CEO of the Cockpit #74: Football Is Like Airline Flying

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CEO of the Cockpit

It isn't often that an airline flight crew has time to go to a football game during a layover. Many years ago when I was a plumber on the old DC-8 we used to have beacoup Detroit layovers, which meant we were laying-over in Ann Arbor at the venerated Ann Arbor Inn. Those layovers were seasonal in nature, meaning that the Atlanta based pilots got it in the summertime and we Chicago guys got it in the winter. A lot of layovers seemed to go that way. For some reason, every summer I was laying over in Phoenix and Shreveport. Every winter found me sitting snowed-in at a motel in Fargo, N.D., or Portland, Maine. The Ann Arbor layovers had a certain allure for this young engineer. In addition to all the parka-clad coeds cruising around the student union at the University of Michigan, we could sometimes score tickets for a football game that they held in their half-buried stadium on the east side of campus. Going to a football game on an Ann Arbor layover was way more fun than visiting the Michigan Museum of Natural History or trying to get sweet tea with your lunch at the Lamplighter Inn. We don't lay over in Ann Arbor anymore. The particular flying market has long since been given to the RJ crowd. Why fly hundreds of fare-paying people into a big city when you can fly small amounts of them at a higher cost? The logic of airline management flies over this captain's head once again.

Texas Trip

Football Stadium

This layover with my co-pilot Hank was in Dallas and/or Fort Worth and we had a total of 36 fun-filled hours to enjoy our stay. Normally, layovers don't last longer than a good nap, a healthy poop and a quick shower, but during the end of the month, changeover trips tend to get a little squirrelly. We were in the DFW area until one month ended and a whole new month's set of bad trip-rotations began. What the heck; we were young jet pilots with a weekend to spend eating Tex-Mex food and watching the interstate in Arlington near Six Flags Over Texas fill with the honking, smelly cars of the local Texicans. Who knew that Hank would come up with two football tickets from his old Texas alma mater, Goat Rope State? Hank's home team was coming in from the far reaches of West Texas to play those low-life, sister-marrying, communications majors from Southeast Central Texas Agricultural University. Yep, it was going to be the Fighting Goat Ropers going toe-to-toe against those milk-money-stealing Horned Cows from SCTAU and the game was going to be a more exciting than a coach meal with an ice cream sundae, according to Hank. The hotel van from the Arlington Hilton gladly took us away from their lobby bar and deposited Hank and me directly in front of the hallowed stadium of the fighting Horned Cows. "Dan Jenkins Field" is a beautiful place if you can ignore the fact that it is built with taxpayer money on the biggest salt flat in the DFW area. We viewed the scene through our company funded Serengeti sunglasses and began the long climb to our seats. The stadium is about two miles south of the departure end of the DFW runways, so we were not surprised at two facts. First, the noise of departing overbooked airliners drowned out the playing of the national anthem by the Fighting Horned Cows marching band and, second, there was a big advertisement for our airline on the inside cover of the game's program right next to printed text of the Horned Cows rousing fight song. The ad was a picture of one of our 757s with the sales pitch: "Get the Hell out of Texas on Our Modern Jets!" Hank and I got our beers and settled into our seats in Section 11a, Row 65. We sat in a sort of "reverse seniority," with me on the right and Hank on the left. We were situated just above a group of skanky SCTAU females whose only saving grace was that their tattoos appeared to be spelled correctly.

Sitting With The Good-Old Boys

Football Crowd

On either side of us were two guys. Joe, who was on my right, sported a SCTAU wife-beater shirt (three sizes too small) and a baseball cap with a picture of a cartoon Rebel on it saying, "Forget? Hell!" On Hank's left side was a fellow with wire-rimmed glasses, a leather-elbowed tweed sports coat and a hat saying, "Our Sports Team is far Superior to Your Sports Team." Great; redneck on the right, nerd on the left. My new friend Joe started the conversation off by first apologizing for spilling beer on my leg and then telling me how many games of the SCTAU Horned Cows he had attended in his lifetime, which was all of them. "You fly for the airlines, don't you?" Joe began while at the same time lighting up his third cigarette. How did you figure that out? "Because you are still wearing your airline ID on your jacket." Oh, crap. In my hurry to get ready for the football game, I forgot to take my secondary ID off of my commuting jacket. A secondary ID, for you non-airline or law-abiding airline people, is the ID you get from the company when you lie to them and tell them you lost the first one.

Security Level: Plastic

It works like this: Every airline pilot's professional life is predicated on having his or her airline ID always at the ready. You need your ID to get through security. You need it to get into the pilot's lounge and you need it to get access to your plane at the gate. If you forget it or lose it, your trip can come to a screeching halt. In order to keep that sort of thing from happening, the less honest of us tell the company that we've lost our ID. They will give us one free replacement and then start charging us an escalating amount for subsequent losses. That way I can keep one of them safely in my wallet or on my uniform and a second one handy for when I try to get on the plane home after a trip. I had my second ID on my jacket for just such an occurrence but forgot to remove it and was now about to pay for it for at least four more quarters. "My uncle was an airline pilot just after the big war," continued Joe with no encouragement from me. "Yep, after getting a bullet in the butt flying Hueys in Vet-nam, he got a job flying for Braniff. He got furloughed after Braniff went belly-up and got on with Southwest." How is he now? "Dead." Said Joe. "He was what you people call 'laying-over' in Little Rock and died from a heart attack while he was watching 'Wheel' on TV. They found him the next morning still in his uniform, sitting up, deader than disco." Those layovers can be dangerous, I said, trying to be helpful yet respectful of a dead captain and a war hero. "Yeah," said Joe, who after his sixth beer was getting a little misty-eyed. "This stadium seat was left to me by my uncle. He was a big Horned Cow fan and once told me that airline flying was an awful lot like a football game." I had to ask: How so? "Hours and hours of uncomfortable boredom interspersed with quick moments of excitement and pain." I'm sorry I never got to meet your uncle. He sounds like he was a good pilot and a great American.

Mayday for the Goat Ropers

"Goat Roper" Football

By now, the game was not only underway, it was out of control. In between the howling madness of a hundred climbing turbojets, we saw and heard the dismantling of the Fighting Goat Roper's entire football program. By half-time the score was: Horned Cows 46 -- Goat Ropers 3. Hank and I retired to the snack bar during the latter part of half-time for some much-needed beer and nachos. I asked Hank if he was OK staying and watching his alma mater getting their noses stomped into the mud like a new-hire at a chief pilot's conference, or if he wanted to head back to the Hilton. "Hell no! This is the best my team has done here in 20 years," said Hank, who by now had imbibed at least as much brew as my new best friend, Joe. Rather than try to get Hank back up those 80 flights of stairs to our seats, I make a pre-emptive phone call and summoned the Hilton van back to pick us up early. Most of the Goat Roper's fans were heading out the exits as we left. They were moving for the doors faster than a "special needs" passenger at the gate on arrival in Fort Lauderdale. Hank didn't mind leaving a little early. His seatmate turned out to be an English Lit professor that he had taken a class from when he was a junior at GRS.

Proust Was No Pilot ...

"Old Professor Snape didn't remember me, but I sure remembered him," said Hank. "He was the one who convinced me that my worst day flying an airplane was going to be way better than my best day reading Proust and talking about dangling modifiers. The day after I dropped out of his class and quit being an English major was the day I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, started majoring in engineering and began my Air Force career." I'm sure it was a great loss to the literary community but a great gain for the defense of our nation, I said. As our white, air-conditioned, hotel courtesy crew bus entered the interstate for our ride back to layover bliss, our conversation thankfully drifted away from losing football teams and we got back to more comfortable subjects. Questions like, "What the hell is a pen and pencil revision?" and "How is it possible that every ground handler's headset could go inop at the same time, system-wide?" Before we knew it, we had shaken off the dust of a cool-weather Texas football afternoon. We had forgotten all about Snape and my new-best-friend Joe and had begun to look forward to tomorrow night's layover in Jackson, Miss. -- the cultural center of the airline world.