Ladies & Gentleman, This is uh – your Pilot?

It is a little humiliating to share my first P.A. with you as a new pilot with Air Canada.  Being a Fighter Pilot, this skill was not part of my portfolio.  You can imagine, I was anxious to do it just right. The plane was a Boeing 727 and I was the third pilot.  Sitting sideways as a Flight Engineer wasn’t the biggest thrill after the ethereal excitement of flying F-18’s but it was a starting position in a great new career.  Our 137 passengers were enroute from Ottawa to Edmonton and I was going to provide them with an update on our route.  Being prepared, I wrote my script about an hour early so I would have time to practice and complete my many systems checks prior to the grand oration.


‘Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, I would like to give you an update from the cockpit.  We are at 35,000’ over Lake Winnipeg and our time to destination is 2 hours and 10 minutes. The latest weather is … blah blah blah.’


It was written, read and rehearsed in my head until I was certain I would do the company and most of all my entire crew, proud.  So, time passed and I eventually picked up the mic – and gave it my best.  I was quite proud, as it went well with no uhhs and or lengthy pauses. I even did the translation into French.  So feeling relieved, I continued my duties and light conversation with the other two pilots.


Then the flight attendant came up and asked if we had a map.  A map?  We’re pilots! Of course, why would she ask that?  They were actually aeronautical charts but they provided us our position and we knew exactly where we were.  This was before GPS, I might smugly add.  Then she said, never mind – it is just there is a German tourist onboard and he thinks of himself as a pretty good navigator and wondered where we were.


When she left, I leaned forward to glanced outside from my heavily instrumented side panel console.


My heart sank.


We were not anywhere near Lake Winnipeg – yet!  I had picked up my personal script early and rattled it off while over the numerous tiny lakes of Northwest Ontario.


I can’t remember if I confessed my error to the others. I think I did and they laughed it off – but I never forgot that day.  Could that be a lesson for prepare and then prepare again? Or was it simply a lesson to prepare, then sit back and assess all of the environmental and external variables before pick up the mic?

Pilot Announcements Part 1

I didn’t always know much about public speaking but as an Airline Pilot I did know how NOT to make an announcement.

“Ladies and Gentlemen: I hope you are enjoying your flight.  For those of you on the right side of the aircraft, you have a magnificent view of Niagara Falls.  One of nature’s greatest wonders. Notice from your unique vantage point that you can take in all of it’s glorious splendour – yada yada….  And for those of you on the left side of the aircraft?  Well … you should have booked your seat on the right.”

Funny but – to isolate a portion of your audience is both unfair and breaks trust.  And in the airline business, the marketing leverage of the pilot is – trust.

I also got a kick out of a story where the pilot of a smaller airliner encouraged all to  take a peak out the right window and with caution but curiosity, the passengers unstrapped and stepped across the aisle leaning on their neighbor’s armrest to catch the view.  When most were in position, he banked the aircraft to the right and proclaimed with urgency – ‘Not all at once!’.  A terrible practical joke to nervous passengers –

Building trust?  Hmm.

Until next time,  ‘Fasten your Seat belts, sit back and relax..”

Pilot Uniforms

Do you know the reason for the airline pilot uniform – and a hat?

I did some research on uniforms.  After all, I spent most of my professional life in one.  Air Force, airlines and even the unique executive business jet uniforms were either in my closet, in my suitcase or on my back for as long as I can remember.

(Oh – the laundry too, I guess?)

My final career outfit was unique.  A VVIP Pilot.  No hat, no tie. Black on black with black accessories. Or as once explained to me; Ralph Lauren meets Hugo Boss in a sort of Nightclub Bouncer kind of way.  It was comfortable, discreet and very sharp, especially for our crews that had a 29 inch waste.  Regrettably, that number departed my wardrobe more than 30 years ago.

Still, a uniformed pilot will always be present – and for many good reasons.  The objectives of Military uniforms include creating a sense of unity and belonging.

However, for other professions such as Police, Fire Fighters and Ship Captains or Aircraft Commanders, the objective is primarily to display authority, professionalism, confidence and for their customers – trust.

We are social animals and certain images trigger a gut response. The objective in this standardized clothing choice is to provide a level of comfort and respect to the observer. Seeing a properly uniformed pilot with an image of professionalism gives passengers that needed feeling of security that their lives are in good hands.

If that is true, then how would they feel about viewing a poorly fitted and improperly warn uniform and what gut feel might that invoke?  This isn’t a discussion about pride and hygiene, but about the fundamental needs of the customer.  For the Airlines, it is about business.  In your business, does appearance have any impact on your customers trust in you?  It is something we should all think about if we are to persuade our customers to be comfortable with our services.

Next… What about that first public announcement as an Airline pilot?

Turning Adversity into Adventure

In the last post, we discussed the ‘Circle of Concern’, made smaller by the ‘Circle of Influence’1.  I will likely discuss this further in a later post, but for now I promised to reflect on what I coin ‘Turning Adversity into Adventure’.  This simple slogan helped my wife and me to change our paradigm and ease the stress of a pending layoff.  It worked so well, I have used it several times when faced with problems that seemed to be moving outside my circle of influence, but was clearly well planted in my growing circle of concerns.


Air Canada was going through a pilot downsizing and after 7 years of service, my seniority had withered so that I was no longer on the active pilot list.  Initially there was job sharing, but my days were numbered.  A layoff seemed imminent and we needed to make some plans.


I drew out a worst-case scenario. It foretold of a forced move to Toronto and then possibly losing the position anyway in further downsizing.   So, I proposed an alternative approach to my family.  I suggested that if furloughed, we sell the house, cars, toys, etc. – and home school our two boys – aged 10 and 7 – on a sailboat we would live aboard in the Caribbean.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  Doable?


We were going to find out.


We started to research and spoke with friends who had chosen this lifestyle and we made a startling discovery.


The ongoing dream building not only inspired us, but also relieved our stress about the lesser alternatives.  It was this dreaming and planning that made the situation no longer unbearable but truly exciting and wondrous.  Whether we went for it or not, didn’t matter.  (Spoiler alert!) In fact we never did go.    Aw!   It didn’t matter.  The exercise of daring to dream, to take control of our own destiny, to never allow the bad cards sent our way ruin our dreams, enabled us to find new paths of joy and fulfillment.  It was my Grandfather that instilled this fantasy-like imagination in my Mom, which I suppose was then passed on to me.  I firmly believe that fantasy should be taken very seriously and can often be translated into a reality beyond any normal expectation.


That adventure came close.  Others did materialize and these transformed our world in ways that could have only been possible by taking the courage to dream big.  In later stories, I will share some incredible adventures that occurred precisely as a result of this philosophy and practice.


What adversity have you experienced and how did you cope?


Note: I appreciate that some life events are so horrific and debilitating that the motivation required to turn them around is beyond most expectations. For those my heart goes out and perhaps this is not the strategy we would choose.  But when you can find an alternative to external circumstances that seem to oppress or direct your life in the wrong path, then perhaps the thought – and practice – of taking the helm and steering for adventure is just what you need.


I welcome your comments below.


1.   Stephen Covey – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People