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Author: Chip Wright (page 1 of 19)

Get ready to use pounds, not gallons

In general aviation, fuel is ordered in gallons. Fuel capacity is stated in gallons, and the fuel burn of a Cessna 172 is eight gallons an hour. The only time fuel is measured in pounds is for the sake of weight and balance, and most of those problems (if we’re honest with ourselves) are only done during checkrides.

But when you start burning Jet A, the rules change. Jet fuel is measured in pounds because the volume of the fuel can change based on temperature, whether it’s Jet A, JP-4, etc. This is especially critical at high altitudes where the temperature will be minus-40 to minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Further, fuel is burned by mass, not by volume.

But where this really comes into play is in weight and balance. In larger airplanes, the weight of the fuel becomes a much greater part of the total equation, and therefore it becomes a major consideration. The 737-800/900 burns roughly 6,000 pounds of fuel an hour. The CRJ 100/200 burns roughly 3,500 pounds the first hour and 2,500 pounds an hour subsequently. That’s a lot of weight, and it needs to be properly accounted.

Another consideration that will be new to you as move up the ranks is the concept of zero fuel weight (ZFW). This is a number computed by the manufacturer, and it simply means that all weight above that number must be in the form of fuel. The basic operating weight, passenger load, and cargo added together must come in below the ZFW. At times, it may even be the limiting weight for takeoff. On the CRJ, this would happen on very short flights flown at low altitudes, but it rarely created a problem in terms of payload.

Pounds has become the universal standard in fuel units. Part of this is due to the famous ‘Gimli Glider’ accident, Air Canada 143, a Boeing 767 that ran out of fuel in 1983 during a transcon. Part of the problem was confusion in ordering fuel in kilograms, which could be measured in liters, and then converting it into pounds for the sake of operation, along with a chain of other events. One of the results of the accident was the movement to an industry standard of pounds in order to mitigate the risks of another airplane running out of fuel.

In the United States, using pounds also helps when it comes to doing quick-and-dirty calculations regarding max landing weight for a diversion or return to the departure airport, etc. There is no need to convert from one unit to another, which is especially helpful during a busy, stressful event.

So, get used to using fuel totalizers and computing fuel in pounds. It’s a sign of the step up to the big leagues, and it really does make your job much easier.

Vacationing as an airline employee

Free travel is one of the greatest perks of working for the airlines. It’s also one of the most frustrating.

Free travel is great for the obvious reasons: You can fly for free, or nearly so, on dozens of airlines around the world. It’s frustrating because the airlines have become so incredibly good with their capacity discipline that you never can be sure of whether you’ll make it or you won’t.

I’ll give you two recent examples. This summer, one of my kids went to Spain for three weeks. The package included airfare for her. However, my wife wanted to accompany our daughter to Paris, where she would catch a connecting flight to a small city in Spain.

In the meantime, my wife and a friend of hers (whose husband works for the same airline I do) would spend a few days in Paris taking in the sights. For weeks, the flight was looking good. In the last week or so, however, it began to fill up rapidly. The uncertainty lasted until the morning of the departure. My wife and daughter went by the airport early to check in her bag, and the agent at the counter told my wife she should give it a shot. Her friend, who lives in Detroit, started driving.

At the gate that night, the number of standby passengers appeared to exceed the number of available seats. Following our tried-and-true mantra of not leaving the gate until the airplane pushed, my wife (im)patiently waited.

A family of five was unable to get on as a group, and two seats opened up, so off they went. Had she gone strictly by the listings she could see online, she would’ve had to come up with a plan B (there was one in place).

A week after my wife got home, we were scheduled to go on our summer vacation. The trip was to the Cayman Islands, which is one of our favorite places to go scuba diving. Our rule of thumb is to buy tickets whenever we check bags, and we always travel with our own dive gear, which has to be checked. When we booked our trip in the spring, we were tempted to chance using our pass benefits. The flights were wide open, and it would save some money. I sat on it for a few days, and finally decided that the peace of mind was worth it. I took advantage of the discounted tickets that employees can buy, and bought seats.

On the day of our trip, the first flight in the morning took a mechanical delay that would eventually exceed four hours. Some of those passengers spilled over to our flight, and the airplane was full on the first leg. The second leg, which had been pretty promising, sold out during our layover, which means that even if we had started the night before, we wouldn’t have made it.

It was dumb luck that we didn’t get burned by the late departure of the first flight. We considered buying seats on that one, but we didn’t since the layover would have been so long. That flight wound up touching down just as ours was leaving. It would have cost us a full day of our trip.

So, there you have it: two international flights, two different methods of travel. One was pure fun (had my wife not made the Paris flight, she and her friend were going to go to Scotland, which was wide open), and the schedule was a non-issue. The second one, with considerable money invested up front for the resort and diving package, spoke for itself with respect to the logic of buying a ticket. The peace of mind was money in the bank, as was knowing that the airline would take care of us in the event of a disruption to our itinerary.

Not everyone is willing to spend the money on tickets, and not everyone is willing to risk the wrath of the non-rev gods. As the song says, you have to know when to hold them, and when to fold them.—Chip Wright

Buying a new fleet

The Paris Airshow just wrapped up, and as usual, the various manufacturers jockeyed for some large orders. Virtually all orders that are announced at Paris and Farnborough are in place before the airshows, but the airlines and the manufacturers use the events to make a big splash, and this year was no different.

In the U.S. market, United announced an order for 100 new 737s and four new 777s. There was some hand-wringing over the UAL deal, because Scott Kirby, late of America West/USAirways/American, is known to be an Airbus guy, and there were rumors that UAL was going to announce a larger order of A320s and A321neos. So what happened?

Buying an airplane is a major decision for any airline, and for a global carrier like UAL or Delta or American, the narrow-body fleets are the backbone that support the global system. There are three major cost considerations. The first is the actual unit price. As with cars, this is negotiated. Nobody pays sticker price. However, this price is significant nevertheless, and it becomes the starting point for everything else moving forward.

The second major cost consideration is the operating cost for the airplane. This covers everything from fuel to scheduled maintenance to crew costs, and it also takes into account warranties on the airplane as a whole or on the various parts. Somewhere in every airline, there is a bean counter who has broken down to the penny the actual cost of each airplane under consideration, taking into account more variables than most of us can imagine.

The final cost to consider is the long-term cost, which includes the cost of integrating the airplane into the current fleet—especially if it’s a new piece of equipment or represents a departure from the current norm.

In the case of UAL, the bulk of the domestic fleet is the 737. The A320/321 fleet is much smaller and much older. Bringing in new Airbuses would have led to a dramatic increase in training for pilots, and would have negated much of the advantage of the larger 737 fleet, which operates from Saigon to the Caribbean, and from Alaska to Central South America. There will be a high parts commonality between the 737s in use and the new MAX versions on order. Both are known quantities, and both Boeing and Airbus no doubt made compelling pitches to UAL. If everything was truly equal, it may have been as simple as “Buy American.” But it’s almost never that simple.

Delta, on the other hand, will be introducing a new narrow-body soon when it takes delivery of the Bombardier C-Series. Taking on a new aircraft type is not without risk, as United learned a few years ago with the battery problems on the 787. New airplanes are frequently slowed by unexpected bugs, and the C-Series is not likely to be any different. Further, everything about the program is new: new parts, a new engine, new simulators, and new training programs for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, and gate agents. A new airplane is expensive, and it takes time for the return on the investment to pay off. With luck it does. Today, UAL is ecstatic with what the 787 has been able to do, and the markets it has opened.

New airplanes are critical to get right, as the decision is one that will affect airlines and their passengers for decades.—Chip Wright

Dispatchability

There’s an expression you will hear a lot at the airlines: “It’s for dispatchability.” In other words, as the expression goes, a plan is moot once the action starts.

Let me explain. The FAA requires airlines to meet certain criteria before a flight can be released, or dispatched. The captain and the dispatcher need to agree on some other items in addition to the standard IFR flight plan items: fuel, weather, alternate(s).

First on the list are any minimum equipment list (MEL) items. These might be as simple as a burned-out light bulb or as complex as a failed nav display.

Second is performance considerations. Everything in the FAR 121 performance world hinges on the loss of an engine. On takeoff, the assumption is that it will fail at V1, which means an abort is no longer an option. On landing, the assumption is that an engine will fail prior to or during an approach, thus necessitating a single-engine go-around. But, go-arounds usually are less restricted by terrain or obstacles, since you’re already off the ground and have the full length of the runway in front of you. That means you can continue to climb for the full length of the runway, whereas a takeoff climb begins somewhere down the runway. You’ll also find that a number of airports have special single-engine procedures developed for an engine failure on takeoff or landing that are also “for dispatchability only,” because they meet certain climb and performance requirements. In the real world, pilots can (and should) use their best judgment (such as in bad weather).

To further add to the confusion, you may find that at certain airports, the single-engine procedures are only used by some fleets…and among the same fleet type, there may be variations from one carrier to the next on those procedures because of engine differences.

All takeoff data is predicated on losing the most critical engine and reaching the four segments of a climb (beyond the scope of this post). Remember, that’s a worst case scenario. When you hear the “that’s for dispatchability” comment regarding takeoff, it means that once you get to V1 and no engines fail, everything else is gravy. You’ve met all of your regulatory requirements, and nothing else matters. But, you still have to assume the worst, which may mean leaving payload behind.

Another area in which you hear it, and where confusion occurs, affects the MEL. The MEL is designed to give certain relief to the carrier to fly with inoperative components. However, when something breaks in flight, it isn’t necessarily a requirement to begin immediate compliance with the MEL. Here’s an example. Jets and pressurized turboprops have two air conditioning packs that provide pressurization and cabin air. If one is inop, the MEL commonly will restrict flight to 25,000 feet or less to ensure adequate cabin air. However, that requirement is only in effect once the MEL has been used to defer the operating pack for later repair. When the issue comes up in flight, the appropriate checklist will be the guiding document—and it may or may not require a descent to FL250. This can be an important consideration when it comes to fuel and range. As long as the checklist doesn’t require the descent, you can continue to cruise merrily along.

But, once the mechanics defer the pack, you’ll be required to meet any and all MEL requirements as a condition of being dispatched with that particular MEL in use.—Chip Wright

The no-longer-annual recurrent training

Until recently, airlines subjected pilots to a recurrent training event in the simulator every 12 months, plus or minus a month. In the past few years, more and more carriers have switched to a nine-month training cycle. That means that over three years, there will be four total training events.

The airlines have collected data that shows certain pilot skills degrade too much when they are not practiced for a full year (or more). Make no mistake, this decision is not made lightly, because it comes with a significant increase in costs. But it makes sense. Just about every carrier does sim training over two days. The first day is the maneuvers validation, or MV. It’s a chance for pilots to demonstrate their skills on V1 cuts, stalls, single-engine approaches, single-engine landings, single-engine go-arounds, encounters with wind shear, and other skills that don’t get much exposure in the airplane. However, they also tend to be the skills that are most likely to suffer from a lack of practice.

Other skills can also be evaluated. Not every airline has an opportunity to do a lot of RNAV approaches, and some approaches at some airports require some pretty solid stick-and-rudder skills—especially in any kind of wind or weather (such as the River Visual to Runway 19 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). The MV is also an opportunity for the carrier to simply evaluate how certain everyday skills are conducted.

The second day of sim training is usually some form of line oriented evaluation (LOE), which is a flight between two cities served by the carrier. However, an anomaly is introduced that will force the crew to work together to solve a problem and safely land. Day-to-day skills can be evaluated, as can an adherence to following certain protocols and procedures. CRM is the main focus on a LOE.

Airlines have shared certain safety and training data for years in an effort to meet collective goals and targets that improve the industry for everyone. Obviously, this information is also shared with the FAA, and over the past decade or so, the transition to a nine month-cycle has gained some steam.

The influx of new pilots into the ranks is another factor. Everyone wants to keep an eye on the new, younger generation, along with the number of pilots who are changing equipment—some for the first time in years or even decades.

Training always comes with its own set of stresses and challenges, but shorter intervals will help alleviate some of that, and they will certainly allow for more learning opportunities.—Chip Wright

What makes a good first officer?

What makes a good first officer? It’s easier to talk about what makes a good captain, since the captain is the boss and has the ability to make everyone miserable.

At my first airline, I was an FO for only two and a half years before spending the next 12 as a captain. Now, I’m back in the right seat, and I find myself applying a lot of what I looked for in my own FOs, as well as some of my own ideas along with a healthy dose of common sense. Most of this is not in order, but the first one is.

  • Be on time. This is a big one, especially when it’s time to leave the hotel. Most pilots excel at being on time, if not early. It’s easy at the beginning of the trip, but some folks have a hard time being in the lobby on time for the van. Most pilots will try to be in the lobby at least five minutes early. Nobody likes to be rushed at the gate—and the van driver doesn’t like to be rushed in traffic—so make it a point to be punctual. As a captain, I really appreciated an FO who was early to plane on the first leg of the trip (assuming we didn’t bump into each other in the crew room). So, I always try to be the first one to the airplane now.
  • Be a chameleon. Unfortunately, this is the life blood of being an FO. You’re forced to learn (quickly) the habits and quirks of each captain you deal with. It can be as simple as knowing when the first checklist is read to something as strange as the way a piece of paper needs to be folded. (I’m not kidding.)There was a captain at Comair who was legendary for the origami-like way he wanted to fold the piece of paper from the release that we used for the ATIS, clearance, et cetera. He wouldn’t let anybody else touch it, and FOs quickly learned to just hand it to him. It’s also necessary to learn quickly to what extent a captain is going to help out with certain duties. Some captains will insist on doing some of the walk-arounds, and others will not even entertain it. Worse, some will not do the walk-around, but also will do nothing in the cockpit, figuring that they are “staying out of the way.” It’s true that two pilots loading the FMS can lead to confusion and make the process take longer, but it’s not so bad that he or she needs to totally back away. This is just someone being a jerk or lazy (or both). Fortunately, this is also rare.
  • CRM quirks. Some captains are over the top with crew resource management, and fortunately, they expose that early, so you can figure out that you’ll be double- and triple-verifying everything you touch, say, and do, even after you’ve already verified it. Just don’t forget something, because you’ll likely hear about it if you do. One way to minimize any conflict is to save all the paperwork until the captain says it’s OK to toss it. On the 737 that I fly, the printer is running nearly nonstop with messages, ATIS updates, performance info, et cetera. I keep everything until I figure out if the captain is a “read it and toss it” kind or wants to hold it until we land. The best ones only print out critical info.
  • Standard operating procedures. Most pilots follow most of the rules, and a few follow all of them. But some only follow a few. Ironically, most of the ones who do things their own way will tell you that they do things their own way, but they will follow along if you want to go by the book. In a way, these captains are both the easiest and the most difficult to fly with, because you can pick up some very bad habits, but they will not stop you from doing what’s right because doing what’s right keeps them out of trouble. That said, most captains try to follow company and FAA procedures, and they expect the same from the FOs. A good captain can address this diplomatically when a conflict occurs. A good FO will just follow procedures from the get-go, and if there is a conflict, he or she will simply ask there is a new procedure. Along the lines of SOP is keeping up with changes. It used to drive me crazy when the company would put out updates and FOs would drag their feet on reading them or implementing them. Now, as an FO, I try to make it a point to bring them up during our initial meeting to make sure we’re on the same page, which I’ve found captains greatly appreciate.
  • Prevent mistakes. Most captains will ask that you point out something they might be doing wrong or a mistake they may have made, and most of them mean it. We’re all human, and what may look like a deliberate act of non-compliance is almost always just a mistake or a misunderstanding. FOs saved my bacon more than once, and will eventually do so again. I’m simply returning the favor.
  • Ask questions. Captains love to both teach and pass along tidbits and institutional knowledge. Take advantage of it. It may not have anything to do with the airplane, but every little nugget of knowledge you pick up can make your work life much easier. In fact, ask your captains what FOs do that they like and don’t like. You’ll hear some interesting stories. Soon, you’ll be talking smack about your own FOs!
  • Relax, and have fun. Flying is a lot of fun and a great way to make a living, but if you don’t relax, it’s a lot more stressful than it should be. There will invariably be the rare few that you don’t like or get along with, but there is always a topic of conversation that you can agree on. If there isn’t, then you need to just accept that it will be a quiet trip. Thankfully, those days are rare indeed. Most of the time, there is an easy banter and a rapport that settles in, and the trip is over all too soon.

Just make sure that you’re on time.—Chip Wright

Nervous fliers

Not everybody is cut out to fly, and for that matter, not everybody is cut out to be the best passenger. I recently was sitting in the gate house waiting for my airplane to come in when a lady walked up to me and asked me if I was working her flight. When I confirmed that I was, she asked me if I could spend a few minutes talking to her husband, who was a “nervous flier,” in her words. I immediately said yes, and she went to get him.

The gentleman in question came over, and we introduced ourselves. He had at one time had no problems flying, but in recent years he had developed a sense of claustrophobia. When I asked him why, he said it was related to having kids, and that being on an airplane made him feel a bit trapped and sometimes not able to respond to his young kids the way he might have at home (for instance, taking them outside to let them run off some energy, or being able to escape outside himself when the kids were behaving, but being rambunctious). He also felt that he had lost some sense of control by placing his life in the hands of others.

As a parent for more than 16 years, I could relate to that, and I told him half-jokingly (but only half) that I’m not the biggest fan of sitting in the cabin when the cockpit is just a few feet away. His wife explained that he had taken a class on dealing with the phobia, and one of the recommended strategies when flying was to try and talk to at least one of the pilots before the flight. Perfectly logical, in my book.

I took a few minutes to talk about our flight, the route, the time, the weather, et cetera. I didn’t anticipate our unusually long taxi to the runway, but since I had pointed him out to the lead flight attendant and told the captain about him, I was confident that he would be looked after. He and his family got off before I could say goodbye, but I was told that he appeared to enjoy the ride as much as possible.

Nervous fliers are a fact of life, and they look to pilots not only to comfort them, but also to give them some confidence that we are more than competent. It’s important to remember that a passenger in an airplane has given up complete control of his or her well-being to us, and we need to respect that. It’s true in general aviation as well, if not more so, because a passenger on a GA airlane can grab the controls and start “fighting back” if he or she perceives that something is amiss.

Not only is it the right thing to do in terms of business, but it’s also the compassionate, humane thing to do. We all have fears, some of which are in our face every day, some that aren’t. But none of us wants to feel out of control. Information, understanding, and communication often can bridge much of that gap.—Chip Wright

Verbalize, verify, monitor

Accidents, as they say, are written in blood. The result is usually a set of new regs that, in retrospect, should have been written earlier. Pilot deviations, on the other hand, are usually written because of complacency, and the result is usually a new set of procedures.

Many years ago, the pilots at (then) USAir were suffering from a rash of altitude deviations. Pilots would respond to a radio call from ATC with a new assignment, and the non-flying pilot would put the new altitude in the altitude pre-selector, and all would be well…until it wasn’t. Somehow, the airplane would wind up where it wasn’t supposed to be, creating separation issues and scaring the daylights out of the controllers, the pilots, and probably a few stray birds.

After studying the problem, USAir changed the procedure. The nonflying pilot would dial in the altitude, then keep a finger pointing at the pre-selector, and verbalize the altitude again. The flying pilot would point to the altitude and also verbalize, as a means of verifying, that the correct altitude had been programmed. Both pilots would then actively monitor the performance of the airplane to make sure that it performed as expected. Once this new procedure was implemented, altitude deviations virtually vanished, and the procedure became the industry norm. It was a simple change that had a huge impact on safety, especially since the airlines so willingly share such information.

Nowadays, the new process—verbalize, verify, and monitor—has been adapted to virtually everything we do. Course changes, autopilot mode selection changes, approach selection—all are subjected to the VVM philosophy. All-glass cockpits have made this process even more critical. It’s easier than ever to miss something on a screen or to make the wrong selection. The automation on a modern jet is so intertwined and complex that a mistake could be programmed in an hour before it will be executed, and it may not make itself known until a violation has occurred.

As you prepare for your entry into the professional ranks, start adding the VVM philosophy to your standard practices. Teach it to your students. When flying single pilot, make a habit of writing down new clearances and commands. When flying with another pilot (not just a passenger), get into the habit of splitting the workload. If you are by yourself, definitely make a habit of talking out loud, both as backup and as a means of staying alert.

To give an example of how effective the VVM concept can be, it can be used when one pilot is out of the cockpit (using the lav, for instance) and a jumpseater is on board. If ATC issues a new altitude, the pilot can dial it in and ask the jumpseater to verify that the correct altitude has been set. In fact, this procedure is routinely used. I’ve even had flight attendants who are familiar with the procedure not only verify the new altitude, but also catch a bad one. If that isn’t crew resource management, I don’t what is!

Altitude deviations are among the most common, so the VVM policy is used to verify settings on the flight management system for descend- and climb-via procedures, as well as to properly preset the missed approach altitude on nearly every single approach, even in visual meteorological conditions. They are still a big threat, but thanks to the simple wisdom of the good folks at USAir, that threat is not just recognized, but dealt with thousands of times each day.—Chip Wright

Those confounding airports

In the last twenty-some years, I’ve flown in the networks of two major airlines. Learning to navigate the various hubs is one of the biggest challenges. Those hubs in the United States are among the busiest in the world, so it’s even more challenging.

Going in and out of the LAXs and ORDs and ATLs of the world brings a set of assumptions that aren’t always in your favor or even fair. Let’s say you fly within the United network. The controllers at the “home fields” will see an airplane in the UA colors and take for granted that you (and whoever is with you) know what you’re doing, what the flow of traffic is on the ground, and how things generally work. You can’t blame them, and it’s not an unreasonable expectation.

The truth is, controllers don’t realize that there are some places you may not see very often, which means you may be prone to mistakes they may not expect. Chicago is a great example. The ground flow is fairly structured, but it changes based on the runways in use. Once you understand it, it’s fairly logical, but to the neophyte it’s as clear as mud. Add to that the fact that sometimes the ground controllers will rattle off instructions for multiple airplanes at once without giving anyone a chance for a read-back, and it can be very intimidating.

When I first starting going in there, I wasn’t flying in the colors of one of the two “home town” airlines, which got me a bit of slack. The controllers seemed to speak just a bit slower to make sure we knew what we were doing. In the colors of one of the local carriers, that doesn’t happen much. But as pilot movement occurs at the majors, there are captains who are new to certain hubs, and they aren’t always savvy to the ways of the local methods. Recently, I’ve flown with a couple who got lost in the taxi instructions and weren’t entirely sure what the expectation was. I had a pretty good idea, but I wasn’t the one taxiing, and I wasn’t the one who had ultimate responsibility.

So, the captains did the only thing they could do: They set the brake and sat there. In one case we were able to get a word in on the radio and get some clarification. In another, the ground controller finally realized we hadn’t moved, and called us. The second time he spoke in a speed we could hear, and we taxied without further ado.

Controllers work the same airport every day. Pilots bounce around, and have to know them all. While controllers have to ensure the orderly flow of traffic, we can’t help them if we don’t understand what they want, and ORD is one of the most difficult. It’s one thing to tell a student to be willing to ask for progressive taxi, but the true sign of professionalism is to ask for it when you’re flying with paying passengers in the back.—Chip Wright

The non-rev dress code flap

Much has been made recently about the passengers who were denied boarding on a United flight because of the choice to wear leggings in lieu of something else. When the dust settled, it was brought to light that the decision to deny boarding was because the passengers were non-revenue pass riders. That is, they were using employee benefits and/or buddy passes to ride on a space-available basis.

The dress code at UAL is crystal clear about what kind of attire is considered acceptable for employees, their families and designated travel partners, and the friends to whom they provide buddy passes. Further, there are specific stipulations that must be met if those passengers are to be allowed to ride in first or business class as opposed to coach class. If there is any gray area or question about the acceptability of the choice of clothing, the gate agent will be the final decision maker. The fault in this case lies with employee who didn’t make sure that the passengers were in compliance with the dress code.

The ability to fly for free and to offer substantially reduced fare tickets to friends and family is one of the best perks of working for an airline, but it is a privilege, not a right. Further, it comes with certain expectations of decorum and behavior, one of which is the dress code.

Every airline has some form of dress code, and while the new norm is fairly relaxed—shorts are usually allowed—it is not a free-for-all. United, for instance, doesn’t allow flip-flops, and most airlines don’t allow torn (even by design) jeans or shirts, and none allow for any kind of profane, offensive or provocative material. And don’t assume that just because you got on the airplane you’re in the clear. The flight attendants can have you removed if they think the gate agent dropped the ball.

Pilots have another issue to contend with, which is attire that is acceptable for the cockpit jumpseat. Most carriers don’t allow jeans or a T-shirt to be worn if occupying the jumpseat. As a result, you’ll often see commuting pilots wearing their uniform, or perhaps the uniform pants with a collared shirt, especially if the flight is fairly full. Another option is to wear the uniform, but to remove the epaulets, wings, et cetera, from the shirt.

I try to avoid giving anybody my buddy passes because I just don’t think they’re a great deal, especially if someone is on a schedule. But if you get hired by an airline and decide to issue your buddy passes, make sure that your friends understand all of the rules associated with such travel. The dress code is important, and so is the general behavior, so spending a lot of time at the airport bar is not a good idea. To that extent, your friends or relatives shouldn’t brag to other passengers about getting such a cheap (or free) seat. Those passengers with such expensive tickets, after all, are paying the employees’ salary and helping to provide that benefit. Don’t throw it in their face.

I’ve known several employees whose pass privileges were suspended or revoked because of abuse. Some sponsored passengers who acted inappropriately or yelled at gate agents, and a few were caught trying to sell buddy passes for a profit (this almost always gets you fired). But, whether it’s a buddy pass or yourself, pay attention to the rules of the carrier in use. If you need to ask yourself if something is appropriate, it probably isn’t. When it comes to dress, be conservative.—Chip Wright

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