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Author: Chip Wright (page 1 of 31)

Sterile cockpit

A headline of late was of a pilot in the San Jose, California, area going on a rant that was broadcast on the radio. This is not the first time this has happened, and it probably won’t be the last. The usual culprit is a stuck mic switch.

The FAA has announced an investigation into the incident, and it’s safe to say that if the guilty individual is found, there will be some kind of disciplinary action and/or a fine.

Aside from sounding unprofessional, the transmission apparently took place below 10,000 feet, when an airline crew is supposed to be honoring sterile cockpit procedures. The FAA says pilots are supposed to limit conversation only to flight-related discussion below 10,000 feet. Considering that a number of accidents have been attributed to violation of sterile cockpit—to say nothing of other incidents—the FAA is going to wield its power.

Most modern transport-category radios have an auto-shutoff feature that will shut down transmissions after a certain amount of time. This incident is the reason why—not so much because of what was said, but because a stuck mic can create a safety issue if other pilots or controllers can’t transmit and receive over the stuck mic.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this, because the other pilot will be in the crosshairs as well for what appears to be a lack of effort to bring the conversation back to the appropriate topics.

It would be naïve to say that sterile cockpit violations don’t happen every day. They do, but that doesn’t excuse it. We all need to be aware of where we are and what we are saying, and anytime we are using a radio panel, we need to make sure that what is meant to stay in the cockpit actually does. It’s easy to miss it when your mic continues to stay hot, but a subtle indicator is the change in your own voice in your ear when you’re using the radio versus the intercom. But that’s the problem: It’s a subtle change, and all too easy to miss. Some radios also have a transmission symbol or indicator, such as a “T” or a “TX” that appears on the screen. Some … but not all.

This incident needs to be a reminder of the need to honor the sterile cockpit. It’s easy to get complacent, but it certainly isn’t impossible to comply. In fact, some pilots I’ve flown with have personally requested that anything below 18,000 feet be considered sterile, the rationale being that even the teens can have a lot of traffic and opportunities for missed radio calls. While that isn’t a necessary step, it’s not an unreasonable one either.

In general aviation, the rules are much more relaxed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with your own conditions that might be “sterile.” It could be an altitude or within so many miles of an airport, or some other definition that you feel will reduce the risk of an ATC mistake or error. Whatever you decided to use, just remember that whatever you say may not only be recorded, but broadcast live on the internet, and the FAA may want to discuss it.—Chip Wright

Some bright spots

As the pandemic appears to be winding down, travel is showing some signs of recovery. Flights for spring break saw some of the highest load factors seen since early 2020, and Americans are itching to avoid another summer of being stuck at home.

Several airlines, including a couple of majors, are showing signs of growth and pilot hiring. United recently announced point-to-point service for several Midwestern cities that are not typically a part of its core hub-and-spoke system. This is a significant departure (pun very much intended) for a company that is so focused on maximizing the hub part of the hub-and-spoke.

Other carriers have also been quietly making adjustments to their schedules as well, and a cursory examination of the announcements shows what was long predicted: Leisure travel is expected to rebound first.

Here’s the best part of the good news, though: Much of this added flying is being done on regional aircraft. That makes sense, because a smaller airplane allows an airline to “right-size” the airframe for the market, which in this case, is relying on zero connecting passengers. If the smaller airplanes fill up, the option always exists to bring in something bigger later or on a seasonal basis. From a pilot perspective, it means more block hours of flying, which means more jobs. Endeavor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta, has begun training new-hire pilots, and is expecting to hire as many as 400 before the end of the year. Spirit and United are also expected to see a net growth in pilot jobs.

This is a stark turnaround from where we were a year ago, when pilots at the majors were sweating out the possibility of a furlough. Fortunately, three significant government bail-out bills have kept the airlines afloat and allowed for some creative solutions to be crafted to minimize any lost jobs. It appears to have worked as advertised. Early separation packages got some senior folks to retire, some retraining costs were saved or totally avoided, and the ability to rebound was kept in place. On my last couple of trips, the airways and radio frequencies were jammed, and it was a great sense of normalcy in a year that has had anything but.

Pilots who are interested in stepping up to the regionals or higher need to be updating applications regularly and touching base with contacts at various carriers. Job fairs are likely to be virtual, if they occur at all. But if they do, that face time with a recruiter will be more important than ever before.

Because it stands to reason that many countries will require a vaccine to enter, getting vaccinated should be a priority for anyone looking to get into the travel industry, and pilots will be at the top of that list. The Biden administration is pushing to broaden the ability for everyone to get a shot by May 1, so if you can get one, don’t wait. The airlines have not specifically come out and said that they will require a vaccine, but at least one as hinted that it may, and they may all require future job applicants to have one. There is no point in delaying what feels like the inevitable, especially if it has the double bonus of both protecting you and gaining a leg up on future employment.

What was threatening to be a long period of recessionary activity is now showing signs of hope and recovery. While nothing is ever guaranteed, the signs are positive, and that’s far more than we could have dared hoped for a year ago.—Chip Wright

The beginning of the beginning of the end

As we enter the second year of the pandemic, there are signs of an ever-so-slow return to normalcy. In the last couple of months, airports are showing more signs of activity, from more crowded terminals to more flights arriving and departing. Airlines are cycling more airplanes in and out of storage, and more importantly, they are bringing some out of storage for good. At three U.S. based carriers—United, Southwest, and American—the Boeing 737 MAX has returned to service.

The three big federal payroll protection program (PPP) grants and loans have gone a long way to help stabilize the industry. Employees who were going to be furloughed are being kept on the payroll. Pilots are being kept current, and those who can afford to take some unpaid time off are being given an opportunity to do so. (Two of these PPP blocks have already been signed into law; the third is currently headed toward the Senate, where it is likely to pass.)

Now that the U.S. FDA has approved a third vaccine, we can pick up the steady march toward herd immunity in the United States while also sending extra supply to other nations that need it. This is critical for helping achieve a return toward normal levels of trade, travel, and tourism. It will take some time for the global economy to rebound, but once that recovery gains traction, it should be a steady improvement. Time will tell.

In the aviation sector, this is all great news. Few industries are as capital-intensive as the airlines with as few direct sources of revenue. A number of airlines have already failed, and more may well follow. But the best news is that several airlines that were talking about having to furlough are now actively spooling up their hiring processes.

During the pandemic, agreements were made with various unions to offer early retirement packages to employees, including pilots, and it now looks like there will be a faster recovery in some sectors than originally anticipated. Leisure travel will recover first, and maybe even fastest, as folks look to get away from home after feeling trapped for so long. Florida is open, except for cruises, and flights to and from the state are full and—for now—usually cheap.

Business travel will take longer to recover, but that might also make it more predictable and easier to manage. The international business community will take longer to return as nations slowly lift their travel restrictions and the vaccines begin to reach more and more people. That said, trade shows, meetings, et cetera, that were postponed or canceled will slowly be returned to the calendar, and advance tickets will be sought, bought, and sold.

All signs point to the beginning of the beginning of the end of the pandemic, with a nation and a globe full of people desperate to return to a more normal, familiar life. If this is indeed the case, the airlines have weathered an incredibly difficult path—one that would not have been possible without federal aid, but still they will have succeeded.

It’s too soon to say if the pilot shortages of 2018 to 2020 will return, or will be as severe, but I think it is safe to say that those who want to find a career in aviation will have the opportunities to do so far sooner than we might have thought even a few months ago, and that is indeed welcome news.—Chip Wright

UAL 328

On February 20, after the news of United flight 328 hit the airwaves, my phone began blowing up with people wanting to know if I was flying the airplane (no) or if I was on it (again, no).

In case you’ve been living under a rock or just consumed with the Kim Kardashian-Kanye West divorce, 328 is the Boeing 777 that departed Denver for Honolulu, only to sustain an uncontained engine failure shortly after departure. The crew declared an emergency and coordinated with air traffic control to return to Denver, touching down roughly 30 minutes after departure.

It’s understandable that folks want to know what happened, especially given the unusual pictures of debris that landed on yards in residential areas (the true miracle in this is that nobody was hurt on the ground). I have several theories about what might have happened, and all are realistically possible, but they might also all be totally wrong. One person on Facebook pointed out what appears to be damage to one of the fan blades on the engine, but it remains to be seen if the damage caused the explosion, or if the explosion caused the damage.

What I can tell you is that it will take months, if not a year, for the NTSB to come up with a probable cause. Until they do, it isn’t fair to anyone—the pilots, the airline, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, the FAA, or any others that come to mind—to  pretend to know what did or didn’t happen, especially in a public forum such as this.

But I will say this: Events like the one on 328 are what we train for. We spend countless hours in classrooms and simulators discussing the myriad ways that normal operations can quickly go “abnormal” or “non-normal.” We brainstorm, we talk, we share, and when we get in the simulator, we get to practice dozens of possible scenarios in which a worst-case event is inflicted upon us. Some of them are hopelessly complex and borderline unsurvivable. Some are based on events that have happened in real life.

When we first start training in a new airplane or with a new company, we often make a lot of mistakes, and sometimes “red screen,”  which is the simulator version for a crash. But then we do it again. And again. And again. And for good measure, we do it yet again. Eventually, certain actions become ingrained; certain processes become second nature; and we tame the beast of unpredictability and the unknown. Our confidence in the equipment and ourselves grows. When training is complete, they trust us to let you, the flying public, to put your trust in us without reservation. And when training is complete, we continue to learn, to talk, to share what ifs. We do this every year.

I saw the word “scary” a lot. And I’m sure that the passengers were terrified, especially those that could see the engine doing things it shouldn’t do. As for the crew, my guess is that after a moment of unprintable words and an adrenaline rush, they immediately focused on what needed to be done.

First, fly the airplane. Identify for certain which engine is compromised, and to what extent.

Second, navigate. This flight was headed west, so terrain clearance over the Rockies was probably an early concern. The weather was good, which helped.

Third, communicate, first with each other, and then with ATC. Once an agreement was made on what the issue was, the appropriate checklist needs to be executed. One pilot likely took over the flying and radio, while the other handled the checklists.

Time was on their side. They were at a safe altitude, and there was no inclement weather to complicate the return to the airport. They had plenty of fuel. From what we know so far, the other engine was operating normally, and this is key: The second engine really and truly is a spare, and it really and truly can get a fully loaded airplane safely to an alternate airport. This is just as true over the Lower 48 as it would be had the issue occurred over the Pacific or the North or South Pole.

A far more dangerous scenario, and one we practice ad nauseum in training, would have been an engine failure on the takeoff roll, just before rotation (we call this a V1 cut). At that point, they would have been committed to getting a wounded bird airborne, navigating the transition from barely ground-bound as the wings generate lift, to airborne but with reduced power, which is one of the worst things a pilot can experience.

Losing an engine at altitude? I’ve dealt with this twice, and I’ll take that option over the engine failure on takeoff every time.

Kudos to the crew for a job well done. Years of training, expertise, and experience were put to use. We’ll get the answers about what happened in time, and our system will be better for it.-–Chip Wright

The not-so-light EFB

I used to carry around a flight bag that weighed 40 or so pounds with all of the required stuff stuffed into it: Jepp binders (two of the three-inch ones, totally packed, and a one inch binder not so packed), at least two company manuals, my headset, flashlight, sunglasses, and a small bag of items that were essential to me. If I was lucky, I could squeeze in a paperback book or a few magazines, but in reality, anything else had to go in my suitcase.

Nowadays, the binders and manuals have all been converted to an electronic flight kit, but my bag sometimes seems as though it weighs as much as it did then. I now have two iPads (one for work, and one for personal use, which I use primarily to watch TV or movies or read books on Kindle while I commute), two headsets (one for flying, the other for the aforementioned movies and TV shows), my laptop, a flashlight (some things never change), and an assortment of batteries and chargers.

I also still have the small collection (that isn’t so small) of stuff that I feel like I have to have, such as extra pens and pencils, highlighters, ID badge clippy-thingies, uniform wing hold-on clippy-thingies, a power pack for charging my phone or an iPad, dental floss, and an assortment of over-the-counter medications that are probably older than my nearly 20-year-old-kids, but might still work in a pinch. Somewhere in there I’ve also managed to cram in the vest I have to wear during a walk-around, as well as a few books and magazines to kill time in a hotel or elsewhere.

I marvel at the guys who can show up with nothing but the bare essentials to do the job, but it seems like every time I try to declutter, something happens that makes me add back in what I removed, plus a few things I didn’t have before. It doesn’t matter that I likely won’t need any of the stuff I had more than once or twice, the fact is that without “this” or with a lost “that,” a trip that was four days long can feel like one that is 10 days long after the second day.

Fortunately, my suitcase isn’t as bad. I do tend to pack a bit more than I need, since I commute, and I always work with the assumption that I’ll be gone an extra day or so, but the extras in my suitcase are generally limited to the smaller pockets that my suitcase has, or to my toiletry kit. That being said, on the rare occasions that I have actually emptied my suitcase, it does surprise me just how much extra stuff I seem to have in it, but I don’t think I notice it as much since it weighs the same as it always has.

Is any of this to say that I miss the days of binders and manuals and paper revisions? No. Not on your life. But it did making packing a bit easier, because I just couldn’t carry it all.-–Chip Wrightмикрокредит первый займ без процентовзайм экспресс нефтеюганскзайм на карту без отказа и проверок

Missing the classroom

Training, it seems, never ends. Back in the day, all training took place in a classroom, a teacher lecturing and sharing wisdom, knowledge and a few lies, students dutifully taking notes and pretending to understand what was being said, all the while taking the lies as true gospel.

Nowadays, less training is done in the classroom, and more is done on the student’s own time. Ironically, the general aviation world got a bit of a jump on this with the introduction of self-study books by Gleim, ASA, and a few others. Ground schools, once immensely popular, began fading away.

Nowadays, the trend is to do virtually everything, well…virtually. Even when I was going through new-hire training at my current airline, the actual learning and introduction of most of the material was done through Computer Based Training (CBT) in the hotel, and the classroom time had almost nothing to do with what we were supposed to be learning. This was less true when we began to learn the systems of the airplane, but not by much.

Today, all continuing education is completed on our personal time. We get paid once it’s all done, but we are still giving up some of our personal time so that the airline can save huge sums of money on the costs of hotel rooms, transportation, per diem, et cetera.

A friend just finished training on a new airplane, and we were commiserating how different the learning environment is today versus what it was in the past. We both agreed that the old days were better for learning. There is just something better about listening to a teacher who actually knows the airplane tell you how things work in the real world. The opposite, of course, is having to deal with instructors who have absolutely no real-world knowledge of the airplane, and instead just regurgitate what is on the PowerPoint slide or what they themselves have been told—and that was pretty common for a while.

The classroom setting had a lot of advantages: It facilitated open discussion; questions could more easily be addressed, and confusion minimized. The structure of the day also helped, since most blocks of time were 50 to 60 minutes, which kept you on a predictable pace. Not so much today. I just recently had to finish an online course for 737 MAX return to service, and it was drudgery. Most of it was the same material I had learned when the airplane first came into service, but even the new material was often boring. Worse, I won’t be flying the airplane until at least spring, if not summer or fall, so I may have to do a review when it comes up on my schedule. However, unlike the initial rollout, I will get some sim time, and I’m looking forward to that.

We now do continuing ed around the calendar, and we can space it out or cram it all together. Both systems work, but waiting until the last minute is both stressful and hellacious. Either way, it’s too easy to get distracted and not learn as much as we might, but the old days simply aren’t coming back, and that’s a shame. I miss the days of the “There we were…” stories, as they often made it easier to remember the nuances of whatever was being described.

Now, I just click “Next” and watch the timer creep closer to the next slide.—Chip Wrightзайм великий новгородзайм на счет кивимоментальный займ без отказа

Opportunities in the pandemic

As the world continues to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies, including airlines, are taking advantage of new opportunities presented to them. Around the world, several airlines have either gone out of business or severely downsized.

This not only opens up market possibilities, but it also makes airframes and the associated equipment available for other carriers to pick up on the open market.

Most airplanes are actually owned by leasing companies, not by the airlines themselves. This gives the airlines flexibility to manipulate their fleets based on market needs and demands, and it allows a leasing company to have multiple options to place its metal should a customer no longer be in a position to meet the terms of a lease. It also helps lenders feel better about their loans being repaid, so the loans to a leasing company will likely be a little cheaper than to an airline—not an insignificant detail when the collateral is a $70 million to $100 million jet.

Recently, United Airlines announced plans to acquire 20 or so Airbus A-320 aircraft that were flying under the Easy Jet banner in Europe. The airplanes will be converted to United cabins and paint schemes, but then placed in long-term storage until demand justifies bringing them to service. This is a win-win, because the airline gets what amounts to some spare fleet options, as well as to the parts on the airplanes. The leasing company will get paid, but United will likely pay far less than it  would have a year ago thanks to the glut in supply, and when demand rebounds as the vaccines for COVID gain traction, United will be able to recover more quickly.

Similar transactions will take place all over the planet. Norwegian Air Shuttle is terminating its long-haul operation, which is going to put a number of fuel-efficient Boeing 787s on the market. South African Airways has shut down, so its entire fleet is available.

Speaking of South African, its demise will create a vacuum that will need to be filled with service to Johannesburg and Cape Town from various international hubs. This could be a win for both the South African economy and the passengers who might want to travel there.

The airplanes that don’t get picked up right away will likely be put into storage or cannibalized for parts. Engines, seats, windows, even light bulbs or tray tables will be scavenged and put to use. In time, this will bring the issues of supply and demand back into equilibrium, and it will allow the industry to return to normalcy—and profitability—more quickly, and both will accelerate society’s climb from the depths of the pandemic.—Chip Wrightзайм в вебманибыстрый займ омскпай пасс займ займ на контакткашалот займзайм 100000

Periodic fleet changes

Every 15 to 20 years, it seems, the aviation world undergoes what amounts to a seismic shift in fleets based on real-time events, changes in technology, and, if we’re being honest, hope.

The year that was 2020 helped accelerate some of those changes, as the Boeing 747 faded away from all but a few passenger flights and migrated more toward cargo, where it is likely to earn its keep for at least another decade or more. But the Airbus 380 has sustained a far less glamorous fate. Long hyped as the replacement for the 747 on long-haul, high-density routes, it was never able to live up to its promise. In fact, it never even came close.

The fact that no North American carriers took a bite on the 380 probably contributed to its early demise. Some airports didn’t want to spend the money to beef up runways, taxiways, ramps and gates on a “maybe.” In the end, flying any airplane seats with no passengers in them is expensive, but when the airplane is designed to carry upwards of 500 people, those empty seats get expensive in a hurry, especially when factoring in the cost of operating and maintaining four large jet engines.

As if the B-777 replacing a lot of 747s wasn’t enough, Airbus came out with the A-350 while Boeing added the 787 and larger 777s to the line. For the airlines, these were obvious choices in an industry where the bottom dollar dictates everything. In the current environment in which airplanes are being parked by the hundreds, the twin-engine, long-range jets offer a lot of flexibility and a more nimble response to constantly changing market demands.

On the other end of the spectrum, the old puddle jumpers were replaced by a tsunami of Bombardier CRJs and Embraer 145s. As quickly as the new jets gained in popularity, they wore out their welcome due to high operating costs, uncomfortable seats, and a lack of overhead bin space that required planeside bag checking. They have since been replaced with Embraer’s E-JET series, which are more comfortable, have more storage space, carry more passengers (for a lower per-seat-mile cost) and offer greater range.

In the middle of pack is the line of new engines attached to old airframe designs. The Airbus 320/321 NEOs and the 737 MAX series are designed to launch service on short transatlantic routes while also introducing quantifiable cost savings on routes that historically would have been tough for these airplanes to leverage. It feels like the 727, once the backbone of domestic fleets, has been out of service for far longer than it has been.

Changing fleets on any kind of scale brings a cost to the manufacturers and the airlines that is almost impossible to fathom. Decisions have to be made a decade in advance in an industry where solid information more than six weeks in advance is considered as rare as water in the desert. Rest assured that Boeing, Airbus and Embraer are already working on trying to figure out what those potential needs will be, and what technology will be necessary to bring them to market. Getting it right could mean striking proverbial gold, and getting it wrong…well, that would be like finding yourself stranded in the desert with no water.—Chip Wright
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What's next?

As I write this, the ink is still drying on the CARES 2.0 legislation that Congress passed in order to offer relief to individuals and businesses as the pandemic rages on. What does it mean for aviation and the airlines?

In short, it’s a Band-aid, and not much else. Last spring, as the full extent of the virus became known, airlines (and the rest of the travel industry) spoke of three possible outcomes. A “V” shaped recovery curve would have meant a severe decrease in travel, followed by a fairly rapid return to levels seen pre-COVID. A “U” shape was described as a severe drop, followed by an extended stay at a decreased level, and then a rapid return to normal. The worst-case scenario is the “L” shaped curve, with traffic and demand bottoming out and not returning to anything remotely resembling normal until a vaccine or an effective therapeutic was available; herd immunity would also help.

The reality has been somewhere between the U and the L curves. Despite the uptick in holiday travel, demand is still way down. At my carrier, the schedule is still less than 50 percent of what it was in 2019, but certain routes are showing hope. Cargo flights are currently doing very well as passenger jets are used to supplement FedEx and UPS to cover transport of the vaccines and personal protective equipment.

With fears of another surge in the first quarter of 2021, it’s too hard to predict any timelines for a return to normalcy. The uneven rollout of the vaccine isn’t helping, but there is hope that we may finally be turning the corner. Airports have more people, and flights are slowly being added to the schedule. At the carriers scheduled to resume or being service with the 737 MAX, the hope is that the fuel efficiency offered by the airplane will allow for some schedule growth.

A friend of mine has a son who is a recent graduate of a major aviation university, and what had been expected to be a fairly quick entry into the airline world was instead replaced by chaos and upheaval. The expected August 2020 class was pushed back indefinitely, but has since been moved to February 2021—good news indeed if it holds, but that’s no sure thing right now. But if it transpires, then it means service to and from smaller regional airline-centric cities is beginning to show some signs of life.

The first big test will be demand for travel over spring break. A number of colleges have pre-emptively cancelled their traditional spring break in an effort to keep the academic calendar on track. But elementary, middle, and high schools are not all taking such a drastic step, and parents who decide to book a trip this year aren’t likely to change their minds after 14 months of being cooped up.

Following spring break, the next time period to watch will be the summer months. The Olympics have been rescheduled, as have all of the qualifying competitions, and if the vaccine rollout picks up steam, people will be more and more ready to travel, and cities and states will be more and more ready to open. Little things will (hopefully) begin to add up: weddings (and subsequent honeymoons) will begin to pepper the calendar, as will the gradual return of major trade shows, conventions, and big business events (including AirVenture, if not Sun ‘n Fun). Families will travel for vacations, to watch their favorite baseball team play, to visit colleges…the list goes on.

If you’re a potential airline pilot, all of this is good news, as is the continuation of retirements because of  the Age 65 rule. It will pay to keep abreast of what all of your preferred employers are planning on doing with respect to staffing. One question that has already cropped up is whether the vaccine will be mandatory. Right now, most carriers are keeping mum on any plans to mandate getting the shots, but it’s possible—maybe even likely—that certain countries will require proof of vaccination in order to enter the country. As a pilot, that basically means that the shots will be a requirement. No such mandates are in place yet, but it’s reasonable to expect that they will be coming. It’s also possible that some states will require it.

While 2020 has been a year to forget, it has also been an unforgettable year. But COVID is in our collective crosshairs, and we will find a way to control it and get our lives back. And when that happens, air travel—along with hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and more—will reap the benefits.—Chip Wright
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Customer service and COVID

“Customer service,” unfortunately, is not usually synonymous with the airlines. We’ve all heard or experienced the horror stories of lost bags, exorbitant fees, lost kids, and heaven knows what else. But in this era of COVID, customer service is taking on new meanings and new challenges.

In the post-9/11 world, it is all but impossible for a pilot to leave the flight deck to deal with an unruly passenger, yet more passengers seem to be more aggravated and aggressive than before.

With the proliferation of masks, there has been a rise in cases of people who don’t seem to be willing to fully comply with the new rules, though the rapid spread of the virus has helped to some degree. In my recent travels, I’ve seen a number of confrontations that could—and should—have been avoided, and in this case, most of the blame falls on the customers, not the airline.

Every airline is now not only requiring a mask, but also requiring passengers to acknowledge the new rules when a ticket is purchased and/or during the check-in process. There are also numerous announcements made at the airports (which have their own rules), as well as on board the airplanes.

Flight attendants routinely remind everyone of the requirements for a mask, usually as a part of the first public announcement, and then regularly thereafter. On top of that, most captains are also emphasizing the need for a face covering, with reminders that noncompliance will not be tolerated.

In my 20-plus years in the airlines, I’ve never seen such a universal effort to ensure compliance using such harsh measures. Instead of just offering a verbal warning, noncompliant passengers are being escorted off the airplane, and are quickly finding themselves on a list of passengers who are banned from that carrier until at least the end of the pandemic, and maybe longer.

Pilots can still help defuse some situations on the ground, but in flight, they are relying on the cabin crew and potentially any crew members riding along on the flight. There have been several cases of pilots witnessing a disruptive situation from afar, and stepping in to offer support of the employees on the ground (usually the gate agents).

Because the overwhelming number of passengers are folks who fly only once or twice a year, they may be dealing with situations where they have to keep the mask on for longer stretches of time than they are used to. This may make them uncomfortable or just frustrated. That’s understandable. But there are also other folks who are not totally sold on the stated efficiency of aircraft cabin filters, and those are passengers that we can’t afford to lose. Just about every flight in the air these days is losing money. Tickets are cheap and seats are empty.

It is imperative that we all be sensitive to one another, but it is also imperative that we understand that we tacitly agree to abide by certain rules when we go to certain places. That includes, for now, the masks. Speaking up so as to be heard, as well as speaking slowly and clearly, also help. Sometimes someone just needs to be vent and be heard. Often, if they feel some validation when they need to talk, they will readily go back to full compliance. Give eye contact and a genuine ear.

This new norm is going to be with us for a while, and we all need to work together to get to the other side of the pandemic. In the meantime, we all need to use our best “customer service” in all facets of our lives.—Chip Wright
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