How To Catch An Airline Pilot Off Guard

Filed Under: Travel

Upfront warning: this is a totally random tangent.

To me it’s amazing how safe flying is. While the autopilot does a lot of the work nowadays, there’s still a huge human element involved, and given the volume of flights there are on a daily basis, it’s all a miracle.

For the most part we interact with gate agents and flight attendants when flying. We often don’t think of the “behind the scenes” people — pilots, mechanics, etc. — who make our travels smooth, and most importantly, safe.

While it doesn’t happen all the time, often you’ll see a pilot standing at the door upon deplaning. For several months now I’ve had a habit whereby if I see a pilot standing at the door upon deplaning I’ll say “thanks for the safe ride, I appreciate it.”

My point isn’t at all to say “isn’t that nice of me?” (that’s hardly the case), but rather to mention how odd I’ve found the reactions from pilots. I said it on a flight last week, and the captain’s response was “thanks… nobody has ever said that before.”

During my nine hour flight from Washington to Dallas the other week, the captain came into the cabin and virtually everyone was angry at him, despite the fact that he was doing an amazing job keeping passengers informed, perhaps much to his own detriment (the more updates he provided, the more agitated passengers were getting).

I was rather amused by the delay and certainly didn’t think it was the captain’s fault, so I said “thanks for keeping us informed and safe, I appreciate it.” His response? “it’s nice to know not everyone hates me today… thanks.”

Anyway, the point of this post is simply to say that I’m incredibly grateful for all the pilots that fly us safely around the world day in and day out, and the reactions to a quick thanks have been surprising. Give it a try sometime when the pilot is standing by the door. Let’s get to the point where pilots aren’t caught off guard when we thank them for keeping us safe in the skies.


Just my two cents…

  1. I love this post. I too often feel disbelief at how safe flying is. I don’t often get a chance to speak to the pilot of my flights, but when I do, I always smile and say Thank you.

    I have a friend who’s a pilot, and so I appreciate the stress and bureaucracy that pilots deal with. I also flew (a previously-scheduled flight) right after 9/11, and the entire passenger cabin gave the pilots and crew an applause ovation after we landed. While applause has been rare since then, I do indeed feel appreciative that my pilots have thus far done a uniformly good job ferrying me around on my travels.

  2. The late (and great) former manager of the Reds and Tigers, Sparky Anderson, used to say, “it doesn’t cost a dime to be nice.”

  3. I respect pilots immensely. However, I still feel occasional bitterness towards the AA pilots who pulled the passive/aggressive work stoppage crap a couple of years back. My life was an utter nightmare for that period as I travel weekly for my work. What galls me even more its that they did not have the decency to come out and apologize to the folks they impacted most – the passengers. Rant over 🙂

  4. You said it perfectly Ben. I am one that always thanks the crew and pilots before leaving the aircraft. They deal with some sh#t now a days and with passengers who have very to non people skills and etiquette that seeing those peoples smiles is heart warming. The pilots are thrilled that we have recognized their work up front and for keeping us safe. I’ve had flights that I sort of wait for the captains and FOs to walk out so I can have some conversations with them about our flight & getting to know their passion. Like the pilot who flew me to Seoul – he has been flying the 777 for many years and has thousand and thousand of hours into the aircraft. He shared a few of our little bumps we had over the pacific and the reason behind it – prior to leaving I said “thanks for sharing your passion with me, I truly enjoyed the ride” he was blown away that I said that but when we spend so much time in the air that it becomes our second home – I just gotta address it to the men and women behind those controls for many hours over the pacific. Something I’ll never stop doing.

  5. Sign of the times. We’re all so important these days, that it’s only about us anymore. Me, me, me. Things sure have changed in my lifetime. I suspect its only a few out there that acknowlege the great job these guys and gals are doing. Louis CK sums it up nicely:

  6. Saying “thank you”, even if you got nothing more than what you paid for, is just a small kindness and goes a long way for such little effort. So good on you Ben.

  7. I was fortunate (before 9/11) to be able to ride cockpit jumpseat on many airlines, including UA, AA, US, and TW. I did hundreds of flights in most every type then flying. I had a few “incidents,” such as engine failure right at V2 (liftoff), leading edge flap malfunctions, pressurization problems, and so on. Many were resolved in the cockpit and the passengers never knew; a few others (such as above) were well-communicated and well-handled. I can say without hesitation that during every one of my hundreds of jumpseat rides, both routine and non-routine, I *NEVER* witnessed anything unsafe or even questionable. As my airline pilot friends tell me, “We want to get home to our families too.”

    Now Lucky can tell us about his ride-through-H3LL into HKG in a thunderstorm. I’m sure glad I wasn’t in the jumpseat for that one!

  8. Unless someone has been exceptionally nice to me during a flight, all you going to get is a smile when I deplane. That is my general protest against all American flight attendants for being the cunts that they generally are…. now if I was flying a proper airline I might be a tad nicer. You reap what you sow people….

  9. i always thank the pilots too. most of the issues flying have little to do with issues within their control. I trust them to make good decisions, and I appreciate arriving safely.

  10. My dad drives 747s for one of the majors (take a guess–50/50 odds!)

    Thanks for this post. The flying public has little clue as to the insane aptitude required for routine (safe) aircraft movements. Pilots and ATC deserve our unreserved appreciation.

    Minor fact check: US airlines make far less use of autopilot than some foreign carriers. My father’s co. teaches “hands-on” flying. Cruise, yes. Everything else? That’s your pilot(s).

  11. And here I was reading the post title and first line of text and thinking you were going to spill on some steamy encounter with a pilot.

  12. Great post.

    I recently had a tarmac delay before departure to Heathrow. The KLM purser and pilot were both amazing in their communication. They kept being positive, friendly and informative. I wrote an appreciative comment on the KLM Facebook wall which was communicated back to the crew. After we eventually departed, the purser came over to me to thank me and we had a lovely chat.

    Btw, if ever flying KLM (or even Air France), try the KLM Facebook page. The staff are awesome, know what they are doing and resolve issues post haste. Actually, the best thing about KLM… Is their Facebook team

    Save travels

  13. On smooth landings I try to say, “Nice landing!” They get unbelievably excited. Try it out.

    But don’t do it if the landing is so-so or they might thin you’re being sarcastic.

  14. Your post is right on time when I had a an amazing CX flight back from LHR to HKG. The weather had been absolutely terrible around the region (which the pilot did warn us beforehand). I was completely amazed at the descent to touchdown as I could feel how much effort the pilots put in to make sure we landed with the least amount of discomfort. Wanted to say thank you, but didn’t see the pilots anywhere!

  15. Great point/post Lucky. I usually smile and thank the FAs, with the enthusiasm of the thank you being proportional to the quality of the service… unless they really were rude (which has been extremely rare for me). Don’t know if I’ve ever noticed the pilot out there as we were deplaning, but I’ll be keeping an eye out now. We are usually the last ones off the plane, so if anyone’s going to see the captain it’s probably us.

  16. It’s a bit surprising to me that saying thank you is a big deal. I say thank you to the FAs, bus drivers, etc, and especially pilots without even thinking of it. If someone is getting me safely from point a to point b, I’m grateful, not to mention–manners? I always thought pilots had a certain special social status like doctors or fire firefighters, and I would imagine they get a lot of gratitude. Anyway Lucky, it’s nice that your message is constantly kind and positive.

  17. Great post. I typically thank the pilots and FA’s upon exit unless I have a tight connection or something. Also, the reaction of your cabin to getting constant and accurate info is exactly why pilots tend to keep us in the dark and it sucks. Even if I would want maximum info, I get that most people just get angry, but there is a balance to be struck between giving too much information and keeping things vague and opaque, but so few pilots know how to properly strike that balance. I feel like this is something that could be figured out by the airlines so that they could train pilots on how to best do it.

  18. I love this post too. 🙂 I love nice people. It’s always good to be nice and to express appreciation for people who serve you instead of taking them for granted, or not ever telling them. You probably made that pilot’s day much better by saying that, and it was free to say. 🙂

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