CEO of the Cockpit #40: Dear Santa

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Finding himself a swimming-pool-bound prisoner of a three-day re-route, the CEO takes a little time off from his enforced Fort Lauderdale layover to jot down a few ideas for the bearded fat man.

Dear Santa:

I am roasting my ample tummy sitting by a Marriott swimming pool in Fort Lauderdale, the victim of a re-route from my usual trip that normally has a 15-hour Detroit layover. Most re-routes, as you know from hundreds of Christmas trips, are bad news. This re-route seems to be working out nicely: an extra day at the beach followed by one leg home tomorrow.

The holiday -- Christmas to be precise -- is almost here. I know, it has been a while since I've written to you, Santa, and even when I do it is a cursory email or a quick message on your machine. I have no excuse, except to say that you haven't exactly been one for keeping in touch either and I sensed more than a little snobbishness in your letting our dog eat the cookies we left out for you last year. I'm assuming you are lactose-intolerant? The milk glass was full when we came down the stairs to see what goodies you had left.

No matter. I know that you meant to keep in touch and the most important thing is that you continue to believe I exist, even with all the evidence to the contrary. Besides ... sitting here watching the tourists dip their diaper-clad babies into the pool and wondering how -- after 25 years of swimming in motel pools -- I'm not dead from a diaper-borne disease, I am beginning to see how alike we are and how similar our flying lives seem to be.

First, we both are more than a little overweight and have had a harder time as years go by passing that flight physical. Both of us use reading glasses and I'm assuming that you need to bring them along on your Christmas-Eve flight to read the small print on your Jepps, just like I do. While I am disallowed by company policy to grow a beard, the rest of the hair on my head is snowy white just like yours. You don't face a mandatory retirement age or an early out that appears to imminent for me by my company's economic circumstances. Still, most movies about you talk about your being replaced every so often by a younger sled jockey, like Tim Allen.

We both wear uniforms when we are on duty. Wearing the "suit" can lead to all sorts of questions from mall patrons and people wandering around airline terminals. And let's face it -- there isn't much difference nowadays between an airline terminal and a shopping mall.

Where we are different has to do with the nature of our flight operations. For example, conserving fuel is probably never an issue with you and I doubt that management has tried to get you to contain costs or give up half of your pay. I have always considered you to be self-employed. I see you as a Jerry Garcia look-alike who enjoys helping kids by giving them all the things their little hearts desire.

The customers we have share a common trait. They all want something for nothing and ignore the laws of science and economics with equal glee. In your case, just by claiming to be good, they expect the most lavish of gifts from a portly man they hardly even know. In the case of airline passengers, they have been clamoring for extremely cheap tickets and now that they have them they are complaining that their luggage is lost and their flight is late.

When the last of the major airlines goes bankrupt and the so-called "new" airlines start having to face the same dilemma that all the others from People's Express to Laker Airways have experienced, it is going to be interesting. I've heard that emergency diverts due to scrimping on fuel loads have already gone up. With a lot of heavy maintenance going to Mexico, I wonder which airline will be the first one caught spending more on seat-back televisions than on safety-related repairs.

When it comes to my "wish list," I guess you could say that I am at an age where if I don't already have it I probably don't need it, and if I wanted it I would have bought it for myself already.

Love, Peace and Harmony

Don't worry -- I won't cheapen our discourse by asking for all the sorts of things that Miss America candidates gush about. I won't ask you for world peace, an end to hunger, or more understanding between peoples of the world. In other words, relax -- I'm not gonna buy the world a CokeŽ. I do expect a certain amount of magic from you in your gifts to me this year. After all, if I simply wanted consumer electronics, I could go to any outlet mall, buy it on discount and get miles toward a free airline ticket.

The fact that we are both pilots and understand the lifestyle puts us in the same club -- a flying club, as it were ...

You certainly know what it is like to fly an all-nighter and you always fly on Christmas. Most airline pilots do this when they are junior, but like some sort of tricked-out Fed Ex or UPS pilot, your entire flying life is back-side of the clock.

Navy pilots constantly brag about landing on a short, pitching deck but none of them can say they have landing on billions of rooftops that are covered with ice.

Because we share the same profession, my wish list is shorter than you might expect this year. Now that we've eliminated all of the emotional gifts (like world peace) that you can't provide anyway, let's get down to specifics. Here is my list for this year:

A smooth recurrent training experience. Since I go to recurrent at the beginning of the year, I am asking for this one first. I know I have to prepare and memorize all the stuff I'm supposed to memorize. I'll be ready to do the job when I get to the "puzzle palace." I'm hoping, though, that you can arrange two things for me this year. First, our instructor -- could you make him a little less geeky, arrogant and confrontational this year? Thanks! Also, my co-pilot in the sim needs to be very knowledgeable and very helpful. As you know, a crew with a lousy co-pilot is only operating on about two out of eight cylinders.

No commuting. I know the airlines are all re-structuring and they are opening and closing bases faster than most people can follow. For the last few years of my career I would like to not have to commute anywhere. My two-hour pickup truck ride is more than enough. I don't need to fly two hours to sit for six so I can fly nine to Frankfurt. I just want to fly my trip and go home. In other words, please do what you can to keep my base open.

No Vice Presidents. This may not be very hard for you to accomplish because I think most of them travel by private jet now and don't mix with the "great unwashed," but if you could keep me away from the Vice Presidents in my (and other) airlines that took bonuses, then got billions of pay give-backs from their employees and then took even huger bonuses, I think we can avoid CNN having an exciting story and can also keep me out of jail.

No severe turbulence. I've done enough of it in the past 16,000 hours, thank you. Nothing greater than moderate chop this next year and I'll be a happier camper. Blizzards are OK; for some reason, snow doesn't bother me, but I'd appreciate at least a 10-mile gap between level five thunderstorm cells.

More rest. I know that this is an old man's Christmas wish but I'd appreciate a little more quality sleep on layovers. A few less boisterous parties in the hallways, no prom nights, no homecoming shindigs in the room next to me; and if you could find a way when I'm in Las Vegas to face my room away from the obligatory parking lot shoot-out, I'd appreciate it.

I won't ask for more money. I've always made just enough to get by, whether I was flying banners, dead bodies or 300 tourists to London. There has always been enough 'ching to keep gas in my used car and beer in my fridge. Money always has had a way of running away from me anyway. Why give something to me that you know I can't take care of? If you are in charge of the world of finance -- and a lot of people think you are (see my note about customers and airline financial health above) -- maybe you could help me retain enough in my 401k to keep me from thinking a refrigerator box is a retirement condo in a few years.

Cosmetic Changes. As I get older my uniform keeps getting tighter and hair continues to sprout out of the most unlikely places, so here is my one and only specific gift request. A decent nose-hair trimmer that actually works! I mean, I can go around with my jacket unbuttoned to counteract the bigger belly effect (which, I understand you also suffer from), but I am tired of my nose having more new-hair grown than my noggin.

A Champ. I know I said I'd limit my specific gift requests to a nose hair trimmer, but both of us knew that was a crock. I want a 7AC Champ. It should be white with red trim, newly recovered and with new glass. Nothing too fancy -- I plan on doing a lot of off-airport grass landings in it. No radios, no TCAS, no FMS, no intercom to the back, no temperature controls that my back-seat passenger can bitch about, no auto-flight systems, no flight directors, no weather radar, no ACARS -- none of that stuff.

I want my Champ to be as different from airline flying as your sleigh is different from a jet ski. I want to fly it on sunny, warm days. I don't want to have to have the right haircut, current Jepps, or a first-class medical with waivers to fly in it. I just want it for fun, not profit.

If you are really in a giving mood this year, you could also include a smallish T-hangar with a refrigerator in it and about 500 gallons of auto fuel to keep my Champ flying for a year.

That's about it for this year, Santa. The pool is getting more crowded and happy hour is getting cranked. The Jimmy Buffett wannabee is warming up his guitar and they are putting the free snacks on the table. I'll sign off for now. By the way -- I am flying this Christmas Eve, so I'll leave the landing lights on while I am in cruise so you can see me. I will keep a sharp eye out looking for your airborne package delivery sleigh, so you can avoid getting a 767 enema and ruining Christmas.

Want to read more from AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit? Check out the rest of his columns.