Flying as a first officer (FO) means working as a chameleon. Every captain has his or her own quirks, and the FO has precious little time to figure out what those quirks are. Some captains are just weird, and some are just plain wrong, and others are just a bit too literal in their interpretation of certain rules and procedures. Some are just, well, quirky.

I flew with a captain at my first airline who had a reputation for being difficult to get along with for various reasons. The general consensus was that he had a temper, and if something wasn’t done his way, he’d get upset.

The one thing that stands out in my mind was his origami method of folding the paperwork. We had a paper release at the time, and there was one section that had all of the pertinent data needed for a flight. It had space for the ATIS, the clearance, performance info, et cetera.

Ninety-nine percent of the pilots utilized that paper the same way. This guy didn’t. It had to be folded a certain way, and I can’t begin to guess how many tries it took him to get it this way, but when he finally had his eureka moment and found his magic fold, FOs were doomed. It wasn’t just that it was folded a certain way. It was folded in such a way that every line on it was now visible at all times (which was something only he cared about).

In order to achieve this art, he was the only one allowed to handle it. The FOs weren’t supposed to touch the paper until he had done his folding, as he didn’t want any wrinkles or stray ink marks. All of this would have been somewhat tolerable under normal circumstances, but a person who has such odd behavior about one thing has it about everything. Further, he wouldn’t tell you about this until after you’d upset him. If you’re going to be weird, particular, and difficult, tell everyone in advance.

Another example was a captain who tried to correct my actions by quoting “the book” to me. That’s all well and good, except in three cases out of three on three consecutive flights, he was wrong. It led to a fairly heated argument on the last leg of the trip, but by then I’d figured out how he operated: I had to be perfect, and he had to be right. It makes for an unhealthy working relationship, and not one that is conducive to safety or a good time. Sometimes it’s best to just do what they want and grit your teeth, but if you’re going to quote the book, get it right.

Most captains try to fly to the established standard, but we all are human, and it’s understandable that there are times when a shortcut gets taken, or minor difference gets introduced. It doesn’t help that sometimes the manuals are as clear as mud. But as long as safety isn’t compromised or a policy is deliberately violated, there can usually be a meeting of the minds.

If the new “concept” is one that leaves you uncomfortable, then discreetly check your manuals to verify you’re right, and then ask why a particular liberty was taken. That doesn’t mean you need to do the same—in fact, you should do things exactly as you’ve been trained, and then decide whether or not it’s worth pursuing other avenues to bring it to the attention of the appropriate people. If it is, don’t hesitate to do so.

Captains….they all do things the same, only different.—Chip Wright