The Glamorous Airline Pilot Life.


I’m standing by my outbound gate, trying not to be annoyed by the fact that my inbound jet is over an hour late. That easily pushes what should be a nine or ten hour flight duty day for me to more like twelve. Same thing happened yesterday, same flight tomorrow. What are the chances?

From the sea of passengers milling around the departure lounge, the lead flight attendant walks up, talking. I can’t hear her yet, I can only see her mouth moving as she approaches, but she seems oblivious. She’s like that in flight, too.

“So I didn’t get home till midnight,” she concludes, eyes wide as if it were a question.

Do I have to ask why? Do I really? “Why?”

“I was waiting for the airport bus to the employee lot when I see this black box behind the retaining wall near the stop.”

Go on, I don’t say. Because I know I don’t have to.

“So I pick it up in case a crewmember forgot it but there’s no tag and I can’t open it.”

An out-of-breath passenger rushes up to me waving his boarding pass. “I need to change my seat,” he huffs, “I need an aisle for my ankle.”

air cookies first class

“Sir, I can’t do a seat change–the agent will handle that for you. They’re down on the jet bridge now meeting the inbound flight.”

“I need to change my seat,” he repeats, as if I hadn’t spoken.

“So I called 9-1-1 on my cell phone,” the lead flight attendant continues. I assume somewhere during the seat change exchange I’d reluctantly attempted that she’d determined the black box to be a threat.

“When the airport police get there, they tell me ‘you better wash your hands, that’s a rat trap.'”

My jet’s just now trundling down the taxiway, swinging a wide arc toward the gate. I spot the nose number–it’s an older model, which means a better sun visor but a less capable radar. Always a trade-off.

“And I’m thinking, this trap’s heavy–is it full of rats? Are there a lot of small ones, or just a couple big ones?”

An agent bursts through the jet bridge door and ducks behind the counter as a torrent of irritable-looking passengers rush off the plane, late for their connections.

“Are we loading this flight?” a bespectacled guy in a t-shirt and eating fries asks. I want to say we load bags, but board passengers. And boarding is when passengers crowd onto the jet; these people are stampeding off.

air line leader boarding

“I have to go to the bathroom.” That’s my emergency go-to, for him and for the lead flight attendant who’s now ranting about the traffic snarl on her way home last night.

A business guy blocks my escape path.

“How’s the visibility in San Francisco?” he snaps, as if that was something pilots chatted about.

The voice in my head answers honestly, I have no idea. Because the current weather at a destination four hours away is irrelevant. We’ll monitor that in the last hour inbound; for now all I care about is the extra fuel I’ve already requested to give me loiter time in the air no matter what the weather is 1,300 miles hence.

“It’s fine,” I lie, stepping around him.

He holds up his cell phone. “Well, my office says there’s some fog. Better double check.”

I’ll get a man right on that, the smartass in my head blurts out, and I laugh out loud. “Will do,” my regular voice answers. I point to the men’s room as a way of excusing myself.

Then I melt into the swirling tide of bags and people, walking determinedly: as with stray dogs, avoid eye contact, which can only bring trouble. I head for Dunkin’ Donuts, which I think has the best hot chocolate and I want something hot, soothing. There’ll be a bucket of airplane coffee to glug down between here and the coast and back; you have to pace yourself.

Sigh. As usual, the easy part, the peaceful part, will be at 40,000 feet, behind a bolted-shut cockpit door. Until then, a tall hot chocolate and whatever quiet spot I can find will have to do.


30 Responses to “The Glamorous Airline Pilot Life.”

  1. Pamela Booth Says:

    Talk about telling it like it is — this is your best one yet!

  2. Great article Chris!

    Dan Hall


  3. And finally after all that, they insist that you fly a jet aircraft. Hmmmm. I don’t feel too sorry for you, Captain.

  4. Scott Jones Says:

    As always, an interesting and often funny perspective from the other side of the cockpit door.

  5. Love this…When I fly – usually American, I always hope the pilot(s) are as accomplished and tried-and-true as you!

  6. Missed you Chris – it’s been a dry spell. Glad to you with my morning coffee again.

  7. Randy Sohn Says:

    I just luv the “motto voice” have thought of exactly those same words so many times!

  8. Terri Hodges Says:

    Ouch! Thank goodness you can rise above it all 🙂

  9. Lego Spaceman Says:

    So, how many rats were actually in the trap? I’m asking for a friend…

  10. Al Sinesky Says:

    Boy, do I miss these dayzzzz…NOT!!

    Sent from my iPad


  11. Great blog post and love the cartoons!

  12. Randy Sohn Says:

    Chuckle, wow, had a lot of deals much the same where I also needed to keep that “voice with-in my head” inside! Concur!

  13. Tracey Barton Says:

    Somehow, I can hear your voice…

  14. I used to live next door to a cardiac surgeon. He’d rotated through everything else as an intern, and then tried psychiatry for a while, but settled on surgery because the patients were unconscious when he got them. “Couldn’t stand the chit-chat”, he said. So it’s not just flying.

  15. I guess this is why some cargo pilots love doing the freight runs instead.

  16. Very well written. As one who travels often, I can completely get on board with your perspective. Nicely done, as usual.

  17. Nice to have you back, was worried, with the long hiatus, that something had happened to you…which would be a great loss to us all. You are a man and a person of the sort that hold our world together…biting your tongue at the assholes and maintaining the honor of doing your job as best you can, A noble ambition too rare and never celebrated these days. As Arnold said: “If honor be thy clothing, the suit will last a lifetime

  18. Really????? this piece just comes across as though youCould care less about the minions and your Co-workers. It does not sound like you enjoyYour job much. It’s more like let me get into The cockpit fly the airplane to where it needsTo go and clock out with as little banter And interaction with people in between. I was on a flight with A pilot who was a passenger and we talked the Entire time he was as interested in my job (Corrections worker) as I was in his and he gave me photo ops. at the end of his flight, none of which he had to do. What he did though was represent both himself and his company well. There are many things the casual observer does not understand I get it All the time in my line of work. I do not blow offPeople though. I reply with sincerity and courtesy… just sound very grumpy and pissed off.

  19. We have those black boxes on the docks of the marinas…tourists from the resort hotel keep picking them up thinking someone dropped it.
    (Oh, great response to the correction officer above wo must be a saint with all that “sincerity and courtesy”. Got a real chuckle over that whole exchange)

  20. Appreciate you posting this; people can be so thoughtless…

  21. We have those black boxes on the docks of the marinas…tourists from the resort hotel keep picking them up thinking someone dropped

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