October 28, 2013

Crap the Captain does to drive me up the wall!

In awe of the great and powerful polyester sky god…

I had so much fun writing last week’s rant that I decided to climb onto another soap box.  This week’s target?  That guy sitting in my seat. There’s an old airline fable about a couple of pilots flying along, situation normal, when the boredom of straight and level flight is interrupted by a cry from the captain who promptly grasps his chest, stops breathing and expires right there in his seat…the victim of a massive heart attack.  His trusty first officer then summons a flight attendant from the cabin who, shocked and terrified, asks what she can do to help.  Without missing a beat, the first officer replies, “well for starters, you can get that ass hole out of my seat!”  Cold, to say the least...and total fiction.

When I first strapped into the cockpit at a Part 121 airline, I looked up to the captain as an all-knowing, God-like authority figure who knew everything there was to know about aviation.  I was young and inexperienced and that guy with the four stripes on his shoulders seemed to embody everything I wanted to be as a pilot. I remember hoping that I would, someday, possess the level of knowledge, skill and wisdom of the great and powerful captain.

But reality is a moving target…

That was twenty years ago and my views and opinions of “four stripe” have slowly but surely changed. Now keep in mind that I was a captain at a previous airline.  During a short stay in my favorite seat on the airplane, I learned a lot about what it meant to be a good captain, but also how much value there is in a good first officer who knows his job and does it well.  The best first officers have been captains before and not only remember what they liked best about a good FO but do their best to emulate those qualities. 

Granted, it could be argued that the tirade to follow is nothing more than “sour grapes” and frankly, the argument is valid.  I spent six years at a regional airline, two as the perfect captain (kidding, of course), and I've been relegated to the right seat at my present-day job for more than 14 years.  Recent projections estimate another half decade before the elusive upgrade…so yes, as I've watched the current cadre of four stripes inch toward 65, my reverence for those who occupy that hallowed seat is somewhat less than it once was. 

From the left seat, the list of complaints I mentally amassed for those aviators to my right was at least as long as the one I playfully post here…but that's a list for another day.  This is my party and I can cry if I want to!   Below is a list of the top 13 items that captains do to tick me off…I’m convinced it’s intentional and personal (not really).

13: Shows up five minutes to departure

This one doesn't bug me as much as it used to.  Back before I could get a copy of the flight documents on my phone or iPad, I was either forced to wait for the captain to show up with the paperwork or print my own copy before I could prepare the cockpit for departure.  This would actually make a good subject for a future post, but my employer wastes what seems like a ream of paper for every individual departure.  After printing the flight plan, departure plan, weather and NOTAMS, the resultant stack of paper is nearly an inch thick. So in my personal attempt to save the planet, I usually chose to wait for the captain to show up with the official copy.

Unfortunately, he rarely arrived more than 15 minutes before departure and often moseyed in with a mere 5 minutes to go…leaving precious little time to prepare the cockpit.  Today, I don’t have that problem. I’m able to display everything I need on my iPhone, so when four stripe decides to bless me with his presence, the airplane is ready to go.

Still, there are checklists to run, flight attendants to brief and a plethora of other duties to complete.  While assuming the trusty FO (that’s me) will handle it all is typically valid, it still ticks me off.  Show up and do your part!

12: Flies "by the book”

I don’t know why this is, but the declaration “I fly by the book” is almost always followed by a diatribe on the items that the captain wants done his own way...that is, not by the book.  The guys who actually fly by the book typically don’t see the need to state the obvious…we’re all supposed to fly “by the book” and most do.  It’s the guys who know they don’t who seem compelled to claim they do.

11: Don’t tell me to tell them…tell them yourself!

Compliments of Gary (@gdwhatley on twitter), this one bugs me too.  The captain’s side of the cockpit is equipped with the same push-to-talk buttons as those installed on my side.  If you have something stupid to say to Air Traffic Control…say it yourself.  If you want to request the inboard runway for landing even though there are 25 airplanes waiting for takeoff…make that request yourself.  If it takes two minutes to explain what it is you want me to request…save us both some time and make the request yourself.  If we’re in smooth air at Flight Level 390 and you want to climb to “wrong-way” FL400 even though there’s an airplane two miles ahead of us at that altitude and on the same route…ask them yourself. We both have access to the radios and I’m tired of looking stupid on your behalf!
10: Takes credit for my greaser 
but disappears after his POS landing.

Pilots are, generally speaking, proud souls when it comes to landings.  If you really want to thank the pilot…compliment his landing.  On an average flight, I work my tail off for hours in an attempt to provide the safest, smoothest and most enjoyable flight possible for my passengers, but when it all comes down to it, the landing is the ONLY thing anyone remembers.  Some of the worst flights I've ever flown have ended with some of my best landings…there’s a strange correlation there I can’t explain, but as long as the landing was smooth, the flight was wonderful!

So when I roll one on, regardless of whether it was skill or luck, the prideful side of my personality would like to take credit for the effort.  But many of the captains I fly with practically jump out of there seat to accept any accolades. He's the captain and he can take the credit if likes, but if he's going to take credit for my greaser then he better darn well stick around and take the heat for his sideways, air-frame rattling, double bounce of a landing.  You can’t have it both ways gents!

9: Asks for a checklist, then acts too busy to respond.

Maybe this sounds petty, but my time is valuable too. If you ask me for a checklist, please be prepared to respond as required. I find it terribly annoying when the captain asks for a checklist, then three or four items into it, gets distracted with something completely unrelated like a PA announcement he intended to make or a request for coffee from the flight attendant. Here’s how the checklist works…you call for it, I read it and you respond to it.  It’s really quite simple.  Please be prepared to do your part so it doesn't take ten minutes to complete one straightforward checklist.

8: Insists on controlling the A/C       

Oh my goodness, they put this panel over the first officer’s head for a reason.  Whether I’m flying or not, you can’t see the panel from your seat, you don’t know how to operate it and the flight attendants are going to call non-stop until you get it figured out…which could take hours.  Please leave the A/C panel to the guys who know how to use it. Besides, there has to be some happy ground between ice cycles hanging off my nose and a sweat drenched shirt and you are apparently incapable of finding it!

7: Have you called the hotel?

So here’s how an arrival goes on the last flight of the day when we’re putting the jet to sleep for the night.  We pull into the gate and shut down the engines then run the parking checklist.  The captain and all the flight attendants pack their stuff and wait around until the last passenger deplanes before it’s time to head for the hotel.  While they’re all standing around, I go outside to perform a post-flight inspection of the aircraft (My airline requires this at non-maintenance base airports).  

After the walk-around, after putting all my stuff away, and after cleaning up all the crap the captain left on the floor, I run through the shut-down checklist and power the aircraft down for the night. While I perform these duties, the rest of the crew is usually standing around looking at their watches wondering what’s taking so long. As everyone walks off the plane, one of the people who has done absolutely nothing for the past 10 minutes invariably turns to me and asks “so have you called the hotel yet?” 

6: Let's me buy him a beer to celebrate his 60th birthday   
...then shows up for work the next day.  

This one, compliments of Jeff (@Flybyshoutings on twitter), hits home for many of us who have suffered through five years of career stagnation as a result of the mandatory retirement age changing from 60 to 65. To read yet another of my rants, click HERE for a link to a post I wrote on the subject of pilots flying past age 60.  Most of the animosity is directed at those pilots who benefited from mandatory retirements of those senior to them, then got to stick around at the top of the food chain for another five years.  Until those guys are gone, there will be friction.  However you feel about the subject, the deed is done and mandatory retirements resumed in December 2012.  But if a guy lets me buy him a beer because he’s going to retire on his 60th birthday, he had better not show up for work the next day!

5: Takes Notes

Oooh, this one came to me privately, so I’ll keep it anonymous, but this happened to me once too.  Most of the time, when I think the captain isn't following a procedure correctly, I’ll check the manual before bringing it to his attention…assuming of course that it’s worth mentioning. Taking a quick look at the manual is a good idea because I’m not always right and I hate making accusations only to find out I was the one making a mockery of the procedure.  Captains often do the same with me, so anytime I see a guy over there sifting through his manual, I joking ask him what he thinks I screwed up.

To take this to the next level, I've heard about captains who keep notes on the performance of their first officers…as if they’re going to submit a list of complaints to the chief pilot. This actually happened to me once.  Oddly enough the captain who did it to me was notoriously bad at his job and was eventually removed from his captain position and forced back into the right seat. 

Regardless, it’s a lousy thing to do.  You’re the captain.  Put your big boy pants on and act like you deserve that fourth stripes.  If the FO isn't doing his job, step up and handle it like the leader they’re paying you to be.

4: Micro-manages to the cockpit.

Everyone has been micromanaged at one time or another…and I don’t know anyone who likes it.  Interestingly, the captains who try hardest to micromanage the cockpit are the ones who seem to struggle most with the completion of their own duties. One of the side benefits to a stagnant workforce in commercial aviation is that we’re all very experienced and proficient at our jobs. In my 15th year with the company, I have 15,000 hours of flight time and close to 10,000 hours in jet aircraft.  While there are two of us in the cockpit for a reason, I most certainly do not need to be told how to fly the airplane.

Now don’t get me wrong, everyone makes mistakes, myself included. I do not, however, need to be told how to plan a descent or how to set up and fly an approach, and I most certainly do not need constant coaching throughout a landing.  I would be very appreciative if you would just allow me to my job.  Speak up if I screw it up please, but if not…just let me fly.

3: Complains about money.  

Brian (@Brian_Osmer on twitter) shared this one with me.  Some guys just don’t get it.  Typically, the captain makes around 40% more than the first officer with whom he shares the cockpit.  The guy sitting next to you is not interested in hearing about your money troubles or how on earth you are going to make it through the month with a mere 15K in your checking account.  I don’t care how many wives you've divorced or how many illegitimate children you're supporting.  I don’t care about the tune up your Porsche 911 needs and I don't want to know how hard it is to find a yard man for your house on the beach.  Use your head boss, the guy to your right is making significantly less money than you. Granted, if you’re a regional airline captain, you probably don’t have a Porsche or a beach house, but the guy sitting to your right probably qualifies for food stamps. Buy him a beer at the end of the day and keep your money problems to yourself!

2: Doesn't realize they are called BRIEFings for a reason.

Compliments of Jeff (@Pilot_Jeff on twitter).  I’m glad to have gotten this one from the pilot of another airline.  I was afraid this only happened to me.  I do not need to be briefed on every number, word and symbol on the page.  Hit the high points, please.  I’m going to tune you out after about 30 seconds anyway, so make it count while you have my attention.

And my personal favorite:
 1: Clips finger nails in the cockpit.

Yes, it happens.  Compliments of Bernie (@BarefootPilot on twitter), I’m very sorry to say I've witnessed this one myself.  I don’t think there’s much more to say except…yuck!  There are plenty of nasty personal hygiene tasks that should take place in the privacy of your own home.  Removing ear wax, digging for gold in that bottomless pit you call a nose and popping zits to name a few…thankfully I have yet to see anyone attack toe nails in the cockpit, but I’m sure that has happened as well.  I’m afraid I would have to draw the line at toe nails. I do not want to see or smell your feet…and if one of your toenails finds its way onto my side of the cockpit, I may have to spit up!

This post was intentionally sarcastic, so just like last week, save the hate mail. Next week's post was a story I wrote describing the characteristics of a good captain. I fly with the best...and after what I wrote this week I figured I should set the record straight.  However, my good friend Karlene Petitt beat me to the punch today with a story entitle "Be The Captain..."  Not wanting to copy her work, I'll just post a link to her story.  If you don't already follow Karlene's blog, you should.


  1. Thx for that. Made my day ;-)

  2. Just a good read for the end of a busy day! Thanks for the view of the "other side" :)

  3. Great article to read Brad! I really thought it was cool to hear about your experience, especially because you've sat in both seats -- I think that's critical to understanding the whole issue.

    Thanks, can't wait to read more!

  4. I've had a douche... I mean a captain who brushed his teeth in flight. And yes, I know him by his employee number

  5. My husband doesn't clip his toenails in flight, but I know he once had to remove his shoes enroute. You see, he was wearing a new pair of shoes and during his walk-around he disovered they were NOT waterproof. He had to air his socks out. I think his CA laughed with him that time.

    1. Ive done that before. My boots leaked and it was like I walked through a river. I'll have to say I was quite comfortable.

  6. Remind me to show you my video of the captain playing the ukelele. DEN to Jackson Hole. We got up to cruise and he pulled it out and started strumming away without warning. He was so focused that he didn't notice me taking video.

    It takes all kinds. Great post.

  7. Haha, Brad,
    Us pilots--esp. Captains--are NOT known for their personalities...or perhaps they ARE!

    Many of your complaints could be said for ALL pilots, LOL...but the FO gets the particularly short end, because you gotta suck it up and take it! :(

    I'll have you know I show up a full TEN minutes prior to departure...but that greaser you just made...well you do know I'M responsible for the ship, tuvm! :D

    Eric "Cap'n Aux" A.

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