This Is Your Copilot Speaking

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Airlines, pilot, satire, travel, narrative, contemporary, diaries, & humor


Forward (or Author’s note, or Disclaimer.) You pick. I’m confused:

This book will probably get me fired. “Inappropriate” carries far more weight than it used to (or was ever structurally engineered to support). In the history of aviation, there has never been a worse time to shine a satirical light on what is arguably one of the most responsibility laden jobs on the planet. Our competency and professionalism, once above reproach, are now under siege as outdated myths of a former age. The perception of “Pilot” as a career, is slowly and inexorably sliding off the summit of cool jobs into the public view that we’re just a bunch of computer programmers in dorky hats.

It’s not like we haven’t pulled a few sticks out of the Jenga tower ourselves. Pilots overflying their destination by more than a hundred miles because they were on their computers. Pilots being arrested in the cockpit for being drunk or assaulting Blueberries (TSA agents).

Passengers are disenchanted too, trudging through the excruciating and invasive security made necessary by a few religious zealots with too much spare time, and too little access to women. Overcrowded planes filled with only the most determined or obligated of travelers. The fantasy of flight has become something most people probably wish they could find some way to avoid.

This book is inappropriate. I admit that. Hell, that’s really sort of the point. There’s a glimmer of salvation in trying to find a little silliness in the modern abrasion of air travel. Silliness serves an insulatory purpose. Protects us from the jagged cruelty of pragmatism. Insulates us from the brutality of the banal. And regardless of its medicinal properties, someone needs to stand up for poor little inappropriate. Like the incredible edible egg, maybe inappropriate is not as bad for us as we’ve been led to believe. Enough is enough. Responsibility and Professionalism do not negate a sense of humor. Absurdity should not be ignored or discounted because it doesn’t go with the uniform.

The heady burden of being a Sky King requires a fair amount of insulation. The fun part (flying the plane) is at best half the job. The other half is waiting to do the fun part. Waiting in the hotel. Waiting for the plane to show up. Waiting for bags, people, maintenance, the rest of the crew, fuel, weather, the Midwestern hooker I called 2 hours ago, recognition of your awesomeness, more pay, etc. Waiting sucks. Waiting will drive you bat shit crazy if you can’t come to terms with it. Find a little absurdity to wash it down. Make a little lemonade.

Being an airline Pilot is supposed to be fun according to the recruitment posters. It takes discipline and dedication, true. Requires a deep commitment to safety as a mode of behavior. Requires a vigilant suspicion that you could be doing it better, and a thick layer of waiting-resistant insulation. But none of these attitudes are the sweet nougaty center of the dream. No child ever ran around the yard with his arms outstretched yelling “Auto Pilot On!” Or doodled pictures of airplanes, dreaming of a 5 hour deadhead in the middle seat in coach.

There is silly in this job. Not at its core. Not in the cockpit. Not in the responsibility, but all around it. Stuck in the gooey bland horror of the waiting. The unforgiving task of being an Airline Pilot is a bathysphere of seriousness adrift in a jelly sea of absurdity. (Lime, I think. I can’t get the damn door open. Looks like lime.)

Being an Airline Pilot is supposed to be fun. And before deregulation and the inevitable tectonic calving and reconstitution of most of the legacy carriers, before the meteor impact of free enterprise consigned the slow to adapt dino-airlines to the deep, before market forces started this luge run to the cost bottom, before Affirmative Action, the Tailhook scandal, rampant PCism, the erosion of Captain’s authority, pilot respectability, and the general pussification of America, it WAS fun.

I will recapture a little taste of the glory. And see what it tastes like!!
I will share this glory with you few, you happy few. But this glory is a class 8 corrosive substance under 49CFR Part 172. Consume with care to avoid burning yourself or anyone who’s not properly insulated. (Common sense oven mitts sold separately.)

I’ve gone to some length to obscure my identity, which airline I fly for, which airplane, or where I live. You’ll probably figure it out, but this is my silly. I don’t want to spill it on the airline that pays me to fly, or my colleagues. Be offended. But be offended with me. And at the risk of coming off like a drug dealer condemning cigarettes, maybe being offended by absolutely everything is not the shining path. Where are we headed with all this reluctant tolerance? Really. A tolerant response for everything and everything in its tolerant response? What fun.

“This town needs an enema!” – The Joker.

But all silliness aside, I would like to say this (just once). I am a true believer in the safety culture, CRM, standardization and the doctrines of consistency that too many of my predecessors died to invent. I fly like my family is on the plane. Always. I have never violated bottle to throttle regulations. Ever. And my personal restrictions are more stringent than those of the FAA. Booze is consumed within these scribblings, but never at the expense of safety.
That said, let’s talk Follies. I am not funny. My wife tells me this often and with great conviction. Her judgment may be tainted by a disproportionate joy in children’s jokes, but that doesn’t necessarily make her wrong. I like to think that I’m just less funny in person.

In 10th grade history, an actually smart kid named Paul wrote in my yearbook. Told me never to stop making mountains out of mole hills. His point was I have a talent for blowing irrelevant details completely out of proportion to the greater loss of the story, history and reason.

I am not a big picture guy. I am staring at an anthill with a flashlight while the wildebeests stampede all around me. I’ve always loved the idea that if you pull hard enough on a single thread, (almost) any experience will unravel into funny. Just about anything is funny if you hold it up, flip it over and discover it has an anus. If you stare at an anthill long enough, you start to see things. Delicate patterns of random purpose, and if you flip an ant over and look really close, I’ll bet it probably has an anus or two.

Anuses aside, there is no plot here. No character development. No moral rectitude in a little red wagon of difficult life choices. These are just things that happened to and around me. I’ve done my best to spin these stiff pubic threads into yarn. Knit a sweater of ridiculous circumstance. Sure the sleeves are too short, but the reindeer have to count for something.

The Follies were written on the notepad on my iPhone. (Making me the first person in history to write a book in the stupidest manner possible, since using a chisel and tablet would be marginally faster. I know. I tried it.) Maybe that’s why I can write them down. The writing takes so long that by the time I manage to finish a thought, I’ve sifted through the same moment so many times it’s been reduced to its basic compounds: wheat, chaff, and anuses. And there’s always an anus.

This is not a book about flying. It’s not really even about being an Airline Pilot. This is more about the negative space that surrounds the job. People are funny. Airplanes have no sense of humor. Flying is a discipline that is very unforgiving of error and detests surprise. Not funny at all in other words.
Flying people from A to B is a great job, but there’s not a lot of room for funny in task. And let’s face it, a thrilling tale of 5 hours at cruise on autopilot is not even interesting to me. If you picked this up hoping for an intelligent, in-depth peek into the world of flying airliners for a living, maybe something from the Ernest K. Gahn spring collection would be a better fit.

A word on profanity. (Lots!) This book is awash in profanity because my limited skill does not afford me the architectural prowess to craft something more poignant than “fuck,” “fucktard” or “fucking hell.” These ostracized juggernauts convey far more than their literal definition. A complete portrait of a man can be painted with “douchebag.” Saves time. Saves paper. So it’s good for the environment. I’m doing the Earth a favor. You’re welcome.

It is not my intention to degrade or denigrate this profession or the men and women who dedicate their lives to it. We have all worked long and hard to be where we are and I’m honored to count myself among such a group. (I’m the one on the end with his eyes closed and his fly open. On the left, see? Oh. Wait. That’s not me. I wasn’t there on picture day.)

Pilots are smart dedicated people with a fine sense of humor about everything but themselves. Well here’s to you ladies and gents, a fresh batch of anuses, straight from the oven. True events, start to finish. Unless you’re offended or it might get me into trouble, in which case I made the whole thing up.

Pilot X

This Is the House that Jack Built


Day 1

Up at 0515. Get ready in the dark. Wade through a cacophony of really unnecessarily loud toys. My car has decided to go for broke in the Shittiest Conveyance on the Planet competition. A/C has eloped back to Mexico with the oxygen sensor for the catalectic converter. The transmission is lonely and rattle – sobs whenever I push in the clutch. I hate my car.

At check in I discover the first leg is a deadhead to MCO. At least I can sleep. Gate agent gives me an aisle seat. I plant myself by the window and close my eyes. “That’s mine.” I open my eyes. Self-inflicted high and tight. (Look ma, no mirror!) Velour shirt. Randy Jackson wrist clock. Cargo pants. He looks like he’s about to say, “Torturing small animals doesn’t really do it for me anymore.” I’m not about to argue with a watch of that magnitude. I move to my aisle seat.

I close my eyes again so I don’t have to say “hi” or nod to every single passenger. If I hear one more joke about how you can’t fly the plane from back here, I’m going to start biting kneecaps. Just as I’m drifting off someone hauls off and punches me in the face. I see stars. A mumuamorph with a clear plastic purse the size of gym bag has clocked me and apparently everyone in front of me judging from the crop of stares following her passage. She is winded from the safari from row 1 to 11, and it’s a long way to 15. I let it go. As is my custom, I fall asleep at the gate and wake up at wheels up. At least it’s only an hour.

In MCO meet up with the Capt. He looks older, but is probably younger than me. About a 6 on the Quaffer Scale. Fair amount of product. Perfectly groomed hair. Hat stuffed in his bag because he doesn’t want to muss the magnificence, but is too much of a pussy to leave it at home on the off chance he’ll be spotted by management. But overall pretty chill.

We exchange first date pleasantries at cruise for SJU. He’s divorced. (No surprise). No kids. (Surprise.) Lives in FLL. Trying to capitalize on the “Cash for Clunkers” program by buying a clunker and trading it in on a new Porsche. Enthusiastically strange – fucking his way through his late 40’s. Pretty standard, really. The miles between SJU and then BWI pass in a whimsical potpourri of tedium.

Day 2

Early show. End up in SAN. Capt. has a friend pick us up. His Mercedes is nicer than the hotel shuttle. They both say “dude” a lot. We go to the Hilton. The girl at the front desk asks what name our reservation is under. I resist the urge to look down at my uniform in a “Join me in not being retarded” gesture. Turns out we stay at the Sheraton now. Would have known that had I bothered to read my pairing. Back in the car. Drive 2 doors down. The Sheraton van driver is still waiting for us at the airport.

Call my cousin-in-law. (We’ll call him Kurt since it’s his real name.) Year 2 at SD state. First apartment. Requisite trip to Ikea with The Keeper of the Credit Card. I tag along for 3 hours of well-lit Swedish efficiency.

Cram the bed/couch, bureau, bookshelf, desk and lamps into Mom’s X3 and oragami in around the boxes for the ride to student housing. Lots of stairs for carrying heavy boxes. I really didn’t think this through.

Three bedrooms built on 2/3 human scale. The whole place is probably less than 900 sq. ft. Diorama of off-campus malaise. Lots and lots of brown. I force myself to not hunch. The wildly gyrating ceiling fan makes the pull bobs jiggle in a disturbingly organic way. Clickclickclickclickclick…… I decide a demonstration of manly prowess is in order. Break the seal on his first all-in-one tool kit. (Moment of reverent silence.) Pull the blades and housing. Tighten things that are already tight. Put it back together. I think it’s worse now. Reward myself with a few of the roommate’s beers.

They drop me back at the hotel. I call my ex-sister-in-law. Her boyfriend gave me one of my most cherished possessions. He works for the Girl Scouts. Last year they had a 6 week mustache growing contest to raise money for underprivileged girls to attend camp. He took first place. They all got shirts. He gave me his. It has a huge glorious “Selleck” on the front and says “Mustaches for Girl Scouts!” bannered underneath. Breathtaking. People stare at me a lot. We decide to go to dinner.

I wait outside with my gift of Tecate. The Capt. and buddy return from an ill-fated afternoon troll. It’s a bad catch. They may be new to heterosexuality. Just because it’s on the hook doesn’t mean you should eat it: 2 Shetland muffin-tops teetering on stacked heels and sheathed in an alarming amount of matching bedazzled denim. They don’t speak so good English. I suggest a little background C-Span as a counterbalance to what is clearly shaping up to be a titanic lapse in faculty and judgment. Make a mental note to wipe down the controls tomorrow.

Day 3

Capt. recounts a disturbing tale of dual queen bed parallel penetration. Consider putting in for OJI based on mental trauma. He has those kissy zits near his mouth you get from making out with bacon. Maybe it’s herpes.

On with Chicago Center, we get this:

“<<Callsign>> xxx, for traffic turn left heading 010.”

We do. Then, “<<Callsign>> xxx you’re not going to believe this. For traffic come further left heading 008.”

“……. Ok.”

“Can you believe the next controller wouldn’t take the handoff unless I turned you another 2 degrees? Welcome to Chicago.”

Slam dunk crossing restriction to cross EEG (a navigation fix) at 19,000. VNAV says its 4500fpm to target. We hit 5200fpm. That’s coming down vertically at a mile a minute for you lay-folk. I can hear people and things rolling into the cockpit door. Cleared for the visual at 7000. Another slam dunk. I sing “I’m gonna put down the gear” to the tune of “I love a parade.” The Capt. laughs.

“No seriously. Gear down.”

Get holding going into LGA. We have no assigned alternate, and no scheduled hold fuel, so we don’t have gas for this. I fucking hate the northeast. We orbit for about 15 minutes. Maybe 5 minutes from bingo, controller clears us right 360 direct. Making the airplane turn 360 with the autopilot on is absurdly labor intensive. Get a BLEED TRIP OFF. Reset it. Trips again. Won’t reset. Write it up on the ground.

At the hotel, Capt. wants to go to Joey’s Place. Sports bar not far away. Two of the FAs want to go too. I change and head for the lobby. Wait for the Capt. for about 10 minutes. Call his room. He’s not going. Maybe the shampoo and little comb routine is more time consuming than I thought.

Joey’s is narrow, dark and loud. The jukebox has a startling variety. Someone puts on the Batman theme. Affixed to the bar is a very loud Jack. Jack is very drunk. Jack is an engineer. (HVAC) Jack is Irish. (Born in Belfast. Moved to Queens when he was 11.) Jack is short and smokes Parliaments. Jack clearly thinks something about women that I don’t because he tees off into the flight attendants with, “You two girls lesbians? Which one of you is a lesbian? You girls are so fucking hot. What are your fucking names?” Jack can not retain their names. I stop counting after he asks for their names for the 12th time. “I love that fucking bra strap.”

Jack plays golf. Shot an 81 this morning. Lets it slip that he holds the club crossover.

“Wait. What? Why the fuck would you do that?”

“It’s from hurling.” He doesn’t look bulimic.


“Hurling.” He says by way of explanation.

“You mean that Canadian game with the brooms?”

“Nah. That’s Curling.”

‘What. Is. Hurling?’

Says it’s an Irish game from Celtic times. Sort of cross between Rugby and Lacrosse. I don’t believe him. Barring Aboriginal Beetle Jousting, I thought I had heard of most real sports. Borrow the FA’s phone to look it up. (Blackberries suck balls by the way.) It’s true. It’s a fucking weird game, but it’s true. Jack demonstrates his signature crossover chopping move repeatedly, as though this will jar something loose in my addled mind and I will know what the fuck he’s talking about.

Ever the tactician, Jack continues his romantic campaign on the FAs. “You got a boyfriend? What’s his name?” Turns out the boyfriend’s name is Kelly. This is unfortunate because Jack likes this name and the girls get to take turns being Kelly now. “You need to brush your teeth!” He advises the Kelly who looks like Marsha Brady from about 10 feet away. The bar is loud, so he almost screams this. I look at Marsha to see if she’s ready to go home with him now. What do I know? It’s been a long time since I dated. Maybe this kind of shit drives the ladies wild nowadays.

He makes “fill my dog dish” head bobs at his beer. I buy him a round. The bartender looks me like I’m a big boy and if I want to stick my dick in the blender, well that’s my business. I order a whiskey. Marsha (Kelly #2) wants to try it. It’s like watching a child drink Drano. If it’s possible to make a more disgusted face and not vomit, I haven’t seen it. I think she might have enjoyed “Two Girls One Cup” just a little bit more.

Day 4

Spend a long time in the gym because we don’t leave for home until 1800. A guy comes in to use the treadmill. He must work here because I’ve seen him before. Black fanny pack over a black pair of those pegged workout pants that were the height of douche strength fashion in 1988. Black Reebok hi-tops with the little ankle straps dangling. Black wife-beater. Long, slick ponytail. A cut version of Steven Segal. I don’t know what virulent strain of ferocious optimism is required to leave the house like this, but I’ll bet it can be surgically removed.

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