Airlines make money by running on time. Running late does them no good whatsoever: Passengers miss their connections; bags don’t get transferred; maintenance takes a delay; crews time out. It’s a mess. There isn’t always nothing you can do about it, especially when the root cause is bad weather. If there is any luck at all, at least one pilot will be on time to the airplane, and most of the busy-work can be completed while waiting for the one who is running late.
When both pilots are late, it’s best to follow whatever the normal setup procedure is. What I mean by that is that most pilots tend to follow certain patterns. Generally speaking, there are certain tasks that first officers tend to do, and there are certain tasks that generally are left to the captain. One of the worst things that can happen in the running-late scenario is for one pilot (usually the captain) to get involved in the routine that is normally the FO’s.
A great way to think of this is that it’s the principle of hurrying up to slow down. If there are certain things that the FO does, then let the FO do them. Getting involved or interrupting the pattern that has been honed and perfected only causes a distraction that will inevitably slow things down. A great way for a captain to handle this is to volunteer to do the walk-around or to have a quick brief with the cabin crew, make the initial public address announcements, verify the logbook, et cetera.
On modern airliners, most of the setup is centered on the FMS and the ACARS, and if two pilots are involved, mistakes get made and critical items get overlooked. A good captain will ask the FO what needs to be done, then get out of the way.
The alternative is also true. If the FO is running behind, then the captain should do everything he can before the FO shows up, and then explain quickly what’s been done and what hasn’t. At that point, the FO may well be better off letting the captain finish up to avoid throwing off his rhythm. At the end of the setup, the route needs to be verified, especially standard instrument departures and standard arrival routes.
The last opportunity to really hurry up to slow down is to use the checklist to make sure that nothing has been missed. A good crew can get an airplane ready in a blazing hurry, but they can also make some fundamentally stupid mistakes. No matter what the rush, getting it right is more important. That’s an easy thing to forget, especially if both are experienced and comfortable in the airplane and with each other. That sort of complacency is a never-ending battle. It has to be. Pilots are goal-oriented people, but the long-term goal (to be on time) can’t be sacrificed for the short-term goal (proper set-up).
Hurry up…and slow down.—Chip Wright