broken airline operations, as soon as possible

I want to tell a brief story to elaborate a point.  This story has most likely unfolded at every airline in one form or another.  It results in a broken system and can be caused by the "firehouse mentality."

 How it starts

So I am scheduled on a three day trip, which is fine.  However, two weeks in advance I am notified of a change in the schedule.  Day one of working turns into one deadhead flight to destination and then to the hotel. Day two is completely canceled with no flying whatsoever which results in staying in the same hotel for an additional night.  Day three is modified down to one leg, the city in which I am laying over in, and arriving back to base.  So essentially a three day pairing that has one dead head flight and one leg of flying, pretty easy. (yay)

 The Logic Conversation

airline, data, aircraft, operations, process

At first one would ask, why don’t we just deadhead on day two, overnight then fly one leg home the next day?  After all, the conversation in my head says that is logical right?  You would open up seats for customers, and save the cost of two hotel rooms for the extra night.  This is perfect common sense to anyone using their mind and standing on the outside looking in.

 Is it Software?

However, if your airline is using software, the case for common sense most likely goes out the window.  This is because this is what the software says to do and there is no time for a logical discussion.  So how do you handle this?

 Is it Worth it to Investigate?

passenger, delta, southwest, airline

Some pilots, wanting an extra paid day at home could call flight operations and attempt to correct this situation.  Most of the time a third party company is involved for logistics and thus the pilot is asking for a delicate rejuggling of all the balls that are in the air.  Most of the time this leads to long hold times and confusion.  Is it worth it?  Only you can determine that.

 Go with the flow?

American airlines, delta, flights, passenger


Pilot scenario number two says, let’s just fly the pairing as indicated and enjoy a quiet day to ourselves.  We can more or less have a super easy trip and might even have a shot at it being relaxing instead of chaos. (You may have noticed I like the term chaos). What we don’t see unfold is that the company did not inform the hotel that you were staying two nights instead of one. This is the cause for investigation on their part.  It’s easy to get sucked in when the hotel comes to you for an inquiry. 


So what is the solution?

It’s kind of a catch 22 situation at best resulting in someone on the phone trying to correct a situation that should have been corrected in the first place.  To throw a monkey wrench into the scenario, the hotel just so happens to be completely full and the rooms you are staying are supposed to be for other pilots.  Now urgency is implied, what shall you do?

 Firehose Mentality, What is it?

flights, flight, gate, airline

This happens everyday in some form at most airlines, even the most well run airlines in the business.  I call it the firehouse mentality.  Someone has to put these fires out and when the fireman’s shift is over, he or she hands it to the next fireman.  It is almost comical to watch.  At no time is the fireman quarried as to what is causing the fire in the first place.  Why?  The answer lies in the fact the fireman is not part of the system.  A broken system, or one that has errors in it will always overcome any employees best effort to fix it. (See Demings Principle, the father of Quality available at your favorite retailer).


It’s up to management to tweak systems and address these real issues that cost time and money.  Time and money are always a part of the profit margin scenario, but they do chip away at moral.  Maybe your thinking this is a one time thing.  Or maybe this happens over and over again to the point of no resolution.  Why? 

Root Cause

Management does not come to the airport, pure and simple.

 If you do not come to where the action is, you are not going to be plugged into what is going on with your system.  Absolute clarity comes when you are immersed in the problem scenario.  The saying of "out of sight, out of mind" is very true.  When management is not present, obvious breakdowns in a system can not be identified or repaired.  Relying on word of mouth or some report to fill you in does not work either.  The action is at the airport, that is where the business model is.  So, if you are a pilot or part of a flight crew, (cabin crew included) knowing your scenario becomes a method of protecting your mental health.  I remember when I first upgraded and suddenly realizing how dysfunctional the operation was.  I wanted to fix it.  I did want my name on mediocrity because I did my job extremely well.  I would bring my frustration home until it became a pattern of frustration that affected everyone in my family.  Time for a paradigm shift.

 The Solution

flights, flight, process, departure

From a pilots perspective, the answer is more or less a catch 22 type of situation.  The real value is knowing that you are not part of the answer, you are just in the equation.  So you are smart if you realize this and ask yourself these questions.

  1. What do you do to protect your long term mental health against inadequate systems that you are a part of?
  2. Do you know your reaction to the above scenario?  If so, is it good for you?
  3. Does one scenario or another lead to solving the problem or making the problem worse?
  4. Will management engage and actively participate in the problem scenario that needs attention?  Most likely the answer is no.  The reason is they support being separated from it, at a different location, so they can better focus on the business at hand.  Do you understand this?


Sometimes leadership is hard.  Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.  Sometimes letting someone else do the right thing is hard.  Revaluation is always healthy.  Most younger pilots want to be part of the solution.  Its up to you in the long run how you handle this.  Knowing the root cause is the key to sanity.  Take a deep breath, the system is broken.  Not many are interested in creating an airline that runs like a swiss watch.




AirlineAirline flyingAirline managementArrivalDestinationFlightFlightsProcess

1 comment

John Westerland

John Westerland

It’s hard to work under leadership, the general consensus is that they don’t have a clue as to what is going on. Some of our pilots are so frustrated that they want to quit.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published