CRJ200 Airline Pilot

The personal experiences, thoughts of an CRJ captain


Posts Tagged ‘Captain’

5 Things To Do When A Flight Is Delayed

Posted by Jeffrey on October 27, 2008

The other day could have been a mess! During pushback we started the engines and when the electrical system switched power from the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to the Main Engine Generators there was a hiccup. Ding! A single-chime Master Caution and the associated caution message appeared on PFD1.

Other than canceling the alarm, what do you think was one of the first things that I did? If you guessed that I communicated with my first officer, talked to the passengers and the flight attendant, and then set to work fixing the problem, you would be right.

Communicating was my highest priority in a situation like that. All in all, it took about 20 minutes to sort the problem out and then we were on our way. In that time I made two announcements; one to tell my passengers explaining what the problem was and another to tell them we had sorted out the situation and update them our arrival time would be in LAX. Everyone was happy…happy enough anyway!

On another occasion, we pushed back from the gate in Cincinnati (CVG) and we were issued an EDCT time to Chicago (ORD). We parked the airplane on a taxiway and then waited…and waited…and waited. THEN, about the time we were going to start up our engines for departure, we were notified by ATC that our EDCT time was pushed back even further, so we decided to head back to the gate so that passengers could make other arrangements if they needed to. During this whole time, even when nothing had changed, I talked to my crew and the passengers often.

Again, although everyone was frustrated by the delay, they were appreciative for being kept informed.

Your Responsibility During a Delay

It is vitally important that the passengers know what is going on and it’s YOUR responsibility as the captain to tell them. Certainly some passengers aren’t going to care but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell them. Passengers these days expect everything to go seamlessly and hate being kept out of the loop when things don’t go right. And like it or not, we are in a service industry and customer service plays a BIGGER part in commercial aviation now more than ever before. So smile, even when it hurts!

If you will, think about a personal experience when you went somewhere that required service, like a restaurant or department store. How was the customer service? Did the waiter talk to you? If your food was running a little slow, did the waiter let you know? How did you feel during this “waiting” period? If you weren’t being kept informed, you were probably getting agitated and you stopped enjoying yourself. On the other hand, if you were being kept informed, you probably felt much more relaxed.

It’s all part of customer service and it affects either the positive or negative image that that passengers has of that particular flight and of your airline.

In a flight delay situations, it’s not just the captain’s responsibility to keep the passengers informed. You have a crew and communication with them is essential as well. By briefing your crew regarding what you want them to do if a flight is delayed keeps your team informed and empowers them to do a good customer service job as well.

How Do You Make An Announcement

“Mic Fright” is one of the scariest things in the world for a lot of people. When you talk on the PA do you sound like loser, hemming and hawing, using “uhs” and “ums” as you work your way through the announcement or do you display poise and confidence? Do you prepare your announcement before you start to speak? Right before I make my announcement, I turn of the flight deck speakers, take a deep breath and r-e-l-a-x. This allows me to focus on what I’m about to say. My goal is to come across in such a way that the passengers will listen to what I’m saying.

If you have to talk on the PA, first, do it quickly and decisively with a strong voice and the tone of authority. A wimpy sounding captain is like a wimpy handshake, no body likes them. Be succinct, precise, and empathetic when you make your announcements because it helps to calm your passengers. Now is not the time to sound exasperated by the situation, vent your frustrations, or put down the “system.”

And, if the opportunity presents itself, use the flight attendants PA and talk directly to the passengers. It’s amazing how responsive your passengers will be if you take this little extra step.

How Often Should You Make An Announcement

I believe PA announcements to passengers should be done about every 15 to 20 minutes, but obviously it depends on the situation. Sometimes I start out at 15 minutes, then my next announcement is at 20 minutes, and then my next announcement is at 25 minutes. I rarely stay on the taxiway for more than hour, so this works out fairly well. Too many announcements can be too much of a good thing.

Five Things to Consider

Here is my list of five things you can do if you experience a delay and need to make an announcement:

  1. Communicate with your crew and passengers in a timely manner
  2. Use an authoritative voice absent of frustration
  3. Take a moment to mentally prepare your announcement in your head, then, take a deep breath right before you start
  4. Be succinct, precise, and empathetic as you say your announcement remembering who your audience is and what they are going through
  5. Cut out the the hemming and hawing and “uhs” and “ums,” they are very distracting

As always this is a my list and I’m sure you can add a few more important items. I would like to hear your suggestions.

One final thought. Remember, as the captain you are responsible for your airplane, crew, and passengers. This includes more than flying profile and conserving fuel, it includes making sure that your passengers have a good experience during their flight and one way to do that is to make sure you communicate with them in a timely manner if something doesn’t goes as planned.

As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on this or any of the topics. Till next time…

P.S. As always I like to include one book to help you become a better captain. This book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High is easy to read and has some very useful ideas that you may not have thought about before when you are dealing with passengers. Pick it up today so you can start benefiting from the insights presented in this book.

Other articles you might be interested in:


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Empathy and Connecting With Passengers

Posted by Jeffrey on October 13, 2008

Do you know how to empathize with your passengers?

Did you know that there is a difference between empathy and sympathy?

Webster defines empathy as:

“…the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” or “seeing things through someone else’s eyes.” 

Sympathy on the other hand is:

“…the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another .”

There is an ever-so-slight difference between the two. Empathy is based on “understanding” what the person is going through without being emotionally involved. Sympathy on the other hand is the process of actually taking on the burden of what the person is experiencing.

Think of a policeman. When a policeman is doing his job, which at times is difficult because they must interact personally with people going through trying events, they must “understand” and be “sensitive” to the situation at hand without getting emotionally involved in the situation. Once you get emotionally involved in a trying situation, you have now lost control of the event. With empathy, a policeman can maintain personal contact with the person, since they are human after all, but still effectively control the situation.

As an airline pilot, whether a captain, first officer, or flight attendant, the same personal control applies. When flights are delayed or cancelled, remaining professional will always help you get through the event. Medical emergencies are another event that requires you remain professional and empathetic because that is what will help you work through the situation.

To me, being empathetic has a calming affect. I can concentrate better on the things I need to get done IF I don’t get emotionally involved in the situation.

On one occasion, we diverted back to Grand Junction (GJT) because of thunderstorms in Salt Lake City. Most the passengers were OK with the diversion because I kept them informed on the weather in SLC and the procedure for getting them to their destination. One lady though was inconsolable. She progressed from logical to demanding to hysterical within an hour. Put on top of it all, I was having my yearly line check and my first officer was near to useless, I was under a lot of stress as well. To control the situation, I had to detach myself from this lady’s personal problems and not get involved. I could “understand” what she was going through and project that image to her but I could not get emotionally involved. It is a constant process of checking yourself, self-talk, and slowing down that will get you through such a situation. Eventually, because the lady was now starting to upset the other passengers, she was removed from the flight.

Do you need to cultivate your “empathy?” You sure do!

Here are a few practical tips that may help:

  1. Truly listen to people. Open your ears, close your mouth, and look at the person. Fight back the urge to formulate your next response and just listen. Watch their body language, listen to the tone of their voice, and really try to understand what it is they are trying to say.
  2.  Don’t interrupt people. Don’t dismiss their concerns offhand. Don’t rush to give advice. Don’t change the subject. Allow people THEIR moment.
  3. Tune in to non-verbal communication. This is the way that people often communicate what they REALLY think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something quite different.
  4. Be aware of what your body is doing. As I mentioned in another entry, 93% of what you say comes from your tone and body language. Relax your body and let your body “listen” to what the person is saying.
  5. Use their name. Try to use it at least five times when you are talking to them. Don’t do it obnoxiously though.
  6. Don’t let other distractions like your cell phone or email distract you from giving that person your undivided attention.
  7. Smile…and not just with your face but with your eyes as well.
  8. Give recognition and praise freely.
  9. Take an interest in the people you interact with. I try to ask everyone I meet three personal (but not too personal) questions about their life, hobbies, family, etc. This shows that you are interested in that person as a human and friend. Obviously you can’t do that with passengers but you can connect with them in other ways.

Alright, so I hope that helps. And remember, one measure of a person is how they treat someone who is absolutely no use to them. In all likelihood, you will never see your passengers again, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to connect with them and leave them with the best flying experience that they ever had. We are in the customer service industry and using empathy is one tool that will help passengers think more highly of those in the aviation industry.

Till next time…

P.S. Here are a few books to add to your library. Remember, growing as a captain is a never ending process!

Posted in Captain Insights | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Unshaven, Bad Shoes, and Backpacks

Posted by Jeffrey on October 2, 2008

There once was a time when pilots were the standard of sharpness. Their suits looked nice, their hair was cut, they were clean shaven, they were fit, and they didn’t carry around backpacks. So it ercks me to no end when I see my profession eroded by pilots who don’t maintain professional standards. It doesn’t help that other captains tolerate it and don’t say a word, not does it help that chief pilots see it in crew rooms and never address it.

When I was a flight instructor, even though I worked in the sweltering humidity of Florida, I shaved for work every day and had clean clothes. As a captain, again, I shave every day I work, make sure my shirt looks nice and pressed, my hair is cut, shoes are clean and that I look professional.

Over the last two years, I have had to tell several of my First Officers that they needed to shave. Don’t know why that is. You would think that based on the nature of the job and in the interest of professionalism it would be an unspoken and expected action. Take a TSA screeners for example. Have you ever looked at some of these folks? Sloppy. Crazy haircuts. Piercings. The list goes on. I don’t mean all TSA screeners are like this, it’s just what I’m familiar with. An unprofessional appearance sets the tone for what people expect. Police officers and military personnel are good examples of professional appearance.

And lately, I’ve seen the emergence of pilots, both captains and first officers, walking around with backpacks on. Really! This isn’t a school campus. I’ve also seen pilots have the backpack on that straps over the shoulder to the waist. Not very professional looking. I’ve also seen pilots carrying around a guitar which really makes me wonder.

I’ve also seen pilots carrying around as many as FIVE bags. Why? What do you have to carry that requires so many bags? I can understand flight attendants carrying a lot of bags, it’s in their nature. Not all but some. Your overnight bag, your flight bag, maybe a lunch bag, and maybe a compact computer bag. But five bags is a bit excessive. And if you are going to carry so many bags, make sure they look professional. Wild red bags sends up a wild red warning that you aren’t professional.

It’s amazing to me though that even though the majors are in disarray, THEIR pilots still look nice. Some are overweight and some are pack rats but MOST look professional.

So if you are a pilot or you want to be a pilot, consider what professionalism means to you. Look to others as examples and emulate the ones you like and discard the ones you don’t like. Pick up a book on professionalism like “Work and Integrity” and study it.

Till next time…

P.S. And don’t forget to subscribe to Almost the Speed of Sound for constant updates.

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What Did You Just NOT Say?

Posted by Jeffrey on September 24, 2008

Has this ever happened to you? You are talking with someone and suddenly they look away and focus on something else. Yeah, me too. In fact, it is me sometimes that looks away. Why? Why do we do that? Are we bored? Are we afraid we are going to miss out on something MORE important than what is happening right then and there? What does that tell the other person? Are we telling that person that they really aren’t that important. In a way, yeah!

As an airline captain, I like to get all my preflight work done early so that when the passengers start to board, I can be waiting at the main cabin door and greet them. It may be the worst day ever, but I still get up there, I smile, I make small talk, and occasionally talk to the first class passengers.

I do this for a few reasons. I believe that people want to see the captain. They want to see who they are entrusting their life and their family too. It makes them feel “appreciated” seeing a nicely dressed captain smiling and confident when there is a snow storm raging and your late already greeting them as they come on the airplane.

I also stand in front because it seems to make the boarding process go a little faster. When the captain is standing there, people aren’t necessarily as rude as they can be when flying commercially. And I’ve seen some nasty people. It also supports the flight attendant by taking some of the responsibility of the boarding process.

So I guess what I’m really talking about is presence and body language. There is a difference between just standing there and standing there projecting confidence and commandability. By understanding your body language and the body language of others, you will be able to more effectively communicate with you passengers and your crew.

So what makes up body language?

Movements, gestures, facial expressions to name a few. If you are aware of these things, you can control your projection and be able to read people better which ultimately improves communication.

How much do we communicate verbally?

Surprisingly very little. Only 7% of our words are communicated verbally. 38% is communicated through our voice, i.e, tone, pitch, etc. An amazing 55% is communicated through non-verbal language.

You can see that if you aren’t careful, you could be saying one thing with your voice and words and a totally different thing with your body.

When I’m at the flight deck door greeting people, it is so easy to cross my arms and greet. It’s comfortable but it sends the wrong signal. If I saw me, I would think that though he is smiling and seems grateful, he really just wants us off the airplane. A better posture to take would be to stand tall, lower my hands to either the side or in front of me and smile. It’s is a much more open stance.

Here are few other things that project confidence:

  • Posture – standing tall, shoulders square
  • Eye Contact – smile with your eyes
  • Gesture with Hands and Arms – palms for forward
  • Speech – open mouth and take it slow thinking before you speak
  • Tone – Never raise your voice rathere keep it controlled

Here are some things NOT to do:

  • Don’t make yourself small by keeping your hands and arms close to your body
  • Don’t make your face stoic and stern
  • Don’t turn away from customers when talking to them
  • Don’t cross your arms
  • Don’t look away

Can you tell the difference between the “do’s” and “do not’s”? Just writing the “do not’s” I could feel that dark cloud come over my head.

What Can You Do To Improve Your Non-Verbal Communication?

Well, it’s not that hard really. One thing that works for me is to recognize when I’m being closed and just remind myself to open up and focus on the positive things in my life and focus on the “NOW.”

Life gets on me like anyone else. I have my challenges and sometimes I get lost in thought and am probably not as open as I should or could be. When I go to work, I park as far away from the crew room as possible so that I will have time to walk and “readjust” my thought process. I remind myself that I am the captain and that I will be setting the tone for the next couple days. I remind myself that I have to focus on the positive and project a confident, open personality. I do this for any situation that will require interaction.

Being a good captain means more than just being a good pilot, you have to be a good ambassedor as well, so open up and smile.

Till next time…

P.S. Here is a book you might want to pick up. This book should be in your library. The Definitive Book of Body Language.

Posted in Captain Insights | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Get It Done with Crew Workload Management

Posted by Jeffrey on September 13, 2008

I had a captain once that couldn’t stay in his seat. If the fueler was over-fueling the airplane, HE would jump out of his seat and go talk to the fueler. If the load sheet was wrong, HE would jump out of his seat and talk to the ramper. If there was an “issue” in the back, BOING, out of the seat he went to save the day. I called him the “Jack Rabbit Captain” because he just couldn’t sit in his seat and I saw a problem with this. You see, to me, a captain should delegate and monitor. A captain has responsibilities and a lot to do.

As a leader and pilot-in-command he has a lot to think about and jumping around micromanaging everyone is counterproductive. Here is a list of a few things I think a captain should be thinking about:

  • Delegate tasks and receive acknowledgements. Treat your charges with respect though and don’t be condescending.
  • Establish priorities. Take your time, think about what has to be done, and then work each task of in a logical order.
  • Slow down and recognize task overload. If things start getting out of control put on the brakes and slow it down.
  • Eliminate distractions. Sterile cockpit usually will take care of this one but we all know how difficult it is to remain completely task oriented during sterile cockpit but just remember, there is a time for everything, so throttle back on the conversation during really busy times.
  • Encourage feedback. This is one of the easiest things to do because all you have to say is, “What do you think about…?” Of course, you can change the words but I think you get the gist of it. It has the added benefit of making your crew feel like a team member.
  • Synergy is the operative word. Everyone working together can get more done than just working solo.

I’ve seen captains that alienate their crews and as a result loss control of their crews. Don’t let that happen. A trip goes better when the captain leads and treats everyone fairly. Be personable but don’t let personal issues get in the way. Keep it professional and remember it’s a job with a lot of responsibility. Get the job done!

Till next time…

P.S. I’d like to recommend The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for your library. If you are serious about becoming a better captain, read this book!

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