I flew with Captain John McFadden!

This morning I flew from Washington Dulles to Tampa on United 99. I take this flight at least once a week and it’s very rarely exciting, but today was an exception.

I was seated in seat 2B (it was an Airbus 320), and as boarding finished up I saw the captain come aboard with five drinks from Starbucks — three for the flight attendants, and two for the pilots. One of the flight attendants asked if he had brought a straw for the Frappuccino he brought her, which he had forgotten. But despite departure time quickly approaching, he ran all the way to Starbucks t0 get her the straw, returning just in time for the flight. I was impressed a captain would take care of his crew that well, because not only did he pick up the drinks, but as far as I could tell he actually bought them for the crew.

As soon as the door closed the captain stood in the aisle, introduced himself as “John,” and made a quick announcement about the flight, first asking us to pay close attention to the safety information, and then mentioning that he’d have Channel 9 on, which he mentioned was an exclusive feature of United.

I still didn’t make a connection at the time. But as soon as we were airborne, the purser made the following announcement: “in command of our flight this morning is Captain John McFadden.” Can’t believe I hadn’t made the connection earlier!

Captain McFadden is good friends with Captain Flanagan, and I had heard about him many times. There are even several articles about him, and a few years back he appeared on TV with Captain Flanagan.

And he continued to impress. As simple as it might seem, I was happy to see that the seatbelt sign was switched off as soon as we passed through 18,000 feet. It might sound stupid, but it’s far too rare, even when there’s smooth air. He made yet another announcement welcoming us aboard, wishing us a great flight, and reminding us Channel 9 is on.

I got to talking to the purser, and she mentioned that the captain had emailed all the flight attendants beforehand to introduce himself, give them his contact information, and to ask if they wanted anything from Starbucks — his treat no less! What a class act.

And the great service continued. Right before we began our descent he made the following announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, this tends to be the least exciting part of the flight for listening to Channel 9, so instead I’m going to be talking to anyone that might be interested on Channel 9, providing some aircraft information, United trivia, flight information, and even a chance to win a 10% off certificate for a future United flight by answering a simple question.”

And as promised, moments later, he introduced himself on Channel 9 yet again. He explained that between him and the first officer, they had over 40 years of commercial flying experience and over 25,000 hours. He explained they had flown everything from Beechcraft planes to 777s. He explained the features that make the Airbus unique, all the statistics you could possibly want to know about the plane, like the maximum takeoff weight, length, wingspan, etc.

And then it got even more fun. He answered some of the most common questions he receives, like what routes a pilot typically flies.

Next, he gave passengers the opportunity to win a 10% off electronic certificate. The flight attendants passed out napkins, and he wanted passengers to write down what they like most about United. Then he would randomly draw two winners from the napkins to receive the prize.

Lastly, all first class passengers were given personalized business cards thanking them for their business and asking what could be done to make their experience better.

Captain McFadden is incredible, and clearly I wasn’t the only one that thought so. After the flight we talked in the terminal for about 10 minutes, and in that time multiple people interrupted us to tell him how great of a job he did.

The most touching had to be an actual United employee that said he worked in the airline industry for 35 years and had never seen someone so professional. Several others walked up to him and just wanted to shake his hand for the great job he did.

Captain McFadden is one of the most down to earth yet impressive people out there.  I’m really hoping to end up on another one of his flights soon.

Filed Under: Travel, United
    Step 1. Invent cloning machine.
    Step 2. Politely ask Captains Flanagan and McFadden to step into the machine.
    Step 3. Distribute clones throughout fleet.
    Step 4. Go back and add Captain Sullenberger if necessary.

    Leadership, work ethic and effort flow from the top down. Once the crews and ground staff see what a fantastic job captains like the above two are doing, they might just fall in line and lose the attitude. (Although, cloning [email protected] would be a good start for the ground staffers…)

  2. Great! It’s always fun to be around people that really like their job. So few of these guys and these execs have really figured out that there are ways to make the service provided by the industry a little less of a commodity. Oh, wait, Southwest has.

  3. I recall flying with Capt McFadden once and also wrote about it on FT. I was upgraded to F between ORD and LGA and he did similar. Although I don’t recall coffee and a contest, he did make great announcements, turn on Ch 9, and distribute handwritten notes on his business card to all F pax. FANTASTIC representative for UA.

  4. Yup, had the same captain on an SFO-EWR flight lat month. Same wonderful experience, including receiving his business card that I still carry in my wallet.

  5. I had Captain McFadden last week SMF-ORD. For Father’s Day, he was at the front of the plane handing out the 10% off certificates to every father.

    He actually came out into the gate area prior to the start of boarding to introduce himself and talk a bit about the flight. He was flying that flight so no special briefing on Channel 9, but he did point out a number of points of interest along the way.

    It’s definitely folks like Captain McFadden, Flanagan (both of them), and the other great ones that make United special.

  6. Thanks for sharing this; really makes my day just hearing about it. Bravo Captain McFadden, an absolute pro.

  7. I am a United Airlines Flight Attendant and I have had the honor of working with Captain Mc Fadden on a special assignment team for TED. He is truly an inspiration. He genuinely cares for the safety and comfort of each person onboard. His simple acts of kindness make such a difference, and I’m thrilled so many others have been able to experience it! Thanks John..YOU are the BEST!

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