Every time I see the news feature a story about airlines, I cringe in anticipation. What negative spin is the media going to project that is going to make my job harder? It is bad enough if there is an accident or incident, those in itself set the nervous passenger on edge.
But it is the occasional pilot issue that sets up a barrage of comments by passengers as they come on the airplane. Granted pilots doing stupid things does not help promote professionalism, but passengers do not need any more ammo to add to the comments I hear on a weekly basis. They can come up with their own list of unique questions all on their own. Here is a list of phrases or questions that I have personally heard.
Are you a real Airline Pilot? I saw a movie once where a guy pretended to be a pilot but really was not. How do you answer this question? Better yet, why are you asking me this question? It’s Hollywood, you watched a movie to be entertained, this is not a movie.
I saw the news, have you been drinking? First of all, no I have not been drinking. Have airline pilots been guilty of this in the past, sure. Is it normal? No and it is certainly not a trend. Secondly, the minute you ask this question or even refer to it, we have to leave the flight and go get a drug test. This is also means your flight is canceled. So be careful is you think you have an accusation. No one would fault you if you had a legitimate concern.
Do you know those guys that ran off the runway? No I do not, there are a lot of pilots in the world and we do not all know each other. Also it would be good to say, please do not believe everything you hear in the media, sensationalism is alive and well in the media.
Do you have any issues today? No today I am issue free. In fact the FAA has instituted a new program called fit for duty. Basically it requires each pilot to basically verify in writing that they are fit for duty before each flight. This signed piece of paper is filed somewhere and only dragged out if there is some sort of issue. It is also worth noting that pilots are people too, they do occasionally have issues or problems that weigh on their minds. For example, if you were to experience a death in the family and it was upsetting you, no one would expect you to come to work and fly an airplane. It is not worth it and studies have shown that those kinds of life stresses contribute to incidents in aviation.
Where is my gate checked luggage? When passengers bring gigantic suitcases that will never fit in an overhead bin, they have to gate check them. This means someone takes your bag downstairs and puts it in the cargo bin of the aircraft. To verify that you have a checked bag, the flight attendant will give you a small document that has a checked bag number. That number or slip of paper is what you take to baggage claim if you cannot find your bag at baggage claim. You do not give it to the pilot, pilots do not keep track of bags.
You don’t look old enough to fly? Considering that I am 52, bald, and the little hair that I have left is grey, thanks!
Can you help me with my bags? It never ceases to amaze me at how many people can pack their bag to the point that it is so heavy that they cannot lift it up into the overhead bin. I have never said no, but I think there should be a common sense rule posted somewhere, If you can’t lift it, leave it home.
You almost left without me and now I am mad at you. It never fails, there is always a runner. Someone comes running down the jet way just as we are getting ready to push off the gate and they are mad at the world. Either they did not hear the boarding announcement, they were in the bar, they were in the bathroom, they did not allow enough time to get through security or they did not get up on time. How dare you people try to leave me so you can be on time? Geesh.
What do you mean I cannot carry my own open beer onto the plane? This cracks me up, its usually younger adults trying to pull a fast one. Every once in a while someone comes on the plane drinking a beer. They should have never been allowed through the boarding door with the beer but nonetheless, they have one. I like to greet passengers when they come in the plane, most think it’s pretty neat. Until I tell you you cannot bring your beer in, then I am a jerk. (here is a hint, we sell beer on the plane)
Will you put this in the trunk of my car for me? While waiting in uniform for the hotel van to pick me up, an older lady came over to me and told me to put her bags in the trunk of her car. I think she thought I was the valet or the curbside baggage crew. Just for laughs, I did it. You would think she might have noticed my shiny set of wings on my jacket and my eager disposition. It did not even occur to her, and yes I kept the tip and bought some coffee.
Thanks for not crashing. Yes someone actually came into the cockpit after we landed and said that to me. What do you say to that? Just so you know, we don’t say the “C” word, it kind of indicates a bad day.
Do you know how to fly? This is such a stupid question that I cannot even justify wasting words to answer you, sorry.
Is it your first day? If you tell someone that your new to the airplane for some reason they think this is your very first time in an airplane. In fact, I have flown with several first officers who have far more experience in some really neat airplanes than me. With today’s training environment, pilots that are checking out on new equipment have already completed an exhaustive training program and getting checked out on the line is the last piece of the equation.
Do you have any symptoms of depression? Since we just had an accident where an airline pilot was discovered to have some severe depression issues, this question would appear to have some legitimacy. However if you want to ask me, could you use your indoor voice and be a little discreet about it? Yelling it at 90 decibels so the folks in the back of the airplane can hear you is just not appropriate.
Did you see that airplane that went by, it was awfully close? I get this all the time. People look out the window and see other aircraft going by. In the air, most people have a harder time judging distance since there is no frame of reference in the air. This often transfers as thinking something is much closer than it really is. All too often someone will ask me if I say that Southwest airplane back there and was I paying attention. We have several collision avoidance systems in place that help us see airplanes before the human eye can actually find them. A lot of time the weather conditions keep us from finding or seeing airplanes visually. This equipment is so good and so accurate and has never failed us since it’s inception. The other factor is Air Traffic Control calling out traffic locations that we are to verify and acknowledge. I saw it, relax and watch the movie.
You flew over my house and you are not supposed too.
It would have been a good trip if you would learn how to control the cabin temperature. This one made me laugh but the guy was so mad, he did not stick around to get an explanation. First of all, in the past, the cabin temperature controller was in the cockpit, and it was a stupid idea. Passengers are the back and they tell the flight attendants who in turn tell the cockpit whether it’s hot or cold. This then begins a back and forth game of communication until everything is just perfect. Years later some engineers finally figured out that it would be ever so genius to put the cabin controller in the cabin. That way, flight attendants could have control over the temperature in the aircraft. So if you want to comment and tell us how horrible it is, tell the cabin crew.
That was the best landing ever. Normally I would take this compliment in stride, maybe stick my chest out a little and go home and tell my wife how awesome I am. However it never fails to make me laugh when in my opinion the landing sucked. We all plop one on once in a while and it’s hard to be consistent in greasing one on every day. Trust me when I say this, a good landing is how a pilot measures his skills. So the question I always ask myself is this, if you thought that was good, what airline do you normally fly on? They must be awful.
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the day in the life of an airline pilot.
By the way it is worth saying that the ridiculousness of questions can be directly proportional to airline ticket prices. (Not my words, but just saying)