Big Sky terminates service, employees

Tuesday, January 8, 2008
The last Big Sky passenger flight out of Cape Girardeau Regional Airport makes its way above the clouds on Monday, January 7, 2007. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Jennifer Cabaniss smiled, waved goodbye to the pilot of the final Big Sky Airlines flight Monday afternoon and began walking back to the terminal.

As the plane moved behind her, Cabaniss wiped tears from her eyes.

For 60 days, she managed Big Sky Airlines Cape Girardeau office. Now, the single mother of three is unemployed, along with three other Big Sky employees.

They learned the news from a late-afternoon fax on Dec. 19.

"At first, I thought it was a joke," she said, sitting at her bare desk. Early Monday, she'd started packing up her office, filling a cardboard box with framed pictures.

"No one wants to fail at anything," she said. "But if you're looking to blame anyone, blame Fred de Leeuw and Big Sky Airlines."

Big Sky started passenger air service from Cape Girardeau to Cincinnati on Nov. 18 On Dec. 20, the airline's parent company, MAIR Holdings Inc., announced it was liquidating, ending services at more than a dozen U.S. airports.

Cabaniss, 34, graduated from Metro Business College in April and was an intern at the airport over the summer. Nothing prepared her for the holiday travel season and the rage of customers hit with delays and cancellations.

"They cussed at us. They threw things," she said, shaking her head and saying she understood their anger. She said most of her 40 to 60 hours a week working for the airline were gratifying.

Today, Cabaniss is seeking a new job. She said airport manager Bruce Loy offered to write letters of recommendation for her and her coworkers and helped them cope over the last few weeks.

"He earned my utmost respect. ... I don't know if I could have got through this without him," she said.

Tim Simmons of Commerce, Mo., is one of four Big Sky employees who lost their jobs Monday.

He said he and his coworkers do not qualify for unemployment from their jobs because they did not work the state-mandated 90 days.

"This didn't just mess up passenger service," he said. "It messed up people's lives."

Simmons said he'll probably make ends meet at jobs he's held in the past, styling hair or doing administrative assistant work in the medical field. In two weeks, he's interviewing for a customer service representative job with Southwest Airlines.

That job requires four weeks' training in Texas and will require a commute to St. Louis.

He's hoping another airline can step in quickly in Cape Girardeau. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency request for proposals, which are due Friday.

The airport advisory board will review the proposals on Jan. 15.

Only the four Big Sky employees lost jobs. Corporal Ike Hammonds of the Cape Girardeau Police Department is a 15-year veteran assigned to airport security. Today, he'll shift to police patrol division.

The seven people employed for the Transportation Security Administration are being transferred to St. Louis airports. At least one will be commuting from Charleston, Mo.

Another TSA employee, heading out the door of the airport for the last time, said the drive will be long for him, too, but, "it could be worse. I've got a job."

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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