How far can you push a pilot before he breaks?

This is a response to this blog post by Karlene Petitt, and to the recent JetBlue incident

Pilots are humans, too. Never forget. We have emotions, concerns and problems just like anybody else. The JetBlue incident is, unfortunately, not one of a kind. As pilots are pushed towards their limits, emotionally and financially, we are going to see episodes like this. Good thing, the JetBlue incident ended safely after a divertion.

If you haven’t read about it, I am going to give you a summary of it.

A Jetblue Airbus A320-200, registration N796JB performing flight B6-191 from New York JFK,NY to Las Vegas,NV (USA), was enroute at FL340 about 55nm north of Amarillo,TX (USA) when the captain suffered a panic attack and behaved entirely incoherent forcing the first officer to seek assistance by cabin crew and passengers to overpower the captain, lock him out of the cockpit and have him restrained in the passenger cabin. Another Jetblue pilot flying as passenger assisted the first officer while diverting to Amarillo for a safe landing about 20 minutes later.

– The Aviation Herald

Now, while the investigation is in progress, this is certainly not the time to speculate too much on this specific incident, but rather look at this as one case in the bigger picture.

It is not unknown to pilots, aviation enthusiasts and others, that commercial pilots are pushed to their limits every day. Early wake-up calls, fighting jet lag, technical problems with the aircraft, crazy weather approaching, and the list just goes on. And while pilots need to be 100% focused on the task at hand, they are constantly afraid of furloughs or pay cuts. How far can you really push it?

My answer: It depends. And it really does. Everyone is different and handles stress differently.

But what can we do? The situation in the airline industry doesn’t seem to be heading in a better direction yet. Younger pilots, like my self, will in the future accept lower wages, more time on, less time spent at home with your family. I doubt we will turn down “that first job offer” either because we are not making as much money. If I know my self well, and I think I do, I’ll be willing to accept lower pay checks, stress and fatigue to get that first job. Just to get a foot “inside” But is that a good thing? Not necessarily and I can understand that.

All I can do for now is just prepare my self. I might not be able to afford a brand new car, or buy my own house right after I get my first pilot job. And I’m fine with that. Being a pilot is not a high-status profession anymore. And I’m not seeking a high-status profession either. I want to be a pilot because of passion for aviation and love for flying. That’s all.

This girl just wants to fly.

I read somewhere that when you get a first officer position, spend money like a flight engineer. When you get upgraded to captain, spend money like a first officer.

I like that thought. Spending money conservatively.

– Cecilie

Posted on March 28, 2012, in blog. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Cecilie, excellent post!!! Yes, we all deal with stress differently. But I think with the pilots we are so use to being in control. When you feel you have control, you handle stress differently because you know you can do something about. Pilots never stop flying the plane even during a catastrophic accident. But when the job fails us…. the mergers, the loss of pensions, and challenges that are occurring at the end of the career, sometimes it’s too much. When we start our careers like yourself, we have expectations of what to expect. Low pay, passion for flying, living within our means. But those expectations change. Life changes, times get better, we live to the perceived and expected income, and something shifts. But it’s not just the job. When the economy suffers, so do families.

    New pilots starting out will do anything to get their foot in the door. We’ve all been there. But fly safely, and be aware of how far you can go. The moment you “think,” if even for a flash of an instant, that you’re too tired, or you don’t have the experience, or you feel like something is not right… believe it. Don’t go. Follow that inner voice. And make sure despite everything that the work rules are in place because you can have lower pay as a single pilot without a family to support, but you need to be rested too.

    • Karlene!
      Thank your for yet another excellent post.
      I agree with everything you say. How can we as new pilots get a “foot in the door” without accepting lower wages? Right now, I don’t think that’s possible. I would much rather have a job, lower wages, and help the company through these tough economic times.

      Knowing your limits, I think that is what it’s all about. Following the inner voice!

      Thank you once again for a great comment!

      • That is the key. Maybe we need to have a training module to teach pilots to know their limits.

  2. excellent Blog I’m a big fan from Holland

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