The Pilot Poser: Silence is Golden.

You’d only know this if you’d been in the cockpit of an airliner. And I have been–for almost 28 years now.  Over 21 of those years as captain.


Sooner or later, you’ll have to fly with “that pilot:” the one who is impressed with himself, and more importantly, his impression of himself. The “self” he assumes others see, but in real life, something else is apparent.


Unfortunately, “that guy” craves recognition. May have the awful bumper sticker on their car proclaiming “My other car is a Boeing;” they need to be seen in aviator sunglasses (never owned a pair), have to wear a gawd awful watch the size of Flavor Flav’s clock (flight attendant bride gave me too nice a tank watch for me to ever wear the cliche), and of course, off duty they dress like the calendar says the present year minus twenty. They can be ex-military (if anyone asks, I always answer, “No–I was in the Air Force;” big difference.) or all-civilian types; regardless, the arrested development crosses both borders.

Worse than “the pose” is the time warp they cling to. They’re mired in the “Married With Children” Al Bundy “There I was . . .” thing, yammering on about the glory days (Al was always telling his dusty-ancient Polk High School football team stories) and here’s why it’s BS: even though the median pilot age at my airline is probably 50+, you’ll see the stickers on the kitbag of the military squadrons they once belonged to–even though they haven’t flown a military jet since the pilots now actually flying those jets were in diapers.

“There I was . . .”

Sigh. It’s going to be a long trip. They tend to emphasize appearances, which really only matter in public–which is actually the last place I want to be “a pilot:”  I prefer, as do most of the pilots I respect, to be mostly invisible in public. Here’s where I’d rather be an actual pilot:

IMG_2391Where it actually matters. Where other actual pilots respect you for doing a good job, for knowing your stuff, for being dependable. Behind the closed and bolted shut (thank god) cockpit door, where all that really matters is how you perform.

And at that, too, there’s a further preference:

“Can we have a little ‘shut up’ around here?”

Archie Bunker said it best. There’s just not a whole lot of yapping that needs to go on in flight. My favorite type of First Officer is the person who says little, who concentrates on what needs to be done. Don’t want to be lectured about politics, or harebrained and ill-informed (pilots are always the last to know) investment and stock market schemes. Or, God forbid, religion, which somehow is always associated with extremism, anti-feminism, home schooling and weird “Yearning for Zion” cultism.Odds are overwhelming that there’s an oprressed, decidedly frumpy and tired spouse at home dealing with your plentiful “offspring.”

Want to talk baseball? Maybe. College football? Sure. But please God, don’t trap me on the flight deck with the Rush Limbaugh wannabe who’ll parrot whatever was most recently on NPR (the sure sign of geriatric “lost the will to live”–and think: listening to NPR) as if it were original thought. And labor-management strife? I’ll say it out loud: this is neither the time nor the place . Besides, you’re preaching to the choir. Take it up later with your dog who might not mind hearing you rant.

night cockpitIt’s a relatively small space up in the pointy end–and nothing makes it seem more cramped or the hours longer than a large and ceaseless yap. Captain or First Officer–and I’ve been both–nobody needs to be a blast fence (see “labor-management strife” above), comic foil or sounding board for the other person also locked into the cockpit.

So, outside the cockpit, feel free to go for “the look,” the pose, whether you’re a pilot or not (probably worse if you are–get over it). Walk the walk, yack the yack (NPR and union parrot talk); knock yourself out. But inside, respect the inner curmudgeon lurking in the the quiet, uniformed figure in the other seat. The best pilots, or at least the ones I’d want fly with, are all about quietly doing what makes good air sense rather than yapping about it. And the key word is, quietly.



25 Responses to “The Pilot Poser: Silence is Golden.”

  1. Your blog posts are so worth reading- thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Always appreciated. LS-P

  2. Right on! Thanks for sharing Chris! You are a “class act”!!!

  3. Hey Chris, you could use the Dan Gallo Method to shut anybody up. “Read The Book A**hole”.

  4. Randy Sohn Says:

    And they wear their uniform at any of the local stores!

  5. Another great post, Chris. The Golden Silence practice is relevant in most professions, especially when colleagues work in tight quarters or for extended periods. Those without oral diarrhea a greatly appreciated. Business is business and let’s attend to it. More than once I’ve asked a colleague to save the political/religious/[fill in topic of choice] for someone who cares… Spot on! -C.

  6. Ha ha ha…love Archie Bunker!!!
    I forgot about “Can I get a little “shaddap” around here?” LOL!
    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this post, Chris. 😉 Thanks.

  7. Saurabh Raje Says:

    Hey, we just heard about the merger, what is your take on it? Could you write something about why it happened, and what will be the result of it?

  8. They could always keep their own consel and go write a blog of course then they would truly know if anyone was interested in their diatribe! LOL! (I for one am certainly interested in yours, please feel free to carry on!)

    I would be interested to know the ratio of time you spend with characters you describe – are they in the minority or are the the norm?

    Dave from the UK

  9. Boy, I bet whoever you flew your line last month is cringing in their (right) seat!

  10. That must be so infuriating… there’s really nowhere to run in that little cockpit. Perhaps investigate your options as far as evicting the annoying person in question? Possibly out of the window? Haha.

  11. I just discovered you blog and I’m loving it! Well written and informative too!

  12. You make it all appear so easy. Slick work!

  13. Lego Spaceman Says:

    I always liked what that Roosevelt guy said; “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

    I’m a big believer in letting my actions do all the talking that needs to be done.

  14. Captain,

    You had me at hello. I felt as if you were reading my mind. Thank you for verbalizing it for me.

    Quick story from one of my LCA buddies. He was giving a line check to a Captain with a bad reputation. This said during the Captain’s brief.

    “I don’t want any talk about religion or politics on the flight deck.” You know as well as I that when someone says that, their two most favorite topics are religion and politics. The LCA allowed him to finish and he asked the LCA if he had any questions. He had one. “Was Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?” The FO started laughing.

    • Weird, but I don’t want to talk about religion or politics on the flight deck either. I learned that from my flight attendant wife who said it’s pretty much an unwritten policy to ensure harmony in flight in their ranks, particularly when it comes to cockpit crewmembers: everybody has their version of “the truth,” and pilots in particular can be pigheaded to the point of discomfort for everyone with a contrary position. The particularly irritating thing about pilots is how much they insist on parroting whatever right wing extremism they heard on talk radio lately as if it were their own ideas. Ugh, a captive audience for their spiel, particularly when it comes to a big mouthed captain occupying what is truly an asymmetric power relationship in flight. No thanks.

      So I change the subject or refuse to engage any issues under that rubric. Baseball (spring training is on!) or college football? Sure. But I realize a two-man crew is a delicate CRM arena and I refuse to let it become anyone’s “Speaker’s Corner” at the expense of anyone else who has no way out. Most of the ideas typically fall under the category of “Your wife would tell you you’re babbling” anyway. Transcons are long enough without having to endure a bunch of yapping.

  15. Wow, for me, as a guest on board, this posting is a great view behind the scenes. Thanks!

  16. capnaux Says:

    Sigh, all too true! thankfully the “you were in diapers” crowd is once again retiring! Post-merge, hoping your cockpits are a bit more…serene…but I doubt it, LOL!

  17. Maria Kü Says:

    One gem of a blog. Just discovered, will stick like glue! Thank you.

  18. “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton

  19. Hahaha. You sounds just like my Pilot 😉 (who – by the way – introduced Archie Bunker and his weird sitcom to me!) I personally think that it’s really hard to find a decent Pilot who’s down to earth and is doing his job for the sake of flying. I have the biggest problems with the Pilots wifes though. Argh. Especially when they’re in their mid 30s or early 40s. Awful creatures.. even worse than their husbands. They’re all about who’s got the biggest car, the biggest house etc. That makes it quite hard for me to friend with them (I come from a poor background and I am not into these money games at all!) Anyway. I love your blog. I have been looking for a blogging pilot for quite a while! 🙂 Greetings!

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