Flight Crew: Some Things You Just Don’t Get Over.


Sidelong cross-cockpit glance: yep, it’s a flat top, ex-USMC style, and the bushy but gone gray Magnum PI mustache suggests a time warp. Better times? Easier times? He laughs a lot for a guy on the razor’s edge of disaster. I say nothing.

Ahead cumulus knots itself into towering stacks, each with a cirrus blow-off pointing like a banner to where the fleet’s headed. Same place we are, or so the anvils point. I’m thinking an upwind end run around the billowing, full-sail armada. He’s talking about our Chicago layover tonight.

His wife, a flight attendant, met us at our connecting gate as she passed through the airport. Something in her eyes matched the foreboding that weighed heavy as the tide on my mind. Pleading? Hurt? Wary? I couldn’t tell–yet I know what I know: My Darling Bride, also a flight attendant, flew with her yesterday. And I knew his wife–flew with her many times–before they were married. Then she was bright in the sense of Christmas lights, tiny scattered points of happiness gleaming everywhere. Not any more.

“Takes two to tango,” his words tumble in a snippet from what is more of a forced chatter, or so it seems. I guess if you’re talking you never have to listen. But in the tango of time and fuel, in the dance altitude and storm clearance, may I cut in?



“I’d say left,” my mouth says. It’s his flight leg, but my jet. He’s flying the plane, but I signed for the damages. Upwind is longer, but smoother, safer. The shorter way is too uncertain, could put someone through the ceiling.

“We can top it,” he suggests, sweeping a hand out flat, as if showing a planar space between our altitude and the boiling cumulus rising ahead. Ah, there’s a thought. Climb another two thousand feet to max habitable altitude for the weight–which puts you into the coffin corner where the difference between high-speed buffet and low speed stall is a handful of capricious knots. If there’s any turbulence, those knots stop the tango and freestyle. Good luck.

His wife had mechanically recited to mine the all-too-familiar litany. “We just bought our ‘captain’s house’ … he wants me to quit flying … he can hold captain in Chicago … get a crash pad there …” In the jumpseat confessional, all is forgiven, but there will be penance nonetheless. Ahead, lightning licked the bruised-blue cloud bases, promising a fresh evening hell for Kansas and eventually, Illinois.

“Let’s take it over the top, direct,” he says with finality. “Stay on time.” Unsaid, but mentioned earlier: “she gets in an hour ahead of us.” Gentleman that he is, he doesn’t want her waiting. She flies for a different airline, but even after working her way over to our terminal, she’ll still have time to kill.

The thing about fiery cumulus and boiling sky is this: you really don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Never mind about the paper algorithm of options and assets, timing, clearance and margins, in real life, you just never know.

I key the hand mike. “Center, we need twenty left for weather.”

He slumped a little. Peeved? The perfect plan set back a few minutes? Can’t tell. Doesn’t matter. We swung wide upwind.


I glance at the cloud tops, anvils aglow with the molten sunset. Some storms seem to fade, to lose their fire when the heat of the sun goes away. But this towering mess seemed the type that would thunder ahead regardless.

“Some things,” I say, “Some things you just can’t get over.”

Deaf ears. He was already hundreds of miles ahead, prattling on about Geno’s and where they’d watch the mind-numbing circularity of NASCAR (“She gets it–and me!”) inside The Loop.

Shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry, too far down the road, I thought to myself. Some things you just never get over, and really, you probably shouldn’t try.

 More? Read on. cvr w white borderThese 25 short essays in the best tradition of JetHead put YOU in the cockpit and at the controls of the jet.

Some you’ve read here, many have yet to appear and the last essay, unpublished and several years in the writing,  I consider to be my best writing effort yet.

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28 Responses to “Flight Crew: Some Things You Just Don’t Get Over.”

  1. “…laughs a lot for a guy on the razor’s edge of disaster” And the kicker is that it’s not possible to get out and walk if necessary.
    Astute last paragraph

  2. Randy Sohn Says:

    Chuckle (kind’a)! Re that >>He’s flying the plane, but I signed for the damages<< comment of yours – so true!

    Best, Randy

  3. […] flight attendant, flight crew, weather. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  4. peggywillenberg Says:

    Wow. That is all.

  5. Randy Sohn Says:

    Yup, sorta a “just count the stripes” (on the epaulets).

    Over can sure lead to a disaster, can recall some instances of someone saying “let’s follow him over that saddleback, he made it just fine”. Sometimes the saddleback climbs faster than the Boeing/Douglas can! Guess that’s one thing I like about onboard radar, a repeater instrument on the panel is – at the best – several minutes old.

    Best, Randy

    • Good point Randy–the difference of minutes when cumulus is building changes everything. ATC is usually the one suggesting the flight ahead made it, so go ahead, but the final call needs to be made in the air, on the spot.

      • peggywillenberg Says:

        At best your radar is six minutes old. I trust what I see with my own eyes as well as what radar indicates.

      • That goes for the wind readout on the GFMS, too. It’s slow doing the math just like me: 20 seconds is a lifetime in the difference between calculated and actual winds on final.

      • peggywillenberg Says:

        That’s why we need a human flying the plane. An experienced human. Computers are dumb.

      • Dumb, and the ever-present threat of software corruption and electrical failure. I think pilotless vehicles can be possible for cargo, but human lives? Not mine, or my family’s.

  6. You are sort of a douche bag captain. It’s obvious that you like writing, and that’s great. But can’t you remember back to when you were just a lowly right seater? Remember when you had one of the select few captains you hated flying with, who belittled you at every turn and silently imposed their rule on you and steamrolled over your decisions with little discussion? I sure do. I hated going home at the end of the day feeling worse than when I arrived, because of some captain who had zero confidence in my ability and let me know it at every possible moment. Only your FO’s get the pleasure of reading about it on the internet afterwards. I admit I have’t read a lot of your blog, but if this is any indication of what the rest is like, I’ll skip it.
    I guess there’s a couple tools in every profession, enjoy your extra bloated ego.

    • You are sort of a whiner, a wimp with a fake email address, plus not very bright: that’s why we have “captain” and “first officer,” not co-captain except in your easily bruised ego-driven “poor me” world. “Imposed their rule” is a nice melodramatic touch, but when you figure out “captain’s authority,” maybe you’ll be allowed to be one. You’ll be required to “impose your rule” for the fulfillment of your responsibility, and that will make you a “tool,” if you’re lucky. Captains hate babysitting your type, but that goes with the job too.

      And I do remember being what you call a “lowly F/O,” although lowly is your word, not mine. Read about it here: http://tiny.cc/qcxdpx But you won’t get it; there’s no “poor me” in it for you.

      • I never said anything about a “co-captain”. There is a reason you are in the left seat and some generally less experienced pilot is in the right. I’m certainly not saying you should have blasted up to coffin corner to avoid a storm. I see you have a careers worth of defence mechanisms for your impersonable ways.

      • A “career’s worth” would be the correct spelling, and of course your own “personable ways” must include mouthwash, all the right sprays and powders (aviation essential, right?), plus the offhand, very personable “you’re a douchebag” that you’re free to throw around regardless. You’re a piece of work–must be a real treat to fly with.

      • It’s always funny when someone says *I don’t like reading your stuff* but then reads it anyway and complains. The So called Jake is a perfect example. So don’t read it and don’t whine. In fact write your own blog. I won’t read it, but you can read it to yourself and maybe to the other guy plagued with you in the cockpit. If thats what you really do for a living.

      • Uh-oh . . . you’re being “impersonable.”

    • Let me respond to Jake (rhymes with fake, BTW): are you some kind of idiot, wanting the copilot to be free to fly over a storm rather than around it to be with his mistress sooner? Would you want your family on that flight?

      Sounds like you have a lot of captains with no confidence in your abilities, and that you pout a lot. Poor judgment, pettiness; I hope you’re NEVER a captain.

  7. Classic. I’m eating granola and reading Rolling Stone while my FO chews jerky and reads Guns and Ammo.

  8. roberthenryfischat Says:

    Reblogged this on robert's space and commented:
    the jetpalnes.

  9. “We can top it,” he suggests, sweeping a hand out flat, as if showing a planar space between our altitude and the boiling cumulus rising ahead. Ah, there’s a thought. Climb another two thousand feet to max habitable altitude for the weight–which puts you into the coffin corner where the difference between high-speed buffet and low speed stall is a handful of capricious knots. If there’s any turbulence, those knots stop the tango and freestyle. Good luck.

    – If you did press when aviation disasters strike, you could literally improve the reporting on CNN et al 1000%. I quote the above cause I’m watching CNN flail about, repeating ad nauseum that the missing Air Asia jet “tried to climb over the weather”, which likely isn’t true and is, at the very least, a statement begging for knowledgable context.

  10. I think it might have been a bit smoother to say something like,” I’m just not comfortable going over the storm. I’m going to ask for a turn to the left.” rather than just asking for the turn without acknowledging his desire to save time.

    • “Smoother?” Guess you’re both smoother and more sensitive than me–or him: when his wife eventually found out he was cheating on her in Chicago with another flight attendant, she threw most of his stuff out on the lawn. That wasn’t smooth or sensitive either, but his “desire to save time” was more about his girlfriend so I guess those factors sort of go by the wayside. You might want to tell her how she could have been “a bit smoother.”

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