CEO of the Cockpit #83: Never Kick a Frozen Chock


Who knew that a nice afternoon movie during a Fort Lauderdale layover would lead me to pontificate yet again about aviation?The whole crew and I decided to take in an early after-lunch movie at the local cineplex. Since we had to take a vote on which movie to watch and since us two male pilots were outnumbered by our 10-member, female, flight-attendant crew, we ended up watching that movie about being a male maid of honor that starred Dr. McCreamy (or whatever) from Greys Anatomy on TV.It was an OK movie, for a chick flick. The male lead managed to take off his shirt enough to impress the girls and the story, although being a total rip-off of My Best Friends Wedding, was adequate enough to hold my attention for a couple of cool-dark hours before the pool bar opened at the layover motel near the beach.We had adjourned to said layover watering hole and six or so of us were huddled around a table between the bar and the pool, drinking through colored straws out of fake coconuts with real paper umbrellas. The sun was out, the music was mellow, and the tropical drinks were — well — tropical.Part of the movie we had just watched (or endured, depending upon your gender) had to do with the McDreamy character’s rules of love and life. Most of them had to do with keeping women at arms-length … and after he found true love, of course, he gave all his silly rules up.Jill, one of the flight attendants gracing our pool-bar hang-out, was also an aspiring pilot who wanted someday to fly for a living. She didn’t exactly look bad in a bikini, ether, but I would never mention that I noticed this because that could be construed as being sexist and lead to some sort-of mandatory HR training on my days off.She asked, “Do you have any rules you made up and live by that govern your flying life?”My copilot Bart, who was on the other side of our bamboo, umbrella-shaded table, would have been the perfect candidate to answer such a complicated, albeit interesting, question from a newbie pilot, but he was totally engaged in getting to know Gretchen better.Gretchen was a well-known home wrecker who wasn’t aware, yet, that Bart was already on wife number three and had absolutely no money left. Talk about your perfect couple.It was up to me to answer Jill’s question. I had two major reasons for wanting to do so. First, as an aging captain, I had scads of wads of wisdom to drop on any pilot who asked and second, I think I mentioned the bikini. It was to my advantage to enjoy both the view and my chance to look smart.

The CEO Whips it Out

Even though I was dressed in loose-fitting, chubby-guy shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, I metaphorically whipped out my flying rule book and began my lecture.First, I told Jill, there is no particular order to these little nuggets of flying truth. Second, since I’m into my third umbrella drink, I may miss a few or even mess up a few.”OK,” she said. “I’m not getting any younger — shoot when ready.”The first rule I’ll share with you is one you have already witnessed. As captain, I feel it is my duty to always buy the first round at the bar. New-hire pilots who fly with me never buy a beer and I occasionally buy dinners, too.”How about tonight?” she asked.Looking at Jill I could not imagine not buying her and the whole crew dinner, but I kept that to myself and continued with my rules of flying.Most of the CEO’s rules are safety related:

  • Never kick a chock. You never know which ones are frozen to the ground in cold climates, or which ones house wasps in warm areas of the world.
  • Never prop a stranger’s airplane. I know this rule sounds harsh, but I’ve propped hundreds of airplanes over the years and have kept all 10 of my fingers by only helping pilots I know and trust.
  • If you can’t stand up on the ramp, it is probably too icy to taxi an airplane on it.
  • Always check your own fuel caps, oil caps and access doors if you can.
  • There is always time for a clearing turn.
  • Never fool with hydraulics, high-wattage electricity or manually starting a jet engine.
  • You should never hurry. If you are on the ground and get confused, set the parking brake and take the time to figure it out. If you are in the air, ask for holding or delaying vectors. Never fly on ATC’s schedule. They are never at the crash scene — you always arrive first.
  • Same thing with dispatchers. Never let a dispatcher control your destiny. Work with them, not for them.
  • If you are on the line crew and are changing jet-fuel nozzles, always turn the truck off before you try to go from over-the-wing to single-point.
  • Never hold up a garbage can in an attempt to dump an aircraft’s toilet tank.
  • There are two air hoses in an aircraft shop. One is low pressure air and the other is high pressure nitrogen. One will fill up your air mattress and the other can blow your hand off.
  • Pay attention around airplanes and airplane areas at all times.

The CEO Says “No” to Speedos

Jill seemed to be getting a little bored with my preachy rules on how not to die when she flies. Bart and Gretchen had left the pool to get to know each other better and three other flight attendants were now bobbing in the pool like 20-something Jee Vice- and Oakley-wearing penguins. I changed tack with my lecture and went to more lifestyle-friendly rules of flying:

  • Another important rule as a captain, I said, is to remember that you never look as good at the layover motel’s pool as you might think you do.
  • You should always admire the pictures of flight attendant’s cats and boyfriends.
  • You can never be senior enough.
  • If you ever get senior enough, avoid trips to ATL and DFW.
  • No matter how expensive and big and fancy an airplane you are flying, it will still feel like crap to you at 3 a.m.
  • You will never, ever, get back the Christmas mornings that you missed because you were greedy and went junior on an airplane. Never.
  • Never, ever, say, “I told you so,” to a flight attendant after they realize that the boyfriend they put through medical or law school will never marry them.
  • Never have an affair with a flight attendant or a pilot (oh how I hated to say that). They not only will eventually cost you a house and your family, they also know your flying schedule.
  • Never ask rotund flight attendant, “When is the baby due?”
  • Absolutely nobody wants to hear stories about your dog or your kids.
  • Days off are precious. Never waste one on an ALPA meeting or a company road show. Both groups will always send you a letter telling you exactly how and why you are getting hosed.
  • The company is not a family and is certainly not your family.
  • There is no such thing as a guaranteed pension or, for that matter, a guaranteed anything.

It was getting cooler out by the pool as the sun set behind our motel. Jill, alas, had put a windbreaker on and I knew we were about to part ways, perhaps forever. All old man lechery aside, I knew from talking to Jill that, even though she was a first-rate flight attendant now, she would make an even better pilot in the future. Because of this, I got serious and added a few more last-minute rules before we went to Hooters across the street for dinner.

  • First, don’t take advice from old farts like me too seriously. We are the past and you are the future. Just because I can still remember how to do a fixed-needle ADF hold doesn’t mean I’m any smarter than you. I can’t tell an AIDIRU from a transistor and am overwhelmed by the whole idea of things like ACARS and TCAS.
  • Never be the first to volunteer for anything. Let another pilot try that hole in the line of thunderstorms or that 35-knot crosswind takeoff.
  • The most scared person in my flight crew generally wins. I always encourage displaying fear and doubt. Scared copilots have kept me from doing something stupid dozens of times.
  • Always write down your last frequency somewhere. Nowadays, most radios are flip-flop, but you should never have to search for a frequency for longer than a minute or two, even if you have to get the high chart out to do so.
  • You should never comment on how well you have handled a thunderstorm. It will kick you in the ass if you do.
  • The best pilots are the self-doubting ones. Never trust a pilot who thinks he or she knows everything.
  • Whatever you don’t know — and you will not know a lot — can always be looked up.
  • Finally, you literally never know which trip is going to be your last, so enjoy them all as much as you can.

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