Monday, July 18, 2011


“Oh, they won’t wait anymore.  We’re up for sale, you know.  Have to get that on time performance to look good.  The only way they will hold this flight is if mainline calls and tells them to.”  I was greeting the friendly pilots of the red, white, and blue regional jet I was boarding for my flight from Chicago to my home, and had just told them the CSA (Gate Agent) had mentioned to me that they had seven passengers who had just landed on a mainline flight, who would probably be late for this flight.  Even though it was the last flight of the night to my commuting city home, these two professionals (and I mean that in every sense of the word) didn’t even think it worth their while to request, tell, order, or demand to the agent and/or operations that the flight be held for these passengers customers.  Performance wins too frequently these days, and humans end up losing.  Performance over customer service.  Performance over safety).  Performance over sticking your neck out over the risk of getting a ‘demerit’ or worse. 

I kindly let their ambivalence slide and answered their questions about how my regional airline was doing, thanked them for the ride, and found my seat.

The door was shut and jetway disconnected at 9:11 PM.  We pushed back five minutes earlier than scheduled departure time at 9:15 PM, while I visualized these seven passengers running and showing up at the gate at 9:17 PM, pleading that the agent re-open the flight and board them on the plane.  No chance.  This scenario has probably occurred on my watch, when I’m tired at the end of the day, and want to get to the overnight.  I try to guard against it and leave no one behind; I try to show how I care.  But I won’t say it has never happened.  When this might occur, it is usually the gate agent’s last flight of the night and they want to go home. 

Why don’t we care like we used to in the airlines?  We care more about staying out of trouble and not getting a late departure than we do about our customers.  It starts from the top down, and if an employee fears being late more than stranding passengers, unhappy passengers lose.  The airlines say they care as much about customer service as they do about safety, on time performance, and ‘economic efficiency’ (fancy phrase for cheaper), but in my experience these priorities are unbalanced.

I’ve been on two airlines who hold flights for late passengers, however, and I will name names: #Southwest (they do a great, consistent job of this) and #United, believe it or not (the last flight of the night). 

What a day I had, five legs after a 6:30 AM van.  I tried to ‘drop’ the last two flights, a Pittsburgh round trip, but crew scheduling denied it, due to ‘lack of reserve coverage’.  We woke up in humid, stale, stinky still air in Florence, South Carolina (sorry Florence), flew up to Charlotte, over to ‘Rocket-Town’ - Huntsville, Alabama.  Loading up the peeps a United Captain came to the cockpit to meet us and ask for ride back to Washington.  Lo and behold, it was Alan Cockrell, one of the best airline bloggers and writers, in my opinion.  It was nice to meet him, and you should read his blog.  He should write a book on airline flying.
In DC we then had a three hour fifteen minute break until the Pittsburgh round trip.  If my drop request had been granted I would’ve been on a 2:30 PM flight home on the first leg of my commute. 

After my FO tried to encourage me that I could still make it home later, I replied that I’d already used up my optimism on my rejected drop request.  At the time, we had just seen the departure monitor show that our plane for the Pittsburgh flight would be late.  It was ‘posting’ as a 4:22 PM departure instead of 4:07 PM. 

A nice lunch at the new Qdoba should’ve cheered me up, but the lack of tortilla strips in my Mexican gumbo left me a little riled (no apology and no offer of chips in their place – this is a little like McDonald’s running out of French fries).  This was the first instance of someone not caring this day.

I feared that our plane would become more delayed, not knowing why it was running late.  I could’ve called dispatch to find out, but I was juggling my phone with many business emails (see today.

Fortunately, post Qdoba our jet looked like it would arrive at about 4:15 PM.  We would still go out later than 4:22 PM to Pittsburgh but I had a fighting chance of making either the 7:20 or 7:50 PM flight to Chicago. 

Fast forward to the visual approach my fine First Officer was flying into Pittsburgh.  He was ‘freestyling’ (hand flying with flight director off) a visual approach from a semi-high position (all strictly within our flight limitations), and on base leg had extended the flight spoilers.  On approach we noted that we had indications that the spoilerons and outboard ground spoilers had minor ‘faults’ indicated with them.  One or more of these spoilers had one of two actuators that didn’t seem to be working properly.  It didn’t mean the spoilers wouldn’t work, just that they had lost some redundancy.  On touchdown I verified that all the spoilers (panels on the wing which pop up and disturb the lift the wing produces) actuated properly.

After shutdown at the gate, my good First Officer asserted in a professional manner that we should give maintenance a call about the spoilers, and write the messages up in the aircraft logbook.  Because we had received the messages in flight, if we had called maintenance it would require a visit from an on-call mechanic.  This I readily admit I did not want to do.  I could visualize us waiting to twenty or thirty minutes for the mechanic to arrive, twenty or thirty precious minutes I needed to catch my DC to Chicago flight. 

In the end I called.  I cared more about doing the right thing than about getting home; I do admit I had mixed motives, but still.  On my non-company cellphone I talked to maintenance, wrote the two messages up, and waited for the on call mechanic to arrive.  It really varies from airport to airport how long it takes maintenance to get there.  But before I had much time to fret, he was in the jetway.  He took care of the writeup and circuit breaker reset in record time. 

We had already loaded up, and after closing and pushing back I had confidence again that I would make the last flight out of DC this night.  Thirty minutes later, after a fast climb to the east, ATC announced holding instructions to us.  “Holding?  What for?”  I thought screamed (“traffic volume” the ATC controller included with our clearance), while my FO wrote the clearance down, programmed it in the FMS, and I observed and confirmed it.

My FO later expressed a little admiration for me not ‘sailor talking’, saying that he would’ve been throwing the four letter words if he’d been in my position.  This exemplifies the stress pilot commuters endure, trying to get home and to work, and it adds to an already sleep deprived high workload.  Maybe someday I’ll have an easier commute (one leg instead of two) or even drive to my domicile.  But for now I’m still making the best of it.

I did make the flight to Chicago, by the way, where they closed my flight home early to the seven “mis-connects”.  We were released from the hold ten minutes early, at 6:50 PM.  The flight to Chicago was to depart at 7:50 PM.  I set the parking brake of our thinly painted, rivet exposed, well used CRJ at about 7:15, and hustled two concourses over as fast as I could briskly walk. 

We who transport people across the sky from one place to another should care more (myself included).  Too many pressures from management and bean counters “spoil” what comes naturally to many of us: to show how we care about customers by serving them to the best of our ability while performing our duties professionally and efficiently.  And in this arena we deliver something of bedrock importance to them : sustainment of their dignity as fellow humans.  When a customer is dissed, everything gets degraded: they do, our culture does and society does too. 

In earth’s short human history, one person lived who showed that he cared more than any other, and still does.  Even though He was actually a King, He served others as a servant, taught marvelous truths, healed many, had many followers, and He promised that by following him, you could enter the kingdom of God.  He cared so much that he voluntarily gave up his life on a cross of crucifixion, to pay for the penalty of my sin, and of your sin.  By putting your faith in Him as your Savior, you receive the promise He gave from John 3:16: “that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  By exercising faith in Him and his “substitionary atonement”, we are made clean and become acceptable to God.  You should conclude then, whoever this person is who died in all of humanity’s place, he must be very special, and very Holy.

And you would be right.  His name, Jesus Christ, of course, you’ve heard of him probably.    But in this post-modern, now post-Christian world (at least part of it is), others disagree.  They believe in a universal spirituality, and they don’t believe in the concept of sin as the bible teaches.  They don’t believe that their sin separates them from God, and if they believe in a personal God, they likely believe that God’s grace is available to all. 

Those beliefs lead them to not think of Jesus as the bible teaches and claims he is.  This is a grave error, and is the same as “man making God in his own image” instead of viewing Jesus through the lens of “God making man in his own image” as the bible states. 

God’s grace is available to all, but the one pre-condition to being “under grace” is believing and receiving Jesus as your Savior.  If you don’t claim Jesus as your personal Savior, you are still “under the law”.  Liberal theology and ‘pickers and choosers’ of the Bible tend to discount any claim of exclusivity that Jesus had as unworthy additions by newly zealous Christian converts in the first century.  But in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verse 6, Jesus is quoted in no uncertain terms as stating this to his disciples "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  A Methodist Pastor puts this passage in better perspective.  I personally feel that there are many spiritual paths to come to Jesus, and that Jesus is the best and truest way to God.

God showed how he cares about us, about you and about me, by sending his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins.  Jesus never sinned, so that is one reason that he had the ability to serve as a sacrifice for the sins of many.  Another set of reasons are the many, many Old Testament prophecies He fulfilled, involving his lineage, his life, actions, and death.  His work of Salvation for us is a marvelous thing, an amazing gift available to all who trust in Him.  Taking a cue from that cute Mexican beer commercial, Jesus is the real “most interesting man in the world”.  “Stay thirsty, my friends.”  Let me ask you, though, are you, yourself spiritually thirsty enough to want to know God, the God that personally cares enough for you to die for you? 

I’m not trying to scare anyone or to sell ‘fire insurance’.  But this is the basics of orthodox Christianity.  I see universal spiritualism creeping into our society and culture more and more, and sold out Christians (myself included) aren’t speaking up enough for Jesus, aren’t pointing toward the person He is and the light He shines, aren’t saying hey, wait a minute, that’s not how God is.

Don’t let the ideas of Universalism spoil your opportunity to go down God’s jetway.  God cares about you, reader, enough to hold the flight for you, as long as you have breath left on this earth in this life.  God will meet you where you’re at, when you’re ready to take a step of faith and put your trust in Jesus as your savior.  You don’t have to board the plane in clean clothes either, come as you are, straight from the mud pit, if that’s where you’ve been. 

God bless you, and thanks for reading my blog.