks and paper cups by providing printed menus, amenity kits, china service, complimentary alcoholic beverages, and earphones in the coach cabins of its transatlantic flights to and from Vienna.
Because of the A-310’s short fuselage, however, lower-deck cargo space was limited, with the forward hold usually accommodating baggage unit load devices (ULDs) and the aft the cargo itself, which was often restricted to two pallets and a single AKE unit.
Although load factors on the New York-Vienna sector were initially low, they steadily increased until most of the flights were full. Large tour groups constituted an increasing portion of the passenger mix, along with the anticipated connecting passengers, who were able to take advantage of the expanding Vienna hub. It was the ultimate testament to a carrier when a passenger chose to fly with it and make a connection at its home airport as opposed to traveling nonstop with a national carrier.
As a “second attempt” across the Atlantic, Austrian Airline’s intercontinental A-310 service to New York was ultimately successful.
With the acquisition of its third A-310-300, registered OE-LAC, Austrian Airlines contemplated service to a second US gateway by the spring of 1991, such as to Los Angeles, but the A-310-300’s 11-hour flight duration precluded this reality. Although Chicago was alternatively considered, American’s own nonstop Boeing 767-200ER service to Vienna would have resulted in prohibitive competition, since O’Hare was its second-largest hub, leaving Washington-Dulles as the only viable alternative.
For the European continental network, a higher gross weight McDonnell-Douglas MD-83 was ordered for delivery in 1991 and several existing MD-81s were converted to this standard, increasing their range and payload capabilities. Two additional Fokker F.50s were also ordered for domestic and long, thin international routes.
During the five-year period from 1989 to 1994, Austrian Airlines independently operated at JFK, offering as few as four weekly departures during the winter and as many as seven during the summer.
3. Delta Air Lines Code Share:
Changing market conditions prompted a modified strategy at JFK for Austrian. Seeking to align itself with a US domestic carrier in order to obtain feed for its transatlantic flights, for example, it concluded a marketing agreement with Delta Air Lines in 1994, in which it placed its two-letter “OS” code on Delta-operated flights, while Delta itself reciprocally placed its own “DL” designator on Austrian’s services. Two Delta flight attendants, wearing their company’s uniforms, initially also served in the cabins of its A-310s to and from Vienna.
Although the concept’s financial benefit was slow to materialize, the aircraft ultimately achieved high load factors, carrying both Austrian and Delta passengers from some two dozen US cities through New York to Vienna, often with beyond-travel.
In order to reduce ground-handling costs and attain synergistic, inter-carrier benefits, Austrian Airlines relocated its operation to Delta Terminal 1A (later redesignated Terminal 2) on July 1, 1994, retaining only nine of its original 21 staff members. Delta Air Lines, the newly-designated ground-handling carrier, assumed arrivals, lost-and-found, passenger check-in, departure gate, ramp, and baggage room responsibilities, while Austrian itself continued to perform its own ticketing, load control, administration, supervision, and management functions.
1994 also marked the acquisition of two long-range, quad-engine A-340-200s configured for 36 business and 227 economy class passengers and registered OE-LAG and OE-LAH. They periodically served New York throughout the next decade.
Yet another change occurred three years later, between February of 1997 and 1998, when it relocated its check-in counters and operational office to Delta Terminal 3, but otherwise remained in the same marketing alliance.
The year also marked the first time that the transatlantic route to New York had sufficiently matured to support a second departure on selected days during the summer timetable, with this additional flight arriving at 2045 and redeparting at 2205. Usually operated by aircraft OE-LAC, an A-310 with a reduced business, but higher-capacity economy section, it facilitated connections with the midday bank of departures from Vienna.
4. Atlantic Excellence:
Once again yielding to airline deregulation-necessitated realignment and attempting to achieve additional cost-reducing synergies, Austrian Airlines integrated its JFK operations with Sabena Belgian World Airways and Swissair on March 1, 1998, forming the tri-carrier Atlantic Excellence Alliance. Although the employees of all three airlines continued to wear their respective uniforms, they operated from single passenger service and load control offices, utilizing a joint Austrian, Sabena, and Swissair check-in facility, and handled each other’s flights.
During the peak summer season, seven daily departures operated by four airlines were offered, inclusive of two to Vienna with Austrian Airlines, two to Brussels with Delta and Sabena, one to Geneva with Swissair, and two to Zurich, also with Swissair.
Eight functions were performed at the Atlantic Excellence station, including Control, Arrivals, Departures, VIP/Special Services, Ticket Sales-Reservations, Load Control, Ramp Supervision, and Trouble Shooting. Because Swissair was contracted to prepare load sheets for Malev-Hungarian Airlines’ flights to Budapest, the Load Control function itself entailed handling six aircraft types-747-300s, A-340-200/-300s, MD-11s, A-330-200s, 767-200ERs, and A-310-300s-often requiring inter-carrier training courses.
As had singularly occurred with Austrian Airlines, Delta equally concluded reciprocal two-letter code-share agreements with Sabena and Swissair, but now took the former marketing arrangement to full alliance status at Delta’s significantly-maturing JFK flight hub. Delta nevertheless continued to provide ramp and baggage room functions for all three Atlantic Excellence airlines.
In August of that year, Austrian Airlines took delivery of the first of four longer-range, higher-capacity A-330-200s, registered OE-LAM and configured for 30 business and 235 economy class passengers, and the type ultimately replaced the A-310-300 as its intercontinental workhorse. The four aircraft, later operating with a reduced, 24-seat business cabin when the Grand Class concept was introduced, sported registrations OE-LAM, OE-LAN, OE-LAO, and OE-LAP.
During the summer timetable of 1998, Austrian fielded its first dual-aircraft type operation from JFK, with the first departure standardly operated by the A-330 and the second by the A-310.
5. Star Alliance:
Although an ultimate “Swissport Solution,” under which all Atlantic Excellence ground operations staff would have been transferred to the service provider, was envisioned, the eventuality never occurred.
Rumors, rumbling through the station like the gentle forewarnings of a pending storm, pervaded the atmosphere by mid-1999. A new strategy seemed to loom on the horizon and its seeds, planted long before it bloomed, were multi-faceted and omni-encompassing.
In June of 1999, Delta Air Lines and Air France had formed the fundamental basis of a new global alliance, which was later named SkyTeam, thus dissolving the 25-month Austrian/Delta/Sabena/Swissair Atlantic Excellence Alliance whose agreement, without renegotiation, would have expired in August of 2000.
Despite a ten-percent investment limitation, Swissair had nevertheless attempted to purchase additional Austrian Airlines stock, precluding Austrian’s goal of retaining its own identity and independence, and forcing it to withdraw from the Swissair-led Qualiflyer Alliance of European carriers.
Swissair and Sabena formed a combined commercial management structure, which again proved counter to Austrian Airlines’ independent direction.
Finally, in early 2000, both Sabena and Swissair concluded code-share agreements with American Airlines, a US airline-alignment that was counter to Austrian Airlines’ strategy of US feed.
As a small, but profitable international carrier of considerable quality, Austrian Airlines nevertheless needed the reach of a global alliance to remain profitable and thus concluded a membership agreement with the Lufthansa- and United-led Star Alliance, which became effective on March 26, 2000.
The largest and longest-running alliance, it was then comprised of Air Canada, Air New Zealand, All Nippon, Ansett Australia, Austrian Airlines, British Midland, Lauda Air, Lufthansa, Mexicana, SAS, Thai Airways International, Tyrolean, United, and Varig, and collectively carried 23-percent of the world’s passenger traffic. But, more importantly, the decision facilitated continued independent identity and operation, yet had the potential for expansion. Expressed as a sentiment, the decision was stated as, “Here we grow again!”
The transition from the Atlantic Excellence to the Star Alliance, commencing as early as January of 2000, entailed four integral changes.
1). An entirely new IT (information technology) system and frequent flier program.
2). The operational relocation to a new terminal, passenger service office, passenger check-in counter, load control-aircraft dispatch center, and gate at JFK.
3) New alliance airline code-share flights and traffic feed resulted in the closing of the Atlanta station and the subsequent opening of the Chicago one and the reopening of the Washington one in the US.
4). The company-wide migration training in Oberlaa, Austria, location of Austrian Airlines’ head office.
Star Alliance membership, once again entailing a relocation to Terminal One at JFK, prompted another handling carrier change, this time from Delta to Lufthansa, which now performed the Baggage Services and Passenger Check-In functions, while Austrian itself continued to act in the capacities of Arrivals, Ticketing, Load Control, Ramp Supervision, and Management. Under a reciprocal agreement, it also provided these passenger services to Lufthansa for its own Frankfurt departures during non-operational hours. Aircraft loading and baggage room functions were initially performed by Hudson General, which was later renamed GlobeGround North America.
In a further cost-reduction strategy, Austrian Airlines relocated to a smaller, reduced-cost Passenger Service office on the ground floor of Terminal One in September of 2002, at which time the Load Control/Ramp Supervision function was awarded to Lufthansa. No longer serving Lufthansa’s flights, Austrian staff members further dwindled, now to six full-time and two part-time positions, and the daily shift hours decreased from nine to eight.
Austrian’s largest-capacity aircraft, the A-340-300–which accommodated 30 business and 261 economy class passengers–intermittently also provided service to JFK, particularly during the summer 2002 timetable when a late Saturday departure was scheduled. Two such aircraft, registered OE-LAK and OE-LAL, now made up part of the fleet.
6. Swissport USA:
The continual need to reduce costs resulted in yet another handling-company change at JFK on January 1, 2003, when most of the ground services were transferred from Lufthansa to Swissport USA.
In preparation for the change, the Swissport passenger service staff attended the Guide Check-In course in Vienna the previous month, while one Swissport agent, who structured the Baggage Services department, attended the World Tracer Basic course later in the year, in October.
Outfitted in Austrian Airlines uniforms, Swissport staff performed the Arrivals, Lost-and-Found, Passenger Check-In, Departure Gate, Load Control, and Ramp Supervision functions, while Austrian itself continued to assume Ticket Sales, Administration, Supervision, and Management responsibilities.
Load control, which was initially performed in Terminal 4 using the Swissair DCS system, was ultimately transferred to Terminal One and the Lufthansa-WAB system after the Swissport operations personnel completed a computerized load control course in Vienna that March.
7. North American Station Training Program:
Because most of the Swissport agents had little previous airline experience and were consequently unfamiliar with Austrian Airlines’ products and procedures, the author created a local training program by drafting the course descriptions, writing the textbooks, devising the quizzes and exams, teaching the courses themselves, and subsequently issuing the training certificates in order to more adequately prepare them to perform their jobs.
The program, tracing its routes to the Austrian Airlines Passenger Handling Course created in 1989 and the introductory Load Control training material written in 1998, evolved into the full-fledged North American Station Training Program, whose content, updated in accordance with aircraft, system, procedure, and alliance change, included the four integral curriculums of “Initial Passenger Service,” “Ramp Supervision Certification,” “Load Control Licensing,” and “Airline Management.”
Ultimately encompassing 27 Passenger Service, Ramp Supervision, Load Control, Air Cargo, and Airline Station Management procedural and training manuals, two station histories, and 28 curriculums, it resulted in 63 courses having been taught to Austrian Airlines and Austrian Airlines-handling carriers Delta, Lufthansa, Passenger Handling Services/Maca, SAS, Servair, and Swissport at the eight North American stations of Atlanta, Cancun, Chicago, Montreal, New York, Punta Cana, Toronto, and Washington.
The program, which quickly evolved into the equivalent of an “airline university” and was often cited as the reason why Swissport staff were eager to transfer to the Austrian Airlines account, proved instrumental in their career paths, facilitating their promotions or acceptances by other airlines.
8. Boeing and Lauda Air to JFK:
JFK, hitherto exclusively served by Austrian Airlines and its fleet of A-310, A-330, and A-340 Airbus widebody aircraft, received its first regularly scheduled Lauda Air 767 operation during the summer of 2004, a carrier founded by Formula I race car driver Niki Lauda and considered Austrian Airlines’ competitor during the early part of its history. But by the following year its frequency quadrupled and during 2007 it altogether replaced the 17-year Airbus service.
The summer 2004 Lauda 767 flight, which operated as an addition to the daily Austrian frequency during the 11-week period from June 26 to September 5, was scheduled to arrive at 2055 on Saturday evenings and departed some 25 hours later at 2200 on Sunday.
In order to prepare the station for the additional service, local Boeing 767 Passenger Service and Boeing 767 Load Control courses were created and taught to Swissport staff.
Because the Lufthansa technical employees did not hold 767 licenses, its maintenance was contracted to Delta Air Lines, which operated all three -200, -300, and -400 series 767s, and an extensive night stop and security procedure was performed before aircraft push-back to the Terminal One hardstand, at which time security seals were applied to all access doors. Off-loaded galley equipment was washed and prepared for the following evening.
Because of the aircraft’s then 36-passenger Amadeus Class capacity, the late departure was difficult to sell in the business cabin without considerable marketing promotion and fare reduction, while cargo-pallet loading was door-dimensionally restricted to four positions in the forward compartment. The aircraft themselves operated in a combination of Lauda Air and Star Alliance liveries.
During the summer 2005 timetable, from June 14 to September 2, the 767-300 provided up to four additional weekly frequencies, resulting in a total of 11, with the A-330 standardly operating the early departure and the 767-300 the late one.
By 2007, the type altogether replaced the A-330 and A-340 fleets, but appeared with several configurations. Aircraft OE-LAE, -LAY, and -LAZ, for example, accommodated 36 in business and 189 in economy, while those registered OE-LAX and -LAW respectively featured 30 and 200 seats. Aircraft OE-LAT, which offered the highest capacity of the six, included ten more seats than these latter two, for a 240-passenger coach complement.
9. Centralized Load Control:
In late-2006, a concept known as the “Centralized Load Control” (CLC) System was introduced at JFK, and the station, like the nucleus of an atom, became the core of it all.
Brainchild of Michael Steinbuegl, then-JFK Station Manager, the procedure, following trends set by Swiss International in New York, Lufthansa in Cape Town, and SAS in Bangkok, had its origins in an earlier investigative project in which he explored cost reductions by means of a large, single Centralized Load Control department in Vienna or several regional ones. The latter, however, entailed language and time zone obstacles.
Having himself amassed considerable experience creating operational procedures and methods as former Aircraft Handling Manager, he was well versed with weight and balance issues.
Seeking to apply this knowledge and simultaneously attempting to rectify the system incompatibility and communication difficulties encountered with the SAS-Bangkok arrangement in Washington, he tackled this station first, which, like JFK, already used the Lufthansa-WAB system. In the process, he set the course for the many transitions to come by making several duty trips to establish local station-compatible procedures and then drafting a detailed booklet concerning them. The first centralized load sheet for the Washington flight, OS 094, was generated on November 1, 2006.
Charlie Schreiner, then head of Austrian Airlines Load Control, subsequently marked the occasion by sending the following telex.
“With Austrian Airlines Flight OS 094 on November 1,” he wrote, “our first line station had been connected to a regular Centralized Load Control process with ULD aircraft. All activities toward the operational flight preparation, load planning, ULD coordination, and WAB System documentation, inclusive of the load sheet transmitted to the cockpit via ACARs, had been successfully controlled by our JFK station yesterday.”
The remainder of the CLC program, however, involved phased implementation. In May of the following year, service was reinaugurated from Chicago. Because this could now be considered a “new” station, it logically followed that its load sheet would be integrated into the CLC system from the start and, despite computer system differences, was successfully adapted with the first flight on May 29 after procedural modifications.
With these cities being handled by JFK, it was decided to integrate the last North American station, Toronto, whose first centralized load sheet was issued on July 1.
Three Austrian Airlines-dedicated Load Controllers from Swissport, two of whom worked on a given day during the peak summer season, formed the Centralized Load Control System team.
Since the fourth station was integrated, JFK produced some 120 load sheets per month, and the highly successful system yielded numerous benefits.
First and foremost, it produced considerable savings. All flights departed on time relative to their load plan and load sheet preparations and all four North American flights were operationally handled by only one more daily Load Controller than JFK had employed for a single departure. All loading instruction reports and load sheets were additionally generated by the Lufthansa-WAB system, giving Vienna immediate access to all load control-related data and documentation.
10. Boeing 777:
When Austrian Airlines turned the page of its winter 2008-2009 timetable on March 29, JFK fielded its first Boeing 777-200ER operation, the carrier’s largest capacity aircraft and the fifth basic type to have served New York after the A-310, the A-330, the A-340, and the 767.
The airplane, having originally been acquired by Lauda Air, was configured for 49 business class and 258 coach passengers, although two later examples, which featured higher gross weights and modified passenger arrangements, accommodated 260 economy class passengers in ten-abreast, three-four-three, configurations.
During the six-month period between April and September of 2009, the single flight carried 34 percent more arriving and departing passengers, along with significantly increased complements of cargo and mail, than the comparable year-earlier period, when the 767 was used. The four 777s in the fleet were registered OE-LPA, OE-LPB, OE-LPC, and OE-LPD.
11. Lufthansa Acquisition:
2009 was a pivotal year for Austrian Airlines, both locally and systemwide. Because of the global economic downturn, escalating fuel prices, eroding yields, and strong competition within Western Europe from low cost carriers, its financial viability and continued existence as a company were threatened, despite previous strategies that included selling its A-330 and A-340 fleet, reducing its long-range route system, and implementing several restructuring plans. Its savior, in the form of an agreement with Lufthansa-German Airlines, enabled it to continue operating, as it assumed its debt and acquired the majority of its shares.
On August 28, the European Commission officially approved Lufthansa-German Airlines’ acquisition of the Austrian Airlines Group. Comprised of the 500 million euros from the stated holding company needed for restructuring and the merger between the two carriers, the strategy paved the way for Austrian’s integration into the Lufthansa fold by September. In order to achieve the required antitrust immunity, however, Lufthansa itself had to agree to relinquish key flight slots and reduce the number of services between Vienna and Brussels, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, and Stuttgart.
For Austrian Airlines, which would become one of Lufthansa’s several independent, European hub carriers, it signaled financial survival, an improved economic foundation, cost synergies, such as joint fuel and aircraft purchasing, and access to Lufthansa’s extensive international sales and route network. The establishment of Vienna as a high-performance hub for traffic feed to its new owner’s dense Central and Eastern European route system was considered Austrian’s strength within the system.
As a result of this ownership, numerous, fundamental North American changes also occurred.
In Toronto and Washington, for example, Lufthansa assumed all ground-handling aspects.
In New York, more than half of the staff employed at its North American headquarters in Whitestone were laid off, while its facility, located on the fifth floor of Octagon Plaza and considered its “fortress” for almost a quarter of a century, was closed, with its remaining employees relocating to Lufthansa’s East Meadow, Long Island, office.
At JFK itself, Austrian Airlines Cargo equally relocated to the Lufthansa facility on November 1, and 16 days later Swissport passed the ground-handling torch to Lufthansa-German Airlines.
Michael Steinbuegl, Manager of that station for four years, was promoted to Key Account Manager, North America, but four Ticket Sales-Reservation positions were rendered redundant when Lufthansa assumed those functions, reducing the Austrian Airlines’ staff to just two members, (the author included), who received limited, six-month contracts that expired on May 15, 2010. Intermittently integrated into the Lufthansa operation and schedule, they handled their flights, while familiarizing Lufthansa employees with their own procedures, but after this transition period, were equally released from employment.
The last Austrian Airlines “red uniform presence,” whether having been represented by purely Austrian Airlines or Swissport staff, occurred on November 15, and the first floor office in Terminal One, hitherto “home” for the carrier’s Management, Passenger Service, Centralized Load Control, Ticket Sales-Reservations, and Baggage Services/Lost and Found Departments, was relinquished for three desks in the Lufthansa facility, two of which were Duty Manager stations located on the main level and one of which was reserved for the Key Account Manager position on the lower level in the Station Operations office.
All things seem to come fully cycle. The event, effectively ending 21 years of autonomous Austrian Airlines presence, marked the carrier’s return to its 1938 integration with Lufthansa and its 2000 ground-handling arrangement at JFK.
12. JFK Station Strengths:
In 2009, Austrian Airlines operated 666 arriving and departing flights at JFK and carried 158,267 in- and outbound passengers, an 18.42-percent increase over the year-earlier figure, while it operated 5,005 arriving and departing flights and carried 1,074,642 passengers during the seven-year period, between 2003 and 2009, that Swissport USA assumed its ground-handling there.
JFK, having weathered several airline alliances, terminal locations, computer systems, handling companies, aircraft types, and an ever-decreasing number of Austrian Airlines personnel over its 21-year presence, effectively closed its doors, the last of its North American stations to have done so.
Throughout its more than two-decade presence, it had handled five aircraft types–the Airbus A-310, the Airbus A-330, the Airbus A-340, the Boeing 767, and the Boeing 777; had assumed four strategies–its initial, independent operation; the Delta Air Lines code share agreement; the tri-carrier Atlantic Excellence station; and the Star Alliance integration; had operated from four JFK terminals–Terminal One, Terminal Two, Terminal Three, and the International Arrivals Building; had been handled by three companies–Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa-German Airlines, and Swissport USA; and had used two computer systems.
Because the talents and abilities of many of its staff were channeled to produce creative and innovative results during the last chapter of its existence, JFK had notched up several achievements, some of which enabled it to play an increasingly nucleic role within North America. They can be subdivided as follows.
The North American Station Training Program, comprised of the Passenger Service, Ramp Supervision Certification, Load Control Licensing, and Management disciplines, was instrumental in the educational preparation of all entry-level employees, enabling them to perform their designated functions with sufficient procedural knowledge or climb the ladder all the way to management, if so needed. The textbooks and courses were subsequently used to duplicate this success at Austrian Airlines’ other North American stations.
The Centralized Load Control (CLC) Department, entailing the preparation of loading instruction/reports and load sheets for the four North American stations of Chicago, New York, Toronto, and Washington, was highly successful and once involved four aircraft types: the Boeing 767, the Airbus A-330, the Airbus A-340, and the Boeing 777.
The Baggage Services/Lost and Found Department, under the direction of Omar Alli, served as a model for other stations and earned a lost baggage rating that became the envy of them. Omar himself often traveled to other stations in order to provide restructuring guidance for their own Baggage Services Departments.
The Ticket Sales-Reservations counter, under the direction of Sidonie Shields, consistently collected significant amounts of annual revenue in ticket sales, excess baggage, and other fees.
The visible presence of Austrian Airlines, in red uniforms, to the passenger, whether worn by Austrian Airlines or Swissport staff, cemented its identity.
The several annual special flights, which sometimes posed significant challenges, but were always successfully executed, included those carrying the Rabbi Twersky group, the American Music Abroad group, the IMTX group, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and Life Ball, the latter with its high-profile celebrities, colorful characters, and pre-departure parties.
The special events, often fostering a “family” atmosphere among its own and Swissport staff, included the annual “Year in Review” series, the Pocono Mountain ski trips, the summer pool parties, the birthdays, the Thanksgiving dinners, and the Secret Santas at Christmas.
And, finally, the daily briefings, jokes, laughs, raps, camaraderie, friendships, and human connections continually emphasized and acknowledged the true souls behind everyone as they cohesively worked toward the airline’s and the station’s common goals.
Michael Steinbuegl, who assumed command as JFK Station Manager in September of 2005, had cultivated the environment and orchestrated the steps that had allowed every one of these accomplishments to be made.
13. Two Decades of Elasticity:
Austrian Airlines, hitherto among the smallest European airlines, had to assume a considerable degree of necessary “elasticity” during its 21 years at JFK, ebbing and flowing with the ever-changing turbulence created by prevailing market conditions, seeking financial benefit, synergistic strength, market niche, alliance realignment, and ultimate change of ownership. Defying Darwinian philosophy, whose “survival of the fittest” prediction is often translated as “survival of the largest,” Austrian Airlines had, despite numerous, necessary redirections, proven the contrary, perhaps prompting a rewording of the philosophy to read, “survival of the smallest,” if four short words were added-namely, “as a global player.”
Toward this end, the latest strategy enabled the carrier to survive. For station JFK and its staff, however, it did not.
Because I had been hired by Austrian Airlines two months before its inaugural transatlantic flight from JFK occurred on March 26, 1989 and subsequently held several positions there throughout its 21-year history, I felt singularly qualified, as a lifetime aviation researcher, historian, and writer, to preserve its story in words. It is, in essence, my story. It is what I lived. And what I leave…