(If I used his real name I might be at risk of him coming off his porch with his 30-0-6 in hand determined to see me join the long line of critters he has reportedly slain with it.)
Lance had the displeasure of flying numerous trips with Porter, until he simply couldn't stand it anymore and began using his sick leave whenever he saw he was scheduled with him. None-the-less for a while Lance tried to get along with Porter―even considering it a challenge, but succeeding only sparingly.
Porter was overweight, said Lance. He chewed tobacco and picked his teeth after he spat. He practiced the ungainly habit of clipping his nails in public. His uniform shirts were rarely pressed, and sometimes he even stank. When he passed through the terminals, belly wobbling, dragging his bags, he swaggered along with his hat cocked like those WWII bomber guys. Passengers must have watched him with mouths agape and then stared at length at their ticket.
Porter's flying skills pretty much matched his personal habits. Scared of thunderstorms, he sometimes avoided them by hundreds of miles instead of the standard twenty. He ran the APU from takeoff to level-off and fired it up again at the beginning of descent. When Lance asked him why he engaged in this unconventional (and wasteful) practice, Porter brushed him off, grunting that, he “might need” it.
Porter talked a lot about himself. He claimed his wife was in her twenties (he was nearing 60), producing a picture of a voluptuous young woman. Lance doubted but nodded. Another hot topic of Porter's was his hunting prowess. He bragged to Lance that he had dispatched many wild animals all over the world.
One day Lance got fed up with Porter's cock-a-hoop and told him that no woman in her right mind would live with him, especially one in her youth, and added that he should wash his shirts. Porter clammed up the rest of the flight.
A few weeks later Lance, who was on reserve, got a call from crew scheduling. They needed him to deadhead to Denver to pick up a flight. He needed to fill in for a first officer who suddenly fell ill. The connection would be close; the flight was to leave only minutes after Lance's deadhead flight arrived. He told them he would do his best.
Arriving in Denver, Lance trotted to his outbound gate and found the customer service agent standing in an empty gate area. “The crew and passengers are all on board,” she said. He hurried down the jet bridge and dragged his bag into the cockpit. There sat Porter Mills in the left seat, cleaning his nails with a toothpick. He looked up and said, "Oh! It's you. Well, hello, Lance. What kept ya?”
Lance settled down and looked around the cockpit. Not a switch had been moved, not a knob turned. The IRS units, which take 10 minutes to spool up, were off. The APU was off. The lights were off. The bugs weren't set. The ATIS and clearance had not been requested. The takeoff performance data had not been requested or processed. Nothing had been done.
Lance took a deep breath. He went out and did his walk-around inspection, taking his time. He came back in and slowly prepared the cockpit while Porter gummed his tobacco and studied his nails. After they got airborne Porter resumed his crowing as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and Lance just sat and tuned him out.
Porter retired shortly after that and Lance never flew with him again. But now Lance cackles at the memory of that poor slob who somehow made it to a world where he didn't belong. A long line of people like Lance baby-sat him through his career, and now Porter sits on his porch, rifle across his lap, spits and tells his dogs about his days as an airline pilot. I suppose he has found a place where he truly belongs.
I don't know many other captains simply because I don't fly with them. But now and then I hear stories like Lance's and wonder where we get such men (or women). And of course, I often wonder if I am the subject of such stories told in other cockpits. I don't think I am; I don't have any disgusting habits that I'm aware of, and I like to wear a sharp uniform. But I know of one first officer out there who possibly spreads an unfortunate story about me, and if so, he is justified. Maybe I'll tell about my one time colossal CLRM failure in a future post.
And maybe I won't.
(CLRM: Cockpit Leadership and Resource Management) Quote of the post:
I've never seen an airplane yet that can read the type ratings on your pilot's license.
— Chuck Boedecker