Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Judging Jenny

I admit it. I can't seem to break the propensity to pre-judge folks. Usually I predict their behavior and job performance at first sight. I have a long history of this flaw in my character, having fallen in love the first millisecond I saw Eleanor. I called that one right, but otherwise I'm mostly wrong.

So when I first saw Jenny in Flight Ops, I figured the trip was going to be trying. She looked like she ought to be in a house full of toddlers plying the nanny trade. Middle-aged, she was a bit broad of girth and round-faced with an ashy complexion. Hair style was clearly not a priority with her. Her deep Texas drawl was slow and soft.

She mumbled a lot too. She looked up at me from her examination of the flight plan, probably seeing the question mark on my face. "Don't mind me," she sang. “Just talkin' to my self.” I girted up for a solo flight.

The mumbling continued in the cockpit as she made her nest and began her cockpit set-up. I listened intently, trying to discern when a question or a valid comment that required my response might swim out of her prattle. Then I heard humming. I half expected to look over and see her doing needle-work.

Then she stopped humming. I heard a mild imprecation issue forth. I looked over. She was punching buttons on the pressurization panel over her head. I saw the yellow AUTO INOP light glowing. It shouldn't be. She began snarling. I said, “Better call maintenance.” She suggested she “fiddle with it” a while longer before calling the mechanics. I acquiesced and turned back to my cockpit checks.

When I got all my stuff finished I went back and briefed the flight attendants. As I climbed back into the seat I looked at the light. It was off. She was humming away again while jotting performance numbers on a piece of paper. I said, “How'd you get it to go out?”

She stopped humming and looked up at it. Her forehead wrinkled. Her stare turned menacing. She looked at me and slowly said, “I stared it down!”

One hundred percent certain she was telling the truth, I said, “Ohh...kay.”

I flew the first leg, as captains normally do, while Jenny handled the radio duties. She alternately hummed and mumbled, occasionally evoking a question or a comment from me. Conversation finally warmed up between us and I learned she was a self-proclaimed spinster (not surprising); that she lived on, and took care of her inherited farm in east Texas (commuted through DFW); and absolutely lived for her nieces and nephews. They were, she likened, her own children. She never came back from a trip without presents.

So here was a woman, I discerned, who was happy with her lot in life, not to be pitied because she wasn't feminine, and certainly not―as I quickly learned―because she wasn't capable of handling a 757. When it came her turn to fly she was as capable as any I've ever flown with. Surprised at her adeptness with the stick and rudder, I inquired as to her background, something I ordinarily would have done much earlier with most.

She was a former USAF major, a KC-135 aircraft commander, and an Air Force Academy graduate.

The humming and mumbling continued, along with the cute stories of her “children” and I enjoyed this humble woman's company in the cockpit so much I hoped I would fly with her again.

So much, for pilot stereotypes.

I wonder what her first impression of me was. But then, maybe I don't want to know.

You guys made some great comments on the last post. (BTW, I had to switch to comment moderation to weed out spammers.)

Rolling in hot on the Grand Canyon

Quote of the post:
Every other start-up wants to be another United or Delta or American. We just want to get rich.
— Robert Priddy, ValuJet CEO, 1996