Thursday, June 23, 2011

Southwest Rant - Holding Pilots to a Higher Standard

The Southwest Airlines captain whose big mouth rant of frustration over the lack of suitable flight attendants to date during a trip in March has made him the latest example of declining professionalism among airline pilots. He mistook his office for his personal conversation pit, yes indeed. But really, is all the fury about his piloting or his piggishness? And if the answer is the latter then really, what is all the fuss about?

From the Wall Street Journal to NBC News, to the flight attendants union and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, everyone is weighing in on poor Capt. Bigmouth. Meantime, movies like Sex in the City 2, in which an entire nation is disparaged or Wedding Crashers which features a team of bachelors scheming to serially lie their way into bed with beautiful women, (not a gay, granny or grande among them) are just two on a lengthy list of blockbuster hits churned out of Hollywood proving that audiences just love rakish, randy, rogues. 

So what's behind this a state of horrified outrage over the presumed-to-be-private conversation between two men piloting a flight from Austin to San Diego?  Trust me, its not because these pilots are the only ones who view flight attendants as co-workers with benefits.

I'm sure to generate some controversy here, but truth be told, there's a certain lifestyle in commercial aviation that - whether they participate in it or not - is no secret to flight crews around the world. This involves socializing on layovers. Its a recipe for marriages and sometimes for divorce. 

Some pilots misbehave and so do some flight attendants and for the most part the airlines  stay out of the way - unwilling to get involved in this enormously sticky state of affairs. Airlines could and should be more active in defining for their employees what is and what is not acceptable behavior considering the power imbalance between pilots and flight attendants. 

But no evidence has emerged so far that this Southwest pilot was anything more than a "player" in his personal life who had the misfortune to accidentally depress the transmit key on his microphone and share that fact with the world. 

Last night, I was invited to a wonderful dinner with three students at CTC Wings, an airline pilot training center in Hamilton, New Zealand. It's so rewarding talk to young people happily anticipating a future doing what they love. 

Perhaps it was the wine, but feeling somewhat philosophical I waxed on about something that - in the light of the Southwest story - seems almost prescient. 

"When you put on your smart, dark uniform and head to the front of the airplane, you have two very important tasks," I told them. "The first is to get your passengers safely from A to B. The second is to represent your airline in such a way that travelers feel comfortable putting their lives in your hands." You can do the first and fail at the second, but not for long. 

That's a lesson for young aspiring pilots and its a lesson for Capt. Bigmouth too.
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