Even grumpy old airline pilots know that change is necessary, and sometimes change begins at home. There are a few things AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit wants to be different in the new year, and he's even going to try and change some things about himself.
December 21, 2003
Holiday Inn bars really aren't so bad if you need a place to spend the afternoon on a long layover. I had gotten into Memphis at noon and didn't have to leave until the next morning, so sometime around four I gave up on cable TV and found myself in my normal corner booth in the "Mudflat Lounge" -- beer at the ready and a legal pad in front of me.
Todd, this holiday week's co-pilot, sauntered in around 4:30 and after getting us a fresh basket of stale popcorn and two more frosty beers, sat down. "Looks like another day in paradise."
Yes, even though the world has slowed down somewhat this holiday week, we in the airline transportation biz are living "la vida loca." Somewhere, pilots are sitting down to a very late dinner in Paris, France. Somewhere, pilots are finishing up their drinking at "pound night" in that pub in Brighton, England. At even more exotic locales like Maui, pilots are quaffing sweet drinks out of fake coconuts with festive little umbrellas above them. We, on the other hand, have the Memphis Holiday Inn and four televisions tuned to wrestling.
"So, what's the legal pad about?" Todd asked. "It's too early to be working on next month's bid and you aren't considerate enough to leave your family a suicide note."
I've been working on goals for the new year. Not New Year's resolutions -- more a list of do's and don'ts for the upcoming trip around the sun.
It looked like Todd was going to hang-in at the bar for the duration because he showed interest in what I was talking about. Something he would probably regret later when he realized that I wasn't the most uplifting or deep-thinking pilot on the planet.
Todd's mistake began when he said, "Like what?"
These Things Have Got to Change
Okay, the first thing that bugs me and must be changed before the next holiday season is also the most important to me. I'm talking about radio and television commercials that feature some dimwit talking in a falsetto voice and pretending to be one of Santa's elves.
That's right, Todd. I'm talking about the standard radio commercial for Christmas. The premise being that elves can't decide what to get Santa for Christmas, so they talk in their little chipmunk voices about which local shopping mall is most friendly to elves. It's not the idea that bothers me so much; it is the whiny, shrill voices of those damn elves!
"Please," Todd said. "Please tell me that you have something more important on that legal pad than banning elves from radio."
Actually, I would also like to ban elves from speaking on aircraft and ATC radios as well. Some people, especially those of the female variety, just don't modulate well on a VHF comm. Some women just don't have a voice for radio. I'm not against females -- hell, my mother was one and two of my early flight instructors were of that ilk -- I'm against sounds on the radio that make my fillings hurt.
"Oh boy ..." Todd said as he settled in for what for him was bound to be the year's longest happy hour. "What next? Are you going to dis short people too?"
Not unless they are elves doing insipid commercials or painfully shrill controllers vectoring me in for the ILS final.
The next item on my list of things I don't want to see next year is any memo from any chief pilot or flight-ops zen-dweebie that tells me something I don't care about and can't change.
"What do you mean?"
Well, every time one of the chief pilots or flight ops people changes jobs they feel the need to slaughter a forest of trees, print out 20,000 memos and tell us about it. I don't give a rat's ass if Biff Stanhope is no longer the "Project Pilot Manager" and has just become the "Third Assistant Field Marshal of Pilot Compliance."
If they feel the need to stroke themselves over there at the G/O, that's fine. They could run a hundred or so copies and distribute it among themselves and their mommas. Nobody on the line knows or cares what their titles are as long as they leave us alone.
Here's another clue for chief-pilot types. If you want to hold a pilot-lounge meeting to inform the troops about your latest save-the-company program, you might want to do it when pilots are actually there. Try 5 a.m. on any day of the week. By 9 a.m., we are already flying.
Yes, But What About You?
"I know that this is a vain hope," said Todd, "But do you have anything on that list about you changing the way you do things?"
Ah, now you are getting to the meat of the matter. Of course I have dozens of things I hope to change about myself during the new year. Here is a short list:
I plan to show up prepared at recurrent training this year. I know I always say I'm going to study before I go, but this year I mean it! I'll know those limitations -- including that weird fuel one -- and I'll recite every memory item from, well, from memory. In addition, during ground school and CRM training I promise to not say a word ... not one sarcastic, to the point, pithy and witty word.
"Yeah," muttered Todd, "That would be a miracle."
Next, I promise myself not to tell ATC that "the ride is smooth" when I check in on their frequency. That call is pointless. Another pointless call I'll never embarrass you or other co-pilots with is to ask for a "wind check" when we're on short final. I'll also refrain from trying to "out nice" the controllers. If they tell me to have a nice day, I'll simply say thank you and not tell them to have a nice day themselves. Also, I promise to not ignore their radio calls for the first two or three times and then tell them, "Sorry, I was on the intercom."
Speaking of intercoms, I will no longer answer a ding from the flight attendants in the cabin with the phrase: "House of the Lord -- God speaking!" I know that stopped being funny 10 years ago, right after I came up with it. No more smart-ass answers on the flight intercom, although I reserve the right to answer, "Hello nosewheel" when the tug driver calls me and says, "Hello cockpit."
On the subject of ALPA, I promise to do three things this upcoming year. First, I plan on attending at least one meeting. Next, I plan on sending checks to both our flower fund and the furlough relief fund. I've been bad in the past on keeping up on those. Finally, I will -- for the very first time -- send a hefty check to ALPA's political action committee. I normally don't endorse candidates or political parties through my union, but something will have to be done in Congress if we plan to have a profession next year.
Let's talk taxi charts. I'll have one out when I land -- and not only that, I'll have my bifocals on so I can see the damn taxiway signs. (Note to self: Learn how to read taxiway signs.) Also, while taxiing at night, I promise that the pilots who are nose-to-nose with me and are still burning my eyeballs with their taxi lights will not get "nuked" by my showing them all the lights the 767 can bring to bear. I'll just say something tactful on the radio like, "Hey dumbass, how about dimming those lights?"
While we are on the subject of 767s, I promise to do at least one autoland next year and have you log it so it'll count. Also, I promise to hand-fly at least most of one short leg a month just to prove I still can. I know we have six autopilots on the plane, but I hear the control wheel still works.
"How about learning how to write things up in the logbook?" asked Todd.
Sure! Heck, I'll even learn how to re-set circuit breakers for the coffee makers in the aft galley. I've been planning on taking a walk all the way to the back of the airplane for years now. I hear they have lots of seats back there.
I can't promise to be the most accurate or able helper of co-pilots next year, but I will try to learn how to run the ACARS and at least know how to do a position report on it.
Show time for a trip will now be 10 minutes before I'm supposed to be there, not a frantic cell-phone call from the employee parking lot to the sign-in desk 10 minutes after report time. While I'm at it, I promise to show up at the cockpit more than my usual 10 minutes prior to pushback and will show some interest in the operation when I arrive.
Be Good to the Passengers
On the flip-side of that promise I hereby proclaim that I will no longer knock over various passengers in my hurry to exit the aircraft right after we block in. I'm not promising to say "buh-bye" to every passenger, but I'll at least nod at the first dozen or so before I sling my bags out on the jetway and trot off to my next gate or the pilot lounge. I know that me mixing with the flying public is probably bad for business, but I will try to at least be nicer to them.
While I am on the subject of passenger service, I promise to be friendlier to kids who point at me in the terminal while their parents say something stupid like: "Hey, that's a pilot!" I will no longer remind the little ankle biters that it is impolite to point. Nor will I retort to the parent, "Hey, that's an idiot!"
"I'm sure that the marketing department will appreciate your help," said Todd. "Maybe you could also change your passenger-address announcement to something a little friendlier than 'Sit down and shut up;" or when you turn on the seat belt sign for turbulence, a better announcement than 'Hold on!' might be appropriate.
"Also," continued Todd, who was beginning some sort of tirade here, "you might consider floating a loan at the credit union to pay back the hundreds of dollars in tip money you've borrowed from co-pilots. In addition, please don't tell other captains you run into that I can beat up their copilot. I can, of course, but there is no need to brag on me."
"Here's another hint. Dandruff is a treatable condition. They have shampoos for that sort of thing now, and since you wear a black jacket to work, a word to the wise should suffice."
"Finally, would it kill you to pick up a dinner check once in a while?"
Okay, you're right, Todd. Tell you what: Eat all the happy hour food you want -- I think they are having hot wings and celery tonight -- and I'll pay for your beer. Well, what the hell, I'll pay for two beers!