It’s typical of men (or so the experts say) to try and solve problems, to fix things, to make it right. My wife complains about that trait in me all the time. I try to offer suggestions on how else to channel her frustration, without success.
I did learn years ago, though, that there are some problems that I just can’t fix. As a flight instructor, I had a few students who had issues that simply were not going to go away. We either learned to work around the issues, or they switched instructors. One had to quit entirely, but that’s a different story.
At the airlines, a pilot quickly learns that there so many things beyond his control that to try to fix everything is futile. If there is anything worse than a failed attempt to fix something, it is a promise unkept. As examples, pilots learn early not to promise that certain bags will make the flight, or connections will be held. Logic doesn’t play here, and often there is a big picture that we don’t see. It might make sense that, since your passengers are connecting to the last flight to Des Moines, the flight is going to be held so that they make the flight. You may not realize that the crew operating that flight is running out of duty time. Or there is weather in Des Moines that they need to race. Or the airplane is scheduled for maintenance in Des Moines that needs every bit of the time allocated. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, and you simply cannot promise the moon.
Nowadays, I don’t pass on information that hasn’t been confirmed by others. Connecting flights are the easy one. Getting that information confirmed is black and white. But when bags are pulled off for weight-and-balance purposes, I don’t pretend to know which ones will stay and which ones will go. I did that—once—and it was the one time that agents on the ground totally screwed up, the wrong bags got pulled, and the passengers went berserk. They had every right to, but now they were mad at the wrong person (me), which means that they channeled some of their complaints to the wrong department (the chief pilots and flight ops), which only slowed down the ultimate creation of a resolution to their satisfaction.
The lesson? Choose your words carefully, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. It sounds simple, but think of the companies that have built their name on a simple premise. UPS, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and others have a simple end-product that they offer, and when it does not materialize, they are blistered. People get angry or even irrational, even if the failure is beyond their control.
If you can really fix something, great. If you can’t, don’t say you can. If you say you’ll try, then do so. It’s true in many aspects of your life, but it’s most assuredly true in aviation, where not only are the expectations high, but so are the costs of failure.—Chip Wright