Sunday, November 23, 2003

Comair's success paying off for thousands of workers

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Tim Zeis, vice president of customer services for Comair.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
ERLANGER - It was 1982, four years after Congress deregulated the airline industry.

Tim Zeis, a young father, dropped out of college to provide for his new family, working for a home-building company with the hope of one day becoming a site manager.

Then his father-in-law, who worked for Delta Air Lines, told him about Comair and what the future might hold for the regional airline in the era of deregulation.

Now, the 42-year-old Erlanger native is vice president of customer service for Comair, one of the nation's most successful regional airlines.

"I've often wondered where I'd be if were not for the opportunity that Comair in particular and the regional jet industry in general gave me," Zeis said in his office overlooking the airline's operations at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. "I probably would have made something of my life, but this really gave me the chance to succeed.

"I am definitely better off because of deregulation than I would have been without it," Zeis said.

Since Delta announced in 1984 that it would start a hub here, Comair has partnered with the industry giant.

Together, the airlines employ about 9,000 people locally, a quantum leap for what had been a relatively quiet little airport with only 100 flights a day in 1977, just before deregulation.

Zeis says that without Comair, his future could have meant sitting in a trailer on a construction site - instead of helping design Comair's innovative Concourse C, the only all-regional jet concourse in the country.

Not that the early days at Comair were easy. Zeis recalls getting three or four hours of sleep a night, the $3.50-an-hour pay as a part-time employee, working with aging equipment, and improvising with farm tractors to pull luggage.

But after showing a willingness to find solutions instead of complain about problems, he was thrust into management as a 21-year-old, six months after joining the company.

From there, he worked his way into Comair's brain trust, eventually earning a college degree.

"When it started getting fun, that's when it got into my blood," Zeis says. "We kept having success after success, and it was like being on the winning team."

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