Flight deviations, in no way affected bonuses. Pilots and flight attendants were not paid, however, for any cancellations, whether they be weather or maintenance related. We were low paid, but we got fairly good profit sharing checks every 90 days (averaged $1500USD for F/A).
As for comparing the two work experiences....very difficult to do so, as ValuJet and the current AirTran have two VERY DIFFERENT approaches to the industry. Plus the ValuJet BEFORE the crash and the ValuJet AFTER the crash were almost two different airlines. The old ValuJet was a laugh a minute....the new ValuJet was constantly holding your breath, hoping nobody would speak of "the unmentionable".
Because of unionization, we obviously have much better salaries and work rules now. However, there was something to be said for working for ValuJet. Untiil May 11, 1996 (the day 592 was lost), it was a blast. It was exciting and exhiliarating, almost like being part of the wildest frat house on campus. After all, the airline was being called "the most successful in history": we were adding a plane every month, and a new city almost every two months, and our senority was going up up up. Of course, Southwest was still fairly scarce on the east coast, so most people had never seen flight attendants and gate agents running around in khaki shorts and polo shirts. It was quirky and fun, and we all knew we were going to be a part of something really great. When I was in training in 1995, our instructors speculated the airline would have 300 aircraft by 2000 - and we were all getting in on the ground floor.
Plus, we were all young (at the Boston base, the United Flight Attendants used to call us the "after school airline"). Get a bunch of twenty somethings together, put them in shorts, and tell them to go run an airline, how could they possibly not have fun?
That of course, all changed practically over night. After the crash, we barely had time to grieve, when we were attacked by the media. While the rest of the country was pointing fingers at "mislabled cargo" transported by an airline "unauthorized to transport hazardous materials", we were repeatedly listening to and watching reenactments of the horrific final moments of our colleagues.
Not to mention being hounded incessantly by the media. I remember being on layovers, and having to change out of my uniform on the aircraft because news crews were waiting for us in the terminal...we had to take our crew tags off, and separate, then meet back up at the hotel van. It sucked.
And of course, the public themselves could be SO cruel. God forbid an employee walked into the supermarket or rode the subway in their uniform, the stares and subsequent comments proved too much for many. We lost a lot of good people.
Even now, we get the occasional half-wit on board who makes "jokes" about the accident. Does it ever cross their minds, that four of the five crewmembers on that flight were my friends? That sick jokes about their tragic deaths are indeed painful? Obviously not, but I remind them.
AirTran is an airline that looks, and for most part, acts like all the other carriers. Gone are the khakis and tennis shoes (we now where dark navy blue blazers, slacks, and ties), no games or jokes of any kind (safety is not a laughing matter), and no free-for-all seating (advance seat assignments). Instead of a sea of bright orange and pink coach seats, a modern blue and gray business class cabin greets people when they board.
Do I wish we'd go back to the casual atmosphere...no. It's time has come and gone in this industry....with one exception...Southwest. It is, and probably always will be, the only US airline that it will be acceptable. Plus, honestly, people take you more seriously when your wearing a tie, than when you're padding down the aisle in sneakers and camp-counselor shorts.
Now things are like they are every where else....an airline fighting mediocrity. Keeping a high on-time performance (never a strong ValuJet trait), getting repeat business through fares, service, and frequent flyer programs, and reaching a happy medium with unionized work forces (Pilot, Inflight, Maintenance, Dispatch, and probably before too long, Customer Service and Reservations).
So yes, I enjoy AirTran Airways - we offer a good product and a good rate. I make an industry standard wage, and this airline is one of the very few that will post a profit this year - I finally quit worrying a couple of years ago "if we're gonna make it". If any airline can survive a crash, a shutdown, financial problems, restart costs, labor organization, a merger, a total rebranding (all the while doing so under the VERY watchful eye of the federal government), return to solid profits in the face of high fuel costs, while still being a "low fare airline", and do so in under four years, I think they're gonna be around for awhile.
But I'll never forget those first few months I worked for ValuJet. They were truly some of the best times of my life.