Having reported into the Boston Chief Pilot's Office, my next lesson in airline flying was to be bidding and the delight of "reserve". Each month a bid sheet was published for each aircraft type in each base. The monthly bid sheet was basically a list of the flying assignments for that month. Each pilot would number his choices from one to however many there were and submit his bid. A "rundown" was then done by the schedulers in which the person with the highest seniority number got his first choice. The person with the second-highest seniority number got his first choice, if it was available, or his second choice if his first was already taken. And so the list was run down. Now, if you happen to have had one of the lowest seniority numbers at the base, you didn't even get a "line of flying", you got a "reserve line". In short, reserve was telephone standby for about 20 days each month in which you could get a call at any time of the night or day to replace someone who was sick, or on vacation, or unavailable for any reason. Very fortunately for me, I was at the front end of a large hiring binge and was only on reserve for a few months.
My first flight with Eastern was an evaluation flight in which I was accompanied by a "check" Second Officer. Check airmen are designated by the company and the FAA to run routine no-notice "line checks" as well as scheduled checkrides. After that first trip, I was on my own. I think the most outstanding memory of those first few trips was how totally different the cockpit environment was. Each Captain had his idiosyncrasies and his own way of doing things. Skill levels in the Captains varied over a wide range. This is totally different from the military. In the Air Force, each Wing had a Standardization and Evaluation group which did training and conducted checkrides. The emphasis in the Air Force was on standardization of cockpit procedures. Once the procedures had been learned, crews members became interchangeable. There was never any doubt as to what the correct procedure was and therefore, there were never any surprises. Virtually everyone flew "by the book". I don't mean to imply that the crew members were automatons, they weren't, but they all sang from the same sheet of music. I saw this whole thing from both sides of the fence. I my Air Force tour in Vietnam, I was a Flight Examiner (same as a civilian check airman) in the C-7A, responsible for upgrade training of new aircraft commanders and instructor pilots. There were two ways of flying a C-7; the Air Force way and all others. If you couldn't manage to fly the Air Force way, you didn't fly, period. I can only speak for Eastern amongst the civilian carriers, but this certainly was not the case at Eastern. Some Captains called for checklists, some did not, some disabled the cockpit voice recorder, some did not, some adhered to airspeed recommendations, some did not. Most were highly competent airmen and a pleasure to fly with. A few, however, were neither. Such is the result of a seniority system which makes you a Captain when your number comes up, rather than when your ability warrants it. There is a lot of pressure not to "bust" someone with 20 years of flying with the airline when he really doesn't measure up. The only parallel I can think of in the Air Force is the tradition of very senior officers (typically Generals) to continue to fly once in a while simply because they were once pilots. At least the Air Force requires these officers to fly with instructor pilots as copilots. Skill levels varied amongst Air Force aircraft commanders as well, but the range was much narrower than at Eastern. We had one Captain at Eastern we referred to as "Captain Ozone". Whether his nickname derived from the fact that he had been exposed to high altitude ozone for too long or whether than was the contents of his cranium, I don't know. I do know that he needed assertive First and Second Officers to keep him in line. In one instance I can remember we were northbound along the East Coast at about Cape Hatteras. Just along the coast was a line of afternoon thunderstorms, with towering cumulus clouds extending well up into the stratosphere with tops well above our altitude. It is a well established principle of flying near these things that you avoid them by a minimum of 20 nautical miles, especially on the downwind side which is indicated by the direction of the "anvil" tops. Captain Ozone was on a heading which was going to take us directly under the overhang of the anvils. The First Officer, an ex-Marine, suggested that perhaps we should alter course to the right. Captain Ozone disregarded the advice and continued on his course. I suggested that the First Officer was entirely correct, and concurred with his suggestion of a course alteration. This went on for about 10 minutes, all the time getting closer to the area just downwind of large thunderheads which are known throw out hail stones into the clear air. Finally, the First Officer reached into his flight bag and pulled out his large, heavy machined aluminum flashlight. He said, "Captain, there's about to be a mutiny. Either turn this f---ing airplane or I'm going to cold-cock you with my flashlight". With a sheepish grin, Captain Ozone dutifully called Air Traffic Control, requested an easterly diversion, and turned the aircraft. This was not the only incident of this type I witnessed, something I never saw in the Air Force. Captain Ozone had a long history of stunts like this one, but not on the record. When he later committed a much greater indiscretion and then failed a checkride, the company was unable to fire him, because there was nothing in the record to indicate that he routinely acted unprofessionally if not down right stupidly.
My initial Eastern career did not last long. The hiring surge which put me in the cockpit had been forced upon Eastern by ALPA as part of the last contract settlement and it was unsustainable in Eastern's financial state. I am thankful for the happenstance that allowed me to get hired just before I passed the age threshold, but after just over a year (at least I was off probation), I found out about another one of the facts of airline flying - the furlough.