The pilot cares the least


Share on LinkedIn

So, here’s a controversial statement, but keep in mind what I’m not saying*:  Usually, your flight crew, including the pilot, is the least motivated people on the plane to get where you’re going, let alone on time.

This occurred to me last year when I went on a mileage run.  The same crew that flew me from Denver to Los Angeles was flying me right back again about 45 minutes later on the exact same plane.  Or at least, that was the plan.

After we landed at LAX, I took the chance to check out the airline’s lounge and have a drink.  I was alerted via the app that my return flight was delayed ‘due to weather’ back in Denver.  Hm, really?  I’d just flown from there (and boy were my arms tired!).  Not only was it beautiful when we left, but we hadn’t passed any weather on the way out.  Conditions can change quickly, so I checked my weather app.  It was clear as ever, a beautiful day back home.

Now, my point isn’t necessarily to call shenanigans on those making the decision about the weather, rather for some reason I immediately thought of the pilot.  He surely didn’t have anything to do with it, but he likely didn’t pick up his phone and check his weather app to see if there really was weather like I and probably most passengers had, and neither did anybody else in the crew, I imagine.  That’s because he doesn’t have to care about it in any meaningful way personally.

You see, when you think about it, pilots, flight attendants, and all those folks in the air with you are all simply doing their jobs.  These jobs are important and, for the most part, they all do them well and admirably while also caring about their Customers.  But…

They’re not on the way to visit relatives or friends.  They’re not on the way to that important business meeting to which they simply can’t be late, or headed out on an exciting vacation they don’t want to delay.  They’re not rushing back for an emergency to be with family at a difficult time.

In the case of this particular crew on that day, they were going to get off the plane (some of them, maybe not), do some ground work, and get right back on the plane and fly it back to Denver…just like I was.  But usually, if they’re not doing something like that sort of out-and-back, they’re likely headed to another plane somewhere in the concourse where you landed, doing that ground work, and then boarding that plane to go somewhere else.  They may stick together or split up to each join other crews for the rest of their workday, but one thing is for sure…that next plane (or planes) isn’t going anywhere until they get there.  They won’t miss a connection.

If it’s the end of their shift, they’re headed to a hotel somewhere…usually either right there at the airport or a short shuttle ride away.  And in that case, the airline has standing reservations, and it doesn’t matter if the entire airport’s been shut down and flights canceled so that everybody is looking for a place to stay…they’ll get a room.

This isn’t to pick on them…they’re simply doing their jobs.  And those jobs aren’t easy.  And they probably do prefer the part when they’re in the air…that’s a big reason people go into that field of work, after all.  And if part of your job is to physically go to another city, spend the night, and then go to another city, spend the night there (and so on), of course, your boss puts you up in a hotel, too.  As a consultant, I can relate.  That’s how it works no matter what you do for a living.  Of course, they’re also pretty important parts of the process of flying itself, so they kind of need to be taken care of…not necessarily pampered, but it’s more important that they get a good night’s rest than we do, at least as far as everybody’s safety is concerned.  You’d never want to see a pilot curled up asleep on the floor of an airport concourse…not because it’s unbecoming, but downright frightening.

More to the point, though, it’s that in the grand scheme of things, when they express that they’re sharing your disappointment over a delay or cancellation or sitting out on the tarmac waiting for clearance to take off, they’re just doing their jobs either way.  Let’s not kid ourselves that they’re put out in any comparable way to the passengers.

Likewise, it may frustrate you when the person in front of you at the grocery store pays in pennies or can’t be bothered to help pack his or her own grocery bags or has to run back for ice cream, leaving everybody in the line to wait.  The kid at the checkout stand may even check his watch and shake his head.  But he’s on the clock…paid until the end of his shift whether everybody’s efficient, or everybody’s “that guy.”  Sure, he may express genuine sympathy for your plight, roll his eyes on your behalf.  But he, just like the pilot doesn’t really have a dog in the fight.  He’s just doing his job and gets paid whether or not his Customers are inconvenienced.

All this to say that, yes, sympathy and caring about the plight of your Customers is important to business, especially if you’re Customer-facing or otherwise in a service industry.  There are lessons for both the service providers and the Customers.

As Customers, let’s not forget that they’re doing anything other than their jobs.  They’re being polite, and they probably do care about us as people and Customers.  It’s called humanity for a reason.  On the other hand, they’re dealing with people (like us!) who have personal reasons and our own concerns, and the turning of the crank of doing their day-to-day jobs is somehow translated into being not only responsible for circumstances out of their control, but somehow they’re supposed to give a rip when it really doesn’t actually impact them at all.  That’s quite a mental game to play.

For the service workers, it’s important to be sympathetic and understanding.  Someone blowing up at you for something you can’t do anything about is bound to weigh on you.  But it’s also important to be genuine.  A heavy sigh over the intercom from the cockpit when, in reality, it doesn’t actually matter to you one way or the other isn’t sympathy…it’s mild condescension.

*I’m not saying the pilot, co-pilot, engineer, or any of the flight attendants don’t want to get you there or don’t care at all about you or your experience.  They’re employees of the airline and likely want you to be happy…and they know they’ll take the brunt of it if Customers aren’t.  And yes, obviously, they’re on the same plane, so they’re just as—if not more—concerned about your safety.

Oh, also, of course, pay attention when the purser or flight attendant or pilot announces, “on behalf of your Chicago-based flight crew…”  If you’re headed to Chicago, these folks are headed home, so they’re indeed with you in wanting to get there ASAP.  If, on the other hand, you’re leaving Chicago, this all holds.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB
I’m a Customer Experience executive, certified Process Improvement professional, Agile Scrum Master, dynamic educator, change management strategist, and in-demand business and leadership coach. I've worked from the inside and from the outside; in organizations large and small; public sector and private; from oil and gas to technology to non-profit (with lots in between too). I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen it all.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here