“The captain is the judge and the jury.” “Right, wrong, or indifferent, what they say and demand is to be followed.” “It’s the captain’s plane.” “The captain is NOT required to explain the rules.” “Like the captain of a ship, the buck stops there.”
These are some comments that were left by different people on a recent post, and I wanted to address them.
I have a ton of respect for airline pilots
Let me start by saying that I recognize that commercial aviation is as safe as it is thanks in large part to the work pilots do. Airline pilots have a lot of responsibility, in terms of the lives in their hands, and the value of the equipment they’re flying.
I support pilots being well compensated, and I think it’s important airlines treat pilots well so that they can be well rested and in a good mental state when they fly. It’s not an easy job, between being away from family, constant time changes, and inconsistent schedules.
I also happen to think they have one of the coolest jobs in the world. When I was a kid I wanted to be an airline pilot, and to this day I sometimes regret not having pursued that path (but it all worked out okay, I guess).
Every time I’m in an airport I still kind of admire them — I check out how many stripes their uniform has and see what airline logo is on their hat, and I glance at their luggage to see if they have a sticker of the plane they fly (this is purely for avgeek reasons, not because I’m a creep… I think).
Airline pilots also work in customer service
The above being said, I don’t really understand the sentiment among some people that give pilots God-like power, and make them beyond reproach. The way I view it:
- Pilots aren’t above the rules and should lead by example
- Pilots do have final say when it comes to what happens on the aircraft, though only within the framework of the policies created by the airline (and while they can go beyond that, they can also be punished for doing so)
- Fundamentally pilots work in customer service as well; while their primary job is safety, their livelihood is also dependent upon happy customers, and that’s especially true at airlines where service culture is used as a point of differentiation, and there’s significant profit sharing
The “captain of the ship is the judge and the jury?” How did that work out for the captain of the Costa Concordia? Of course that’s on a different level than any of the behavior we’re potentially talking about, but, I mean, I think it makes the point. That’s an extreme example of what happens when a captain thinks he’s above others.
“It’s the captain’s plane?” Sure, but in the same way that a Target or a Starbucks or a Hampton Inn “belongs” to a manager on duty. Do they have final say on kicking people out? Yes. Does that excuse bad customer service or mean they can’t be punished for their actions? No.
“The captain is not required to explain the rules.” I mean, sure, and for that matter no one in any context is ever required to explain anything. We have certain freedoms. But that doesn’t make it right, or mean that there can’t be consequences.
To be clear, this isn’t specific to the recent Delta captain situation I wrote about. As I mentioned in the post, I thought the passenger was being unreasonable.
Rather I’ve seen similar comments on many stories I’ve written about pilots over the years, where some commenters equate flight captains to an untouchable group of people that have final say on everything, without consequence.
Yes, pilots are there primarily for safety, but they can also make a meaningful difference to the passenger experience, whether that comes in the form of a professional pre-flight announcement, standing at the door during boarding or deplaning, or taking it to the next level, as former United captain Denny Flanagan did.
I have a lot of respect for pilots, and think they have cool jobs. But I also don’t view them as these people who are above the rules, don’t report to anyone, and can do whatever the heck they want.
Like I said, this isn’t specific to the Delta incident above, but over the years we’ve seen many situations where pilots do a great job stepping in and deescalating conflict and being kind, and we’ve also seen situations where… that doesn’t happen.
Regardless of the industry, everyone has the ability to use their power (whatever form it comes in) to try to make the world a better place, and that includes airline pilots, in my opinion.
Am I off base?