The entire airline industry is not exactly at its strongest, but when three airlines are right in the middle of merging, you wouldn't think it would be the best time to give the company the 'Undercover Boss' treatment on national TV. Frontier Airlines Chairman, President and CEO Bryan Bedford decided to try it, however, even daring to speak with employees about their mandatory pay cuts.
He explained to AOL Jobs that the 6-10 percent pay cuts were part of the bankruptcy proceedings and were imposed by the previous management, before his team came on board. Union workers will have that money returned to them, but the unrepresented workers are not so fortunate. "Of course they want their money back," Bedford said in a recent AOL interview. "But I was impressed with their awareness of what's important. If getting that money back puts their jobs at risk, they don't want it."
"It was a big risk to film during the transition," Bedford continued, speaking of the merge between Frontier, Midwest and Republic. "That's probably the worst time you can imagine to open your company up to cameras. But it's also the best time to show employees at their finest. I saw how hard they worked. They looked at this challenge like it was just another hill to take."
Tough jobs, but someone has to do them
The hills were a little steeper for Bedford as he struggled to do the various airline jobs, but he acknowledged, "part of the experience is being humbled. Dumping aircraft lavs is not very glamorous, but you don't appreciate it until you take the time to do it. You realize what an important job it is, which is a perspective you don't get in your office at headquarters."
The proper disposal of human waste from planes is actually so important that the FAA closely monitors it, and can dole out a hefty $10,000 fine to any airline found guilty of improper disposal. In the 'Undercover Boss' episode, a jovial employee named Hector showed Bedford how to hook up the disposal tubing and jokes that Bedford was just 'christened' when he accidentally got some fluids on himself. Disgusted, he managed to keep going, then took a break to get cleaned off and chat with Hector about the working conditions.
Hector had a great attitude, but was not afraid to speak out for the employees about hopefully getting the money from their pay cuts back. Once it's revealed that Bedford is who he is, he offered to pay give Hector a new training position, and to pay for a vacation for Hector and his wife. Seems they haven't been on vacation for 7-8 years.
Garbage was another sticky issue Bedford had to deal with. As an "aircraft appearance agent," he and his team have all of seven minutes to clean each plane between flights -- and that includes cleaning the seats and the seat pockets, the bathrooms and the floors. It's enough to make you vow to never leave an empty snack wrapper in the seat pocket in front of you ever again.
Sue, who showed Bedford the ropes, also confessed that she had son who died. Bedford, who is quite the family man, is so moved by this that, after his big reveal, he told Sue he will not only name a plane after her son, but she can pick the animal on the tail (each Frontier Airline plane has a different animal on the tail.) He also sent Sue on a cruise with her 19-year-old granddaughter.
Then Bedford headed to Oklahoma City, one of the company's smaller markets, with only four or five flights a day. He worked alongside a Valerie, a "cross utilization agent," who is essentially a one-man band, doing everything from serving as the marshal who directs planes to their assigned gate to unloading luggage to checking in passengers.
Bedford was impressed how Valerie can do it all, going from schlepping suitcases in the hot sun to greeting passengers as they board the plane, but is concerned about his own "freshness"after so much exertion, and feels Valerie could use some extra help. Bedford was also impressed with Valerie's religious devotion, and her extensive charity work with the homeless.
One he reveals his true identity, Bedford offers Valerie $10,000 to donate to the charity of her choice, and accepts her invitation to come work on the streets to help the needy people they find there.
Coffee, tea or...
And what airline 'Undercover Boss' experience would be complete without a stint as a flight attendant? The gregarious Bedford did such a good job chatting up the passengers that he inadvertently slowed down the boarding process and caused the flight to be delayed.
The flight attendant who trained him, Tui is patient and good natured, however. He's used to handling difficult situations, because he's working a couple of extra jobs to support his eight kids; as a DJ and doing luaus. He expressed great disappointment with the pay cuts. And Bedford felt a connection because they're both raising eight children.
Once Tui finds out who Bedford really is, he made Tui the chairman of a new branding committee, but best of all, Bedford gave him $20,000 to use for his family's education. Tui's oldest son, who is going to college was the first to benefit.
Bedford's own children range in age from 2 to 17, and it wasn't easy leaving them for the nine days it took to film the 'Undercover Boss' episode. "I married a living saint," he said of his wife. "Between the two of us, she's clearly the strong one." His job generally takes him away from the family only for about two days a week, so it was a bit of a sacrifice, but his religious faith, which he often demonstrated, helped pull him through.
Bedford said his invaluable experience was worth it. "I learned a lot, and got so much more out of it than it cost me to put into it," he said. "The most important thing I learned was how passionate our employees are about making our airline work."
And he's rewarding all the workers who took a pay cut for that. A lot of people wonder why Undercover Bosses only help a handful of employees when there are so many in need. Bedford stepped up to the plate this time, committing to recover all wage cuts over the next three years. Now that's the Frontier spirit.
-- 'Undercover Boss' Teaches Airline CEO It's Not All Blue Skies [Daily Finance)
-- Read more Undercover Boss interviews [AOL Jobs]