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Pilots learn to speak with care, but still be themselves
Atlanta Journal-Constitution ^ | 11 FEB 2004 | Kirsten Tagami

Posted on 02/11/2004 9:10:26 AM PST by Libertarian444

Pilots learn to speak with care, but still be themselves

By KIRSTEN TAGAMI The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 02/11/04

When he was hired as a Delta Air Lines pilot 18 years ago, Bob Morus got some basic advice about talking on the intercom: speak slowly and avoid jargon or words that might upset passengers, such as "thunderstorm."

No one told him not to talk about Jesus. They didn't have to.

"That's just common sense," said the 47-year-old Morus.

Passengers on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New York were alarmed last weekend when the pilot asked all passengers who were Christians to raise their hands, then suggested that those who didn't speak to those who did about their faith.

The pilot had just returned from a Christian fishing trip to Costa Rica and wanted to share his excitement, according to the airline, which is looking into the much-publicized incident.

Other pilots have been shaking their heads ever since.

Elgin Wells, a Delta pilot from 1946 to 1977, recalls just one pilot saying anything about religion in all his years of flying.

"One of our pilots had become very, very religious," said Wells, 86, of Buckhead.

"We hit a rough patch of turbulence and he got on the intercom and said: 'Well, folks, we're doing all we can do. It's in the hands of the Lord now,' " Wells said, chuckling.

Nowadays most pilots stick to a succinct script of flight progress reports and weather at the destination, delivered in a reassuringly relaxed tone. Some, however, try to be a bit more engaging or entertaining without offending anyone in their captive audience.

At Southwest Airlines, employees are encouraged to ad lib and crack jokes about everything from the weather to flotation devices. Southwest pilots aren't given a list of prohibited subjects, but "the rule is that you only say things that are appropriate," said spokesman Ed Stewart.

One of AirTran Airways' most popular pilots is Michael D. "Mad Dog" Watson, who plays the blues-rock song "Bad to the Bone" on his harmonica at the beginning of flights.

"He makes passengers want to fly with him," said AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson. Regular customers "all know who he is."

In general, though, AirTran aims for something less flamboyant in pilots' public announcements during flights.

"We encourage our pilots to be cheerful, professional and friendly ... but not to give their opinions," said Hutcheson.

He said pilots are encouraged to give weather and flight updates, point out landmarks and give updates on developing news.

"We have some pilots who give the Braves scores ... and you occasionally have a Mets or Yankees fan who is offended," he said. "We still do it."

Many pilots were once in the military and were trained to say very little when they fly, said Ken Adams of Cartersville, who retired from Delta nearly two years ago.

"It's a source of pride if you don't say much during a mission," said Adams, a Navy pilot in Vietnam. "When you get shot at, you want the radio to stay clear so you can warn others."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, and the airline financial slump that followed, some pilots have been a bit more talkative to try to reassure passengers and thank them for their business. But they are also aware that saying much more can quickly put them on thin ice.

Morus, who is based in Los Angeles and doubles as a spokesman for the Delta pilots union, said he thinks very carefully before bringing up any subject besides the weather, landmarks and arrival time.

Recently he noticed a couple of uniformed soldiers boarding his plane. As a former military officer, Morus wanted to recognize the soldiers in some way, but at the same time not show support for the Iraq war, which he opposed.

"So what I said was, 'No matter how you feel about these controversial times, we can all give thanks to the soldiers serving our country,' " Morus said. The passengers applauded.

Delta pilots are given guidelines in their training manuals on what to say and what to avoid, and they also get feedback from other crew members, spokesman John Kennedy said.

"Humor needs to be addressed with great caution," he said.

Kennedy said he isn't aware of any customer complaints regarding pilot announcements and declined to say how Delta would deal with any that arose.

Delta's low-fare unit, Song, tries to generate a more offbeat atmosphere and refers to flight attendants as "the talent." Pilots are also encouraged to show their individuality but not to go overboard, said spokeswoman Stacy Geagan.

"We're fun. We're not funny," she said.

— Russell Grantham contributed to this article.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: spiritualjourney

Morus, who is based in Los Angeles and doubles as a spokesman for the Delta pilots union

As a former military officer, Morus wanted to recognize the soldiers in some way, but at the same time not show support for the Iraq war, which he opposed.

Funny how when little Kirsten needed a pilot's opinion for her story, the first person she found in her rolodex was the spokesman for the union

1 posted on 02/11/2004 9:10:27 AM PST by Libertarian444
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To: Libertarian444
They're right about how Southwestern staff is encouraged to be funny.

But, with reference to the underlying story of a pilot who asked passengers to talk up Christianity, if I had been a passenger I would have been Very Negative. I am nervous enough about flying ... if the pilot suddenly expressed his strong desire that I promptly "get right with God", I would start to think that the plane was gonna crash!

2 posted on 02/11/2004 9:14:44 AM PST by DonQ
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To: Libertarian444
I wonder if we would be having this conversation if the pilot announced he had just returned from Mecca where he had a wonderful time.
3 posted on 02/11/2004 9:20:58 AM PST by cynicom
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To: Libertarian444
Bob Morus got some basic advice about talking on the intercom

They need either aural feedback or more training. Far too often I can't hear what the pilot is saying, sometimes he's way too loud.

4 posted on 02/11/2004 9:32:52 AM PST by Eala (Sacrificing tagline fame for... TRAD ANGLICAN RESOURCE PAGE: http://eala.freeservers.com/anglican)
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To: Libertarian444
Well...I can tell you this. The American Pilot That asked for a Christian head count and refered to those who didn't have their hands raised as " crazy" is a nutball. He has no business in command of an aircraft. If I had been on that aircraft my first thought would have been " My God..were being hijacked."

If The Captain wishes to evangelize then let him do it on his own time and his own wallet. I don't want to fly with ' Captain Evangel, Nutball of the Skies'

Let him pull together investors and create " Jesus Airlines" where Jesus is always the co-pilot.

( and yes...I am a Christian..A staunch Catholic though some of my more bumptious Christian brethren often dispute whether a Catholic is truly a Christian.)
5 posted on 02/11/2004 9:33:21 AM PST by tcuoohjohn (Follow The Money)
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To: Libertarian444
One of AirTran Airways' most popular pilots is Michael D. "Mad Dog" Watson...

LOL - I don't know that I'd want get on a plane piloted by someone named "Mad Dog."

6 posted on 02/11/2004 9:37:20 AM PST by Zack Nguyen
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To: tcuoohjohn
I don't want to fly with ' Captain Evangel, Nutball of the Skies'

I might agree that it was inappropriate under the circumstances, but how can you assume that he's a poor pilot from his statements?

7 posted on 02/11/2004 9:38:33 AM PST by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen
easy...Commanding an aircraft requires, skill, concentration, attention to detail, and sound judgement. If you are musing about the spiritual welfare of your passengers and reflecting on the mental stability of those who don't share your religious zeal then it is a safe bet that your aren't concentrating on the fundamental aspects of flying and passenger safety.

The Captain nearly set off a panic within the aircaft and 64 cell phone calls were logged from the aircraft. Nine of them assumed that a hijack was in progress. This initiated a series of coded Delta-Delta queries to the aircraft which further bewildered the Captain. Tower controllers were perplexed by FAA queries.

Candidly, this Captain lacks the mature judgement needed to command an aircraft. He could well have been the author of a disaster.
8 posted on 02/11/2004 10:10:53 AM PST by tcuoohjohn (Follow The Money)
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To: tcuoohjohn
If you are musing about the spiritual welfare of your passengers and reflecting on the mental stability of those who don't share your religious zeal then it is a safe bet that your aren't concentrating on the fundamental aspects of flying and passenger safety.

I disagree - the guy made an error in judgment and should suffer the consequences. Yet he may be a fantastic pilot. The two may be connected but not necessarily. I'll say he's a bad pilot if someone presents evidence that he is. Bob Knight is an unstoppable jerk, but his worst enemy agrees that he is a fantastic basketball coach.

With regards to the hijacking, I haven't heard that, but I have no idea why someone would assume the plane had been hijacked.

9 posted on 02/11/2004 11:39:07 AM PST by Zack Nguyen
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To: Zack Nguyen
You confuse notional fine piloting skills with command. The Navy has a number of pilots who can curve an F-14D arround a light pole at 500 knts but are not suited to higher command and retire as LCDRS at 19 and 6.

The point is commanding an aircraft isn't only about flying. It is about complete situational control of the environment and appropriate command responsibility.

This Captain may or may not be a great flyer. I don't know.

I do know that he is not a good Captain. A good Captain inspires confidence and quiet cool judgement to his crew and his passengers under even the most dire circumstances.

If you need a template for an extraordinary fine Captain, I would suggest Ret'd United Airlines Captain Al Haynes.

Captain Findiesen caused deep concern and near panic in some of his passengers with his evangelical remarks. Some had concluded that the plane was in the process of being hijacked. It is safe to say that such remarks were a very unusual event on an airliner.

The fact that Captain Findiesen felt compelled to apologize to his crew for his behavior but still thinks it was the right thing to do is also a concern. I am also concerned that Captain Findiesen interpreted the resolution of a minor brake problem on his aircraft as a sign from God to speak to his passengers about his evangelical experiences. This would make Constantine himself blush.. " In Hoc Brakes Vinces" ?

I think not..
10 posted on 02/11/2004 12:06:18 PM PST by tcuoohjohn (Follow The Money)
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To: Zack Nguyen
well..perhaps you haven't heard. Four aircraft were hijacked on 9/11 and two of them were crashed into the WTC and thousands died. This tends to make passengers very concerned with anomalous events on aircraft. I am sure that a request for Christians to raise their hands from the cockpit set off more than a few alarm bells. The record of cell phone calls from the aircraft is moot testimony to the level of concern.

My concern isn't about Captain Findiesen's piloting skills. My concern is with his command judgement.
11 posted on 02/11/2004 12:18:24 PM PST by tcuoohjohn (Follow The Money)
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To: tcuoohjohn
some of my more bumptious Christian brethren often dispute whether a Catholic is truly a Christian

dude....great word.

I echo your sentiments concerning the pilot's judgment. Had I been on that flight, I don't know if I would have grabbed my cell phone, but I sure as heck would have thought, "and what does THAT have to do with anything?" I'm a Christian, as well, but there's a time and place for everything.

12 posted on 02/11/2004 12:32:30 PM PST by ZinGirl
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