Commercial air travel is a funny thing in that over the years, flying has gone through a good amount of changes but very few of these changes have actually been seen as a positive thing. Fifty years ago flying was a leisurely activity that was pursued with joy by passengers and crew alike. The passengers, decked out in their Sunday best, would either spend the flight mingling at the full service wet bar or would kick back in their choice of Barcalounger while the beautiful crew took care of their every need. Today (with the exception of a few airlines) flying is like getting crammed on the last bus out of town during a prison break. Change has always been an ongoing thing in the world of air travel and will continue to be as long as there are planes. Over the past few years, I have noticed that one of the biggest changes has not only come in the planes themselves and the flying experience but also in the pilots.
When you flew twenty or thirty years ago, you had, for the most part one kind of pilot. You would see them walk through the airport with a fully pressed suit, hat and aviator glasses, as if Ron Burgundy had a total opposite twin brother. They would hold themselves and speak in a direct way with purpose, as if they were still in the military. They gave you the feeling that they were flying to complete a mission and if at any point that mission were to go awry, by God they would find a way to get it back on track!
Today, you have two kinds of pilots. The first one, who you see sparingly, is an older/slightly more mental, if not beaten down version of the one above. He’s spent the last forty years flying and is on his last leg. He should have retired ten years ago but couldn’t as the airline cut his salary along with his pension. Now he’s a shadow of his former self. He spends pre-flight hunched over in the cockpit drinking coffee laced with broken glass, while hoping for a storm so he can see if the passengers and the 747 can handle “combat maneuvers.” If there’s a weather delay, he will call the air traffic controllers “chicken shits” because by God “he can make it!” The only words you will hear out of his mouth are, “Flight attendants please prepare for takeoff/landing.” And if a problem is to occur mid flight he will do a shot of bourbon and rely on his hard wired combat instincts to take over and land the plane at the closest Walmart parking lot…or on a river.
The other kind of pilot is more often than not, the type of person who on first impression makes you think his original career choice was management trainee at the local JC Penney’s rather than a pilot. He is always a bit too cheery and is seemingly more than eager to greet passengers as they board the plane. During his announcements, his cheeriness continues as he excitedly tells you about what a great day it is too fly (even if you’ll be flying through a category 3 hurricane) and which landmarks you will be flying over, leaving you to wonder how many pieces of flare he’s wearing on his uniform. He gives you the feeling that, although a nice fellow, he would have to consult his training manual if he had to pull off anything beyond landing on a balmy afternoon at the Burbank airport.
Now I’m not saying that one of these pilots is more qualified than the other but in a time when flying is more stressful than enjoyable, this new breed of pilot seems to add to the stress rather than alleviate it. It’s one thing if you’re in a third world country and flying on a 70 year old sea plane who’s propellers are duct taped together and the pilot is wasted and wearing an eye patch. You realize you’re taking a gamble and it may or may not work out to your advantage. But when you’re flying commercially with a large, well-known airline you don’t want the pilots’ words and/or actions before takeoff make you want to call home because your afraid you may not make it back.
Flying has gotten to the point that the airlines need to make a Do’s and Don’ts book of conduct, or at the very least a pamphlet, that every pilot has to abide by when they get hired. This pamphlet should include:
“Don’t - belittle the control tower over the intercom because they told you to delay your flight due to bad weather. We know you think you can make it but you don’t need to tell your passengers, in hopes that they will side with you. This is not a game show.”
“Don’t – before take off, come out of the cock pit and shake hands with everyone in first class and thank them for flying the friendly skies. They will look at you like a mental patient and truly hope that you are an insane passenger and not the actual pilot.”
“Do – strut through the airport like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me if you Can” You will be perceived as a confident person who can handle any situation thrown at him.
“Don’t – at any point come out of the cockpit with your co-pilot (AKA no one is flying the plane) to play grab ass and bullshit with the flight attendants mid flight. Even though you think you are showing your passengers that you think you’re Leonardo DiCaprio from “Catch Me if you Can,” they will look at you as an inept moron who is probably drunk and will start to look and see if Liam Neeson is on the flight so he can land the plane.
“Do – wear aviator glasses (even if they are to hide a hangover) whenever a member of the public can see you. Even if you are not cool, people will feel good because at least you are trying.
“Don’t – if taking off from a small island airport announce to the waiting passengers “Ok, everybody on the plane!” with a wave of your arm as you climb up the stairs onto the plane. They will think you experimented a little too much with the local flora and will wait for the next flight…even if a volcano is erupting.
“Do – keep all announcements short and on point with nice level voice. This will instill confidence in the passengers that you are taking your job seriously even if you’re too drunk to complete a sentence beyond eight words.
It is my belief that if every pilot followed these simple rules it would not only make the flying experience better for the passengers but for them as well. Now take to the skies!