Of all the things you have to trust when flying, I think the pilot is at the top of the list.

As for the plane itself, well, no matter what model of aircraft you're on, it's likely been through thousands and thousands of flight hours. The airline? Well, it is what it is. But the pilot--the individual person (really two individual people) handling the controls at the front of the plane?

That's what we call the human factor. You have to believe they're level headed and diligent  and that they know what they're doing.

There are some amazing pilots out there--for example, the ones who landed a United Airlines Bombardier CRJ-200 in a storm in Washington last week, while "pretty much everyone on the plane threw up," and the pilots "were on the verge of throwing up."

And there are the ones like the pilot of an American Airlines flight this week who allegedly got into a physical fight with his own airline's ground crew, was arrested, and now can't leave the country until his case is settled.

Before we go further, consider the lesson this admittedly crazy story drives home from a leadership perspective. According to reports, this pilot has been flying with the airline for 32 years. It's entirely possible that he's one of the most competent pilots in the fleet, at least from a technical perspective. 

But all of that goes out the window, or down the jetway, with just a single (that we know of) ill-tempered episode of bad judgment--never mind the alleged violence.

I've written before about the experience I had when a pilot on a puddle-jumper in bad weather announced to the passengers that landing was going to be rough, but he wanted to "give it a try" instead of diverting.

(Short version: near mutiny, all because the pilot's choice of words made him sound flippant and unprofessional.)

A leader--and especially a captain piloting a jet airplane at 30,000 feet-- has not only to be a leader, but he also has to act like one. The people he's leading--in this case passengers and crew--need to make snap judgments on whether they trust him.

And if the reports from this flight are true, this American Airlines captain failed miserably.

So here's what allegedly happened:

The flight was AA 930 from Sao Paulo to Miami, and the alleged actions of the 59-year-old captain, an American, wound up keeping a Boeing 777-full of passengers on the ground for 27 extra hours--yes, as in, more than a full extra day.

The dispute arose after the plane's co-pilot had tried to adjust the "finger," which is apparently what they call the jetway leading from the terminal to the airplane in Brazil.

The pilot/captain went to help his copilot, and a woman who works for American as an operations agent apparently tried to tell him she thought the jetway was already in the correct location.

Reportedly, she "inadvertently" stepped on the pilot's foot, and got into a short verbal altercation with him. Then, as the Daily Mail explained, things escalated quickly:

Witnesses claimed the pilot then pushed the victim and grabbed her by the neck. An airport maintenance worker who was on the scene at the time saw the altercation and intervened.

In his defense, the captain claimed the airport attendant tried to punch him. However, the co-pilot has not confirmed this version of events.

In a statement to police, the victim said the "pilot had pushed her and grabbed her around the neck."

Now, he might be stranded in Brazil a lot longer. He's facing a possible prison sentence of between three months and a year for assault--as the Brazilian law terms it, "offending the bodily integrity or health of another."

An American Airlines statement in the Mail that confirms that "two crew members were engaged in a discussion in the tunnel that connects a platform to the plane," and then jumps to the part where "the authorities are now in charge of the case and providing support to staff members."

Passengers were given hotel accommodations and meal vouchers, and flew out on other flights, the airline said. "We apologize to our customers for the problem."

As Gary Neff at View From the Wing points out, this isn't actually the first time in recent memory that an airline made news because of a fight of some kind between airline crew members.

Back in 2015, a United Express flight scheduled to go from Lubbock, Texas, to Houston was delayed for five hours after a flight attendant reportedly told passengers that the "pilot and co-pilot [were] in dispute and she [didn't] feel safe flying," and asked if the passengers agreed.

It's not clear whether there was an alleged physical altercation or just verbal in this 2015 case, but afterward the pilot and co-pilot were said to have been upset at the passengers, "demanding to know who said they were fighting."

In the end, the police showed up, the passengers were removed from the plane, and everyone had to wait around for another plane to show up, with new pilots.

New pilots, apparently, with better tempers--and a little more deserving of their passengers' faith. 

Published on: Mar 9, 2018
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