They called us “One In A Hundred”. For every 100 applicants interviewed by the now defunct People Express Airlines (PEX) of the 1980s, only 1 of us were hired. We were that extraordinary! We were Customer Service Managers (CSMs) who flew as flight attendants, worked as ground personnel, and held many other internal positions within the company. We worked hard, but played hard too. Many of us were fresh out of college, seeking adventure, travel, and business opportunities. We accomplished all of that and developed a business skill set that was eventually transferable to other careers. People Express truly left a lasting impression on the hearts of the employees who worked there, as evidenced by the 30 year reunion of almost 1000 people that took place this weekend in Newark, NJ, where the whole journey began.
Deregulation of the airline industry back in the late ’70s made it possible for everyone to fly, and the launch of People Express in 1981 made affordable air fares possible. Eventually, over expansion and competitive airfares brought on the demise of People Express in 1987, but many of the friendships that were established back then have remained strongly intact today. Our circle of “gal pals” is just one of the many groups of friends who still keep in touch all these years later. We have been able to meet in various locations throughout the country from time to time over these past 3 decades. I am always amazed how we pick up exactly where we last left off! I revert back to that silly 20-something, whenever I am with these wonderful ladies. All of us have witnessed both good and bad times in each other’s lives and have been there with loving support. We laugh until we cry and make the most mundane moments hilarious ones. We are forever friends, the gift that just keeps on giving! It was so wonderful to also see many other former colleagues and to reminisce about old times with them this weekend. I never knew I had so many words in me! This moment in time was as historical as the airline itself and I’m so glad that I could be a part of it.
Of course, life is so different now. I used to travel around the world and now I mostly drive around town! Careers and priorities have changed, just like the seasons. I never would have guessed back 30 years ago what my life would be like today. I suppose that is true for most special needs families. We forget in the daily challenges of raising our kids that we were once single and had a totally different life before we had them. The People Express reunion this weekend reminded me that it is important to acknowledge and honor that part of our lives from time to time, a very vital part of the “self care” that we NEED! I was able to play and take a break from home responsibilities this weekend because of my husband and niece. I am truly grateful for that. It was a huge gift and one that I throughly enjoyed. It’s actually the best gift that a special needs family can receive- time away to reconnect with the people, places, and things that give them joy.
Don Burr, the founder of People Express, always believed in a “People First” philosophy regarding both customers and employees. We, as special needs parents, live this philosophy every single day with our children. Like People Express CSMs, we wear many hats and are expected to play multiple roles on behalf of our kids. Our hours “on the job” are also very long and in our world, can really wear us down! It’s a very difficult part of just what we do, because we love our kids and they are depending on us. But what about ourselves? Aren’t we “people first” too?!
Every special needs family I know has a unique set of circunstances with their disabled children. Some families have much more support and opportunities than others to take care of themselves, a spectrum of its own that varies in each situation. Some families also have more than their fair share of challenges with no support whatsoever. Weekends away are never a possibility and they are often the people who need it the most. 😞 I wish there was a solution, but there is no perfect one. In the meantime, I believe special needs awareness and involvement should continue within extended families and communities, so that the needs can be identified of those who require a break, whether it be for a few hours or a few days. I can assure you, that the “people first” investment of special needs parents will reap major benefits for not only their physical and mental well being, but also for those of their children. It’s always easier to take care of your child when you’ve had a break, a good night’s sleep, and an adult beverage- the perfect trifecta! As the saying goes, “put your oxygen mask on first, before you place one on the person next to you”. Once a flight attendant, always a flight attendant. 🤣
Until we meet again, thanks for reading!😊