Flight Lessons for Real Life


Most of what I’ve learned in over 17,000 flight hours–usually the hard way–applies on the ground in the big picture of life as well. Here are two primary lessons you can rely on whether you’re in either place:

1. There’s nothing more useless than runway behind you. The concrete behind you can do little good for you when things “change” and suddenly you have less space than you planned on to get up to speed. In real life? Forget shortcuts=start at the beginning: don’t waste any parts of the runway. Sure, First Officers tell me all the time, “we don’t need all of the runway–we’re light.” Yes, jet is lighter than planned so we don’t “need” it mathematically–until an engine ingests a bird at 35,000 rpm and destroys itself.

Then suddenly those mountains seem higher and like the end of the runway, not so far away. What does that mean in real life?

What did you take for granted? What precaution did you skip for convenience or because on paper, it didn’t seem necessary?

Personal decision? Nobody else’s business what you do as far as “precautions” because it’s your life? Well, does that apply to me too?

I’ve had passengers tell me they “don’t worry” about flying because “when your number’s up, it’s up.” I remind them that when my number’s up–theirs is too.  Because whatever applies to me applies to you when you’re on the jet I’m flying. And so it’s really not about me–rather, it’s about the hundreds a day who pay me to do what I do perfectly and in their best interest. Never mind what’s easy or convenient for me.

You?  Think there’s anyone depending on you and the decisions you make in the course of your life? Family? Business?

Okay, even if you don’t have the classic four piece set yet–when do you think is the time to do the preparation they’re counting on in order to have a smooth journey when they come on board with you?

What monumental yet tedious preparation would be nice to have behind you–rather than empty runway–when the challenges ahead demand every iota of advance preparation? Does it really matter down the runway what you might have skipped out of convenience a couple miles back?

So you tell me: do we really need all of that runway? Wouldn’t the mathematical minimum be sufficient? Can’t we deal with things later or if it’s easier now, not at all?

2. Don’t trust the weatherman. Why? Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Specifically, he’s looking to the past, predicting future outcomes based on historically similar circumstances. Two problems with that: first, you’re going to be dealing with the weather in the future, not the present and certainly not the past. And the weather guy will be the first to say, “things change.”

Second, no one has succeeded yet in crossing any bridge before they come to it–and the weatherman ain’t going to be with you when you do. Those who depend upon “experts” making predictions of future  outcomes based on past events will find themselves ill-served and alone if they base crucial decisions on a forecast–of weather forecast, financial, political or any critical issue. I prefer the simple way: assume the weather is going to be awful and prepare accordingly. What’s the worst case scenario, and how to I bail myself out when it comes to pass? Then, if the weather’s nice–oh well, we’re safe, happy, secure.

But if the weather’s awful: you’re a prepared. No one rewards you for fortune-telling; being ready for everything makes you the genius everyone was counting on you to be. As with number one above–it really isn’t about only you.

Experts can predict a forecast that suggests that umbrellas aren’t really necessary. We know how that goes . . .

If you rely solely on the predictions of those outlining the future by peering into the past, you could be in for an interesting fight for your life well down the road.

Okay, that’s it for me nagging. The point is, most of what has become a culturally normative standard of individuality is completely irrelevant in the life or death business of flight. Looking for motivation? Or, have someone who needs a little push in their life because of the way the life plan affects others? Feel free to forward this post to them:

Diligence is dull stuff, on the ground or in the air. People count on their pilot to do what is prudent and safe no matter what effect that has on the “free choice” or convenience of the pilot. I affirm the commitment passengers expect when they strap in behind me. It’s all a part of the duty that comes hand in hand with the privileges inherent in the position at the controls. Anything less is simply unworthy of the trust others who count on you have placed in you–in flight, and in life.

. . . and okay, here’s the rest of the Chris Farley “motivational speech:”

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7 Responses to “Flight Lessons for Real Life”

  1. You write in a very interesting manner – like the way what you say applies to life oustide of the air too!

  2. What a great article! I find most flying rules apply SOOOO well to life!
    I even wrote about that very thing recently on my own column.
    Relationship Simulator- Patent Pending

    Not sure who you fly for but I would sleep peacefully on your plane 🙂
    Karla Antelli

  3. baspaul Says:

    If there is anything more useless than runway behind you when things go haywire its the air above you. Let me explain. Air below you in an airplane is time before you make a big and expensive hole in the ground. The time is what you need to prepare to avoid digging a hole and walking away from a bad landing. Equally transferrable to life situations as in ´plan ahead´, ´don´t cut corners´, etc.

  4. I like your ideas, and your way of getting them across… and the Chris Farley reference was classic. You’ve got an awesome way of putting some great life lessons into perspective. Great post.

    http://joesplace36.wordpress.com

  5. I like your ideas. Just keep in mind basics are very important. In a career like aviation, one cannot afford to just skip to the advanced stage since aviation involves lives.

    • Hmmm, I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe I’ll forget “skipping to the advanced stage” (have I ever said anything like that?) and start myself back at the beginning. Because “lives are involved,” including the 166 on board most of my flights. Right?

      Weird.

    • Uh, okay–I’ll try to keep in mind the basics. I’m actually thinking about flying for a living.

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