Reality hits Aloha Air workers after shutdown
|Video: Aloha Airline pilots lament future|
|Photo gallery: Aloha Air Employees|
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Beth Lennarz woke up yesterday morning angry, frustrated and in disbelief over the realization that she would never again pilot an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-700.
Then her emotions turned to fear.
On Tuesday, doctors performed an amniocentesis on the 3-month-old fetus growing inside her to rule out the possibility of a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. And as Lennarz and her husband, Brian, wait out the results over the next week or so, they're not sure where they're going to find medical insurance to cover Beth's pregnancy.
Brian, 44, lost his dream job on Monday as an Aloha pilot, too.
Then there's the couple's house on Mariner's Ridge that Brian's been renovating as fast as his methodical, meticulous approach will allow to get finished by Beth's Sept. 1 due date.
Now Brian's worried they'll have to sell the two-story, four-bedroom, two-bath home that he's literally been sweating over before the baby even arrives.
"It's scary, really scary," said Beth, 33.
With the clutter of Brian's handiwork serving as a backdrop yesterday, the Lennarzes sat on their lanai, gazed out at the view of Koko Head and emphasized that there are other Aloha Airlines couples who are just as worried and scared as they are.
But it's hard to imagine any others who were living the dream like the Lennarzes — only to see it turn so quickly to fear of the unknown.
"We were both finally where we wanted to be," Brian said.
Two weeks ago, he was so happy about his life, wife, job and future that he bought a brand new Nissan Frontier truck.
"I was finally starting to feel comfortable," Brian said. "I'm kicking myself now."
The Lennarzes' change in fortunes may be one of the more dramatic examples of the ongoing human fallout from Aloha Airlines' stunning announcement on Sunday that it would end its passenger operations.
Aloha's shutdown on Monday threw 1,900 people out of work, one of the largest mass layoffs ever in Hawai'i. Aloha said high fuel prices and a costly fare war left it no choice but to end passenger service after 61 years of flying.
The emotional and financial toll continues to pile up on former employees like Tracy Chung, who worked for Aloha for 19 years, primarily in passenger service.
She hasn't slept since Sunday's announcement. And dirty dishes uncharacteristically pile up in her sink in Mililani Mauka.
Chung just turned 40 and is separated from her husband, possibly heading toward divorce.
"I'm afraid to let go emotionally — to really break down and cry — because I'm afraid I won't come out of it," Chung said.
Harry Shupe, 58, was supposed to be looking forward to retiring from Aloha in two years.
Now, after a 38-year Aloha career, Shupe faces the prospect of competing for jobs in a new industry against much younger people with longer careers ahead of them.
"I guess I'll go to these job fairs," Shupe said. "But I don't even have a coat and tie that fits anymore."
It's hard to measure the impact of Aloha's shutdown on the lives of its employees.
Beth and Brian Lennarz met during Aloha Airlines ground school in 2002.
She's from Britain and made her way across America until she finally ended up flying for Pacific Wings.
Brian was an Army chief warrant officer out of Wheeler Army Airfield who won a bronze star flying AH-1 Cobra helicopters in Desert Storm.
After eight years in the Army, he moved back to the Mainland dreaming of flying commercial airplanes. He even loaded luggage and took tickets to work his way up through the airline industry before finally landing a pilot's job in Hawai'i with Island Air.
During pilot training at Aloha, Beth and Brian sat at the same work desk. His books and work were always piled neatly. Beth's area was a mess, so she knocked over Brian's books every chance she got.
In June 2002 they both became first officers, earning less than $25,000 during their year of probation.
After a series of union concessions during Aloha Airlines' first bankruptcy in 2004 and 2005, Beth and Brian ended up earning about $60,000 each in annual salary.
In 2004 they bought the sorriest-looking 1,680 square feet of home they could find on the otherwise plush Mariner's Ridge. They got married in 2006 and started saving what they could because of Aloha's uncertainty.
"We bought the ugliest, plainest house we could find up here," Brian said. "It was a wreck."
He went to work replacing the roof, ripping out the windows, tearing out the drywall and clearing about 6,000 square feet of overgrown brush from the yard.
Beth, who was rarely sick, saved up six months worth of sick leave and had an additional 40 days of vacation that she planned to use for maternity leave, before going back to work flying.
"Now that's all just gone out the window," she said. "In one day, it all got thrown away."
Brian heard the news of Aloha's demise over the cockpit radio while flying from San Diego to Maui on Sunday.
As he dealt with the gusty, windy conditions typical of Maui, Brian thought to himself, "I've got to maintain composure and get our passengers on the ground. If this is my last landing with Aloha, make it a good one."
Almost immediately, he went to work updating their resumes.
"If it wasn't for Brian," Beth said, "I would have sat on the sofa and cried."
They both want to raise their baby in Hawai'i and ruled out looking for pilot jobs on the Mainland.
Brian briefly considered finding work in some other industry. But he decided that he'd worked too hard to become a commercial pilot to give up flying.
So now they've decided to stay put, hoping for a miracle that they'll both get back into the cockpit of a commercial jet in Hawai'i.
"I just feel at home when I'm up there," Brian said. "We'll do whatever we have to. We accept the fact that we'll have to go through a probationary pay period again."
He then looked over at Beth, who said, "I can't do anything else. The first time I did it, it was incredible. I'll start over again if I have to. ... We won't give up. It's what we love."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.