Dear American Airlines:
I love to fish. We have a saying on the water, “the fish stinks from the head down.” Meaning, a fishing trip usually goes as the Captain goes.
It’s no different in the business world. Leadership is critical and oftentimes we find ourselves in a void of leadership in business. It’s a shame, but so many “leaders” are that in title only. I had a recent experience with leadership that I felt compelled to share.
I was already in Albuquerque for business when my wife joined me, extending the trip into the weekend.
We flew home Sunday, February 26th, on the 7:55 a.m. American Flight 1421 into DFW. I fly a lot and I was absolutely blown away at the leadership our Captain showed (I did not get the Captain’s name; AA–you can find him via the flight info). It was uniquely exceptional leadership–a first of its kind for this frequent flyer.
Our Captain came out of the cockpit and introduced himself and the flight crew, an all-military cockpit. He then introduced the Chief Attendant, Amy, and her “A-Team,” of attendants. Then he set the tone with these words: “We treat our families with love, and we can all do our part to be kind to one another.” He explained that the flight crew and Amy and the additional attendants are his family and that for the rest of this trip, they were the family of every passenger onboard.
He didn’t stop there…
He talked about his actual family, teenage kids, and wife, all waiting in Los Angeles for his safe return.
As a former Naval Fighter Jet Pilot, the Captain had fun by letting us all know that his Air Force First Officer, an active-duty Reservist, was simply “tagging along for the ride.” If you know Navy Pilots, they have a lot of fun with the other branches of the service.
Our Captain was kind, funny, and talked more than any other pilot I have flown with. In a very comforting way, he made it abundantly clear that he was in charge and he was charged with the safety of all on board, including his flight crew.
He humanized an otherwise mundane and sometimes dreadful part of business: traveling for work.
Typically, my wife asks, “How was your flight,” and I most commonly respond, “uneventful.” Of course, that’s always my desired outcome. When traveling doesn’t go well with flight delays, mechanical issues, weather, etc., it’s easy to think it’s only horrible for the travelers. It can be easy to forget that the staff at the ticket counters, gate agents, flight attendants, and pilots also want what we want-uneventful travel.
Anyone who flies knows that some of the worst sides of humanity are seen in an airport. According to the FAA, there were 1099 investigations of “Unruly passengers” in 2021. This was up from just 183 in 2020, a 600% jump! In 2022, it was slightly down to 823 investigations. I’d be willing to bet that our Captain and his crew are very low on the list of unruly passenger incidents.
I am always thankful to all the airline and airport workers who arrive early, park in Timbuktu, and take shuttles to get to work. I’m thankful for the gate agents, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and pilots. But I am also incredibly appreciative of the people who make the coffee, clean the facilities, haul the luggage, and each and every person who works together to get us to destinations all over the world. Every job has its ups and downs, but not every job has to safely transport millions of people every day.
It’s no surprise that we received A-Team service from the flight attendants on our trip. Our Captain set the tone demonstrating to all of us how easy it is to simply smile and be kind and be human. He set an expectation of high standards and mutual respect, then more importantly: he delivered.
Who knows if the passengers on our flight will always maintain their cool during future travel, but I’d be willing to bet they’ll remember the words of our Captain and reconsider a nasty approach. It was a great reminder to me, in my own business. It is the leader’s job to set the standard and your Captain set one of excellence.
PS: For everyone else reading: Albuquerque and Santa Fe are gorgeous, you should visit—I’ll have a follow-up article for that trip.