The Best and Worst Moments of My Aviation Career
These are moments in time that are not the absolute best or worst moments in history but they are the best or worst memories recorded by all levels of aviators. Feel free to add your own or just enjoy the growing list.
Without a doubt probably for all the flight crews working on 911, it was probably the worst day. Not as much as the flight crews affected but for the families that had no idea what was going on with their spouses or loved ones. I just so happened to get in very late the previous morning and was still asleep when all the action started. I woke up, turned on my phone and stood blurry eyed to see all the messages from home.
Best-Checkout with Mike
I took a fed observation ride with a close friend of mine as the check airman. We had spent all of our college years flying together and working towards the same goals. A big part of my aviation experience had him in the journey somewhere along the way. It was a highlight to have him pin my captain wings on after the ride which completed all the training. Super good day when friends or family intersect your career.
What a thrill, the first time at the controls all by myself, without a doubt it was a day forever etched in my memory. I still think about it often even after thirty years of flying.
Best-Calling home with a victory
Having parents living in another state, good news has to be shared via a phone call instead of in person. Every passed checkride or certificate ride was a call home.
Best-Sticking the interview.
Going to an airline interview and having great synergy with the people interviewing me and really nailing all the questions. A great feeling.
Best-The green suit
So I had been furloughed for about six months and got an interview with another airline. I was excited for the opportunity and prepared for it accordingly. I packed my bag and my best Sunday go to meeting suit I had. I completely forgot about the unsaid suit protocol for airline interviews as wearing a dark blue or black colored business suit with a plain shirt and boring tie. I suddenly remembered that at the interview as I looked at the olive green suit I was wearing and had a small heart attack about it. It was too late to do anything about it so I carried on despite my inner insecurity about not looking like every other guy there. Needless to say, I passed the interview and I guess the suit did not matter.
Best-Little kid hugs
Worked a flight to the Caribbean and saw a little guy maybe four years old. His mom said in Spanish that I was the pilot. (I think that’s what she said). His eyes lit up and he came up to me and gave me a hug, no words, just a hug. It was very touching for some reason.
Worst-Stupid stupid emails
Our airline likes to email us to death. Someone cannot get it in their head that maybe crews are burned out on emails. We get the same email worded slightly different from three different groups, three times a day or more. Drives me completely nuts.
Best-The little old lady I held hands with
We delivered a full load of passengers to west palm beach Florida when I notice the last passenger was having difficulty getting off the plane. She was older and just a bit slow. I took a few steps and asked her if I could help her. She said she would feel safer if she just held my hand. I said as long as you don’t tell my wife and she replied that my wife must be a lucky women and that our secret was safe with her. Sometimes we just need to slow down and enjoy the stillness of these kinds of moments.
I hated commuting to work. I found myself riding in the back with passengers going to JFK. When we got to the gate, everyone jumped up to grab their stuff and leave the plane. Of course it never goes fast so I sat in my isle seat waiting instead of standing there. Finally after some movement this woman gathers her enormous brick ladened bag and promptly drops it’s square on my head. I actually saw stars. I only had that experienced that once when patty shumberg hit me over the head with her math book in fifth grade. She promptly left without so much as a peep, nothing. I was a bit stunned and a tiny bit nauseous. I then gathered my gear and left.
Worst-Barf on my shoes
Commuting to work in the back of the plane with passengers and I was sitting next to a guy who seemed normal. About an hour in he says to the flight attendant he is not feeling good. A couple minutes later he falls to the floor and starts wrenching like he is going to vomit. For some reason he grabs my foot as if it’s some sort of comfort item and more or less hugs it and wretches on it. I became like a contortionist and escape the vomit that comes next and hopped over his seat into the isle. By this time the flight attendant shows up with the biohazard kit and cleans it up. I just look at him and ask “why.” I found an open seat and sat there for the rest of the flight.
Worst-Food poisoning in Boston
Burger King, old terminal, whopper Junior, 8 pm. I missed dinner snarfed it down then got ready for the go home leg to Orlando. When something is not right my stomach tells me right away. The question was when not if I was going to see the whopper again. I made it to the end of the taxi way. And I was prepared with a double garbage bag. It was a miserable night.
We were flying from the west coast to the east coast on a typical day. Before we left I was talking to one of the passengers, just some chit chat before we started the boarding process. After about an hour in route we get a call from the cabin about a disturbance. It turns out that same nice person was experiencing some sort of meltdown and ended up sitting the floor in the front of the plane crying for the entire flight. A lot of people are on some sort of medication that does not need to be disclosed when flying. Sometimes when on medication then add some alcohol and pressurize them, things go haywire. Some people pass out, some experience a personality change and some people seem to pop a cork and melt down. It’s like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get.
Worst-the chowder head.
I was commuting home from a long week of work. I sat in the back next to some guy who thought it was cool I was a pilot. So he started talking, and wouldn’t shut up. I felt like Steve Martin sitting next to John Candy in planes trains and automobiles. (One of my favorite movies). Finally at one point Steve Martin snaps and says, couldn’t you tell I was not interested when you saw me reading the vomit bag? That has happened more times than I can remember, everyone suddenly has a thousand questions to ask you and really I just want to go to sleep
Best-Getting a suite in Vegas
Got to the layover hotel in LAs Vegas to be told my the desk clerk that they were out of regular rooms for our staying. Instead they would be upgrading our rooms for the night. It did not really dawn on me what that meant until I opened the door to my room. I saw a hallway, which I was not expecting. As I walked down the hall and turned left my jaw hit the floor. I was just given a high rollers suite and it was gorgeous. I had a kitchen, living room and seperate bedrooms along with the biggest tv I have ever seen. Fresh cut flowers and a killer view persuaded me to want to stay in the room all night because it was “really nice” Winner!
Worst-Being left on the curb
Landing at our destination airport in New York. It’s February and it’s 20 degrees. There is no ride scheduled to the hotel and the company won’t pick up the phone.
Just taking off and about 25 minutes into the flight home we had a cardiac arrest in the back of the plane. The entire crew stepped up and we were fortunate to have not one, but five trauma room nurses on board. We landed and delivered him promptly to the paramedics but he was DOA. A sad day.
Half way my route from STL to Quincy, dispatch called and said to return to base. I asked why, no answer. I asked why again and was given a weird vague answer. I insisted, she replied that someone got on the plane with a bag and then got off last minute without it. That bag is still on the plane, return to base. On the ground we were met by the fire department and the bomb squad. They even had the dogs out on the ramp. That’s a PA announcement that has to be delicately given. Everyone was removed from the plane and the bomb squad went to work. Poor guys, it was July, 98 degrees with like 95 percent humidity and they had to wear all that gear. They found…..nothing.
The Van Driver in Cleveland
10” of snow fell on Cleveland during the overnight while we slept. The crew piled into the van to go to the airport with a kid who was barely 18 and obviously had no experience driving in the snow. As we drifted and skid, I had enough. I said pull over man, I’m driving. He didn’t even fight me nor declare that it was not allowed, he just gave in. I’m from Michigan and driving in the snow is what we do. According to the flight attendants, I was the man.
Best-Passing 727 FE ride
Getting my engineers ticket after enduring one of the most grueling check ride ever. A crazy amount of work.
I decided it would be a very good tactical move to learn to speak Spanish. No one suspected that the token Caucasian guy could listen and understand conversations. It’s amazing what you hear about yourself.
Best-Buying a desk
After years and years of making nothing and being able to fit everything I own in a pickup truck, I finally had some money to buy some of my own furniture. My first purchase was a desk, a couch and a tv.
Best-Dancing on the couch
I got the call from USAirways offering me a pilot position in the next class. I was so happy that I danced on the couch for ten minutes. (It was a rental)
I was working as a first officer on a metro liner for a regional carrier. The first flight of the day started out normal. Unknown to the crew was the airplane had undergone some maintenance the night before and somehow some oil or hydraulic got spilled in a place where it was not supposed to be. The minute we pressurized the plane the air in the whole plane turned blue. It was not choking, or toxic just very weird. None of the passengers panicked. We put our oxygen masks on and returned to the airport.
Best-Day one and I was warm
After working for years flying smaller planes and finally making it to the major airlines, I realized something very nostalgic on my first day on the line. I was not uncomfortable. I was use to either being very cold or sweating to death. But now, I was….comfortable, how amazing are the little things.
Worst-Trusting the student with fuel level
I was an instructor and was flying with one of my regular students. I asked him to go ahead and preflight while I finished some paperwork. I got in the plane and asked him if everything was good. We took off to do some maneauvers in the practice area when all the sudden the engine coughed. Without thinking I reached down and switched tanks and she came back to life. I looked up at my student and asked the obvious question. He said he thought it was ok. This was my fault for not making sure and checking his judgement. We went back to the airport for more fuel.
Another instructor friend and myself went to pick up a beech baron for some custom work being done to it by our company. We were told the fuel gauges were not working well and being hungry for multi engine time, we wanted to fly it as much as we could. We had the opportunity to test fly it after the first wave of work was done. After about a half hour of flying we were noticing that the gauges still did not seem right and they must not be fixed yet. Then it happened, the left engine started to die and my buddy quickly switched tanks and turned on the fuel pumps. We decided to go back to base and climbed up higher to give us some options just in case. The left engine started to do it again when we both came to the conclusion that just maybe the gas gauges were working and the two idiots did not know we were out of gas. I stayed super high on approach thinking it one quit the extra altitude would ensure making the runway. We touched down and turned off the runway. It was then both motors stopped. Total stupidity and some humility sprinkled in as we explained to the tower that we needed a tug.
Worst- Nose Gear Fail
At the tender experience level of 250 hours I had to land a Cessna 310 without a landing gear. It was my first real emergency which ended up being uneventful. As we walked away from that, the guy I was flying with said that I got that done early in my career and that it would be doubtful it would ever happen again. He was right.
We had just landed at our west palm beach and the entire crew was heading down for the hotel pickup which is generally located on the bottom floor where customers also get picked up on arrivals. I was standing there with the crew when this older lady tugged on my coat and told me to load her bags into the car. I think she thought I was the skycap and it was the goofy airline hat that I was wearing that probably sold her on that fact. The crew looked mortified but before they could comment, I started to load up the trunk of the caddy and get her on the way. Everyone started to laugh when they pulled away and some said there was no way they would do that. I spent my five dollar tip on some coffee.
Worst-Spin training in a 152
I hated it, it scared the crap out of me and I felt like the plane was going to fall apart. I did not barf till I got home.
Best-Commercial check ride
I took my commercial checkride on the 23rd of December. I was the last person to leave campus for Christmas. It snowed 6” overnight and the examiner called me at 6 in the morning to ask me if I wanted to get this done. I said yes and an hour later we were in the plane taking off for a checkride. We flew to a uncontrolled field and he said to show him a short and soft field landing onto a runway covered in snow. I did that (rather nicely) and we took off again. He then leaned over and said, let’s do it again to make sure it was not an accident. Again I called upon my will to get this thing over with and go home for the holidays. He seemed satisfied and said let’s go back home. The whole ride was .6 hours. It think it took longer to get coffee and type up the paperwork. He shook my hand, said well done and that was that.
I knew it was coming but my wife still bawled her eyes out.
It was my second furlough at a major airline. We were instructed to go to the chief pilots office and turn in our Manuel’s, ops specs, Jep’s and other company materials or we would not get our last paycheck. (This was before iPads and we had to carry a ton of stuff). We also had to turn in our wings or no money for you. I remember each pilot going up, turning in a bunch of stuff, signing the paperwork, turning in his ID and being escorted off property. All the secretaries were in tears. But the worst part was captain Fresno (KFAT, think about it..) sat in his office and would not even express a word of empathy, a handshake or even a small token of leadership that he was sorry to see this happen. I looked over there, mumbled a few choice words to myself and the secretary gave me my wings back. You earned these she said. I hope he is still around to read this, up yours.
Best-The token male
I had a four day trip with and all female crew including the captain. I was the only male surrounded by females. They made me feel like a king even though I was in charge of nothing.
Best-Learning about hot sauce
In my early days at a major airline, it was still popular for crews to eat together. I remember being in Pittsburg and getting a fish sandwich. I was about to smear it with tarter sauce when I saw a scowl on the face of a 60 year old woman. She said, “child, what are you about to do?”
I told her and she said I was depriving my taste buds of something I should never miss, and that would be hot sauce. I told her that I grew up in the Midwest and hot sauce was not allowed. She fussed over my sandwich and my life has never been the same.
My first trip at my very first major airline and the whole crew was going to get together to go eat lunch at the pier in San Francisco. There were a jillion pigeons flying around and one of them went bombs away all over my shoulder. The lead flight attendant thought it was the most hilarious thing she ever saw and proceeded to on stop comment on my ordeal.
The lead flight attendant had a “fart noise” app in the snack basket. Most people had headphones on so she would activate it during the process of handing people their snacks. Because people had their headphones on you could see the puzzled looks on their face as their brain process what they think they heard, but were not quite sure. This continued at the hotel desk at check in. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to be ill. Quite possibly the funniest thing I have ever seen by people who were absolute masters of keeping a straight face. Still makes me laugh.
Best-Flying with a friend
Flying a day turn with a close friend does not really feel like work. It feels like getting paid to
Spend time, crack jokes and be relaxed. Who you fly with makes a difference.
Worst-Flying with a head cold
In the unrelentless pursuit of getting flight time so I could move up in my career, I decided to ignore my head cold and engage in a full day of flying freight. Sounded like a good idea on the ground, felt like a knife being pushed through my eyeball from the inside out. Never again.
Worst-Losing electrical system
Flying at night with a load of bank checks in the back of a light twin, I experienced a double generator failure over the desert. Out comes the flashlight as I turned off all unnecessary equipment after telling ATC the deal. It worked out and I landed at my destination and got the old girl fixed.
We experienced a hurricane in Florida (no surprise there) which trashed our lake front community. Everyone pitched in to pick up all the debris and junk left behind. A lot of people I never met before. On guy says to me, “I hear a pilot lives over there” when I realized he was talking about me. I never thought titles were impacting.
Every day I was home for the summer from college I would fly out of the local airport. The route to the practice area took us right over our house. I would tell my dad when I was going over and he would come out and stand on the picnic table and wave at me. I think he thought that standing on that made him easier to see and I would always wag the wings. It’s a great memory.
Best-Coming home for the holidays in a 172
I was fortunate enough to be able to take the colleges plane home for the holiday. It was like being a rockstar even though I only had an instrument rating. My folks would always tell the neighbors.
Johnny the lead flight attendant asks the attractive woman passenger if she wanted some wings put on her by the captain. She says yes and turns around to reveal a skimpy top with spaghetti straps lots of cleavage and clearly no safe place to put some wings on. Best day ever!
Worst-Telling a student they were not cut out for this
I was a flight instructor at a busy flight school and worked with a guy on his private pilot certificate for the longest time. He was having a lot of trouble and after 20 hours or so I realized I don’t think he is ever going to be able to solo. I had to have the talk with him that maybe this was not the right direction with him. To my relief, he agreed.
Worst-Subway in old San Juan
How hard is it to follow a proven formula for a sandwich? Lack of interest added to language barrier along with sub par ingredients…..eat fresh, NOT.
Worst-Being charged $7 for a fifty cent can of cheap beer, welcome to PR
Worst-Fart in the cockpit
No explanation needed.
Why as it the best? because it went as advertised. Landed no problem. STLto atl crj900 in climb pax heard a noise started getting a high vibration. Followed checklist returned to STL
Worst-Manuel gear extension on 727
I was working as a flight engineer on a passenger airline when we had an unsafe gear indication in the cockpit. While this is not a big deal to manually extend the gear, the process calls for manually confirming the gear is down and locked. The way to do that was through a small viewing port located about halfway back in the cabin, under the carpet. So here comes the pilot walking back which immediately gets everyone concerned. I have to move a couple people to figure out where this is, pull up the carpet and look through the viewport. By the way, there is so much dirt that viewing it is very difficult plus you are in the weirdest position with your butt up in the air trying to look for a pin with hash marks. Then it happened, someone tickled me. I guess they could not resist, we all laughed and I was embarrassed.