Monday, February 17, 2014

Reply to Anonymous:

Almost immediately after I wrote Pigs with Four Stripes [click here to read it] I regretted the title I gave it and moreover reckoned I should have added the fact that I have flown with some hefty pilots who were very good at their profession. I also realized that some of my readers may be, in your words, “ individual who weighs more than "normal" (whatever that is)."

Actually, there is a “normal,” and the FAA—as I trust you are well aware—is very concerned about it these days. (Read about it here.) If they get their way many of us who don’t even appear overweight but have BMIs not to the Fed’s liking will be selling insurance, or something, instead of plowing contrails through the heavens. (I expect a  shot will be fired at me for that.)

 But on to your premise:  “Here's the point I want to make... You cannot look at someone and make a judgment about his or her health, personal habits or aeronautical prowess.” I concede I did make a judgment on the first two accounts and I maintain that it was a correct one. Ask a doctor if a simple look at an excessively obese person can fetch a general judgment about that person’s health. Physician I am not, but I do watch “Doc Martin” on PBS. As to “aeronautical prowess,” if you’ll re-read the post you’ll see that I made no comment on that.

You can understand me better—and maybe then cut me some slack—if you know that I have been wearing uniforms since I was nine years old. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, CAP Cadet, ROTC, USAF, USAFR, and finally the airlines. That's 86% of my life! Seeing somebody bring dishonor to a uniform really annoys me.

Here’s my point: Let’s remember that, like it or not, our profession is a quasi-military one. We wear uniforms; we are compelled to follow strict rules; and the responsibilities we shoulder daily would make most people shudder at the thought. Maybe this is the reason that this statement is embedded in the ALPA Code of Ethics: “He [the airline pilot] will realize that he represents the airline to all who meet him and will at all times keep his personal appearance and conduct above reproach.” Based on my descriptions do you really think the two guys I saw that day in the food court were “beyond reproach” in their appearance and conduct? Or do you believe our Code of Ethics just a passé dogma leftover from yesteryear’s stereotypes?

To be sure, obese pilots are nothing new. I have flown—back when I was a right-seater on the DC-10—with some hefty captains. The ‘10 was their kind of airplane. BIG. I once performed a control column check without checking to see if the captain’s belly was in the way. I hooked his shirt and popped a button off. But you never saw him and most of the others of his size walking around in slouchy uniforms, coatless and hatless, with shirt tails spilling over their belt. They had some pride in their profession and they cared about the image they projected. I think there is a bad trend in our ranks away from pride in our appearance and demeanor. We either forget that the traveling public is watching, or else we don’t care.

As to your statement: “Even if you do know why someone is thin or fat, what business is it of yours? None.”  You’re right. That’s why I didn’t go up to that guy and tell him he ought to lose weight. I kept it to myself. Of course I blogged about it, but I believe that is still a Constitutional right. Anyway the FAA will soon be making it their business.

And lastly, this statement: “What happens when you find out that the fat one is a loving father of three and the thin one was a former Air Force Reserve pilot who is now sitting in prison for collecting and disseminating child pornography?”  I’d say that first guy needs to get his weight under control so those kids will continue to have a father. As to that thin guy who got busted for child porn, I know him. We called him the “Surfer Boy Captain” at ORD because he was always over-tanned and wore his blond hair down to his shoulders. A creepy type—he was—and kept to himself. I don’t know if he was in the USAFR though. Hope not. The Marines would have a field day on that revelation.

So, Anonymous, you may or may not be overweight. But I don’t believe you would have taken the time to post such a thorough and well thought-out comment if you were in the category of the two guys I wrote about. I believe you wear your uniform proudly and fly a good, safe airplane. I would be honored to fly a trip with you, and you would be welcomed to do much more than swing gear. 

You may not know this but I once went through carrier qualifications, USAF style. The "deck" was lubricated with, what else, beer. Unfortunately the wire tenders were not impressed with my first approach and lifted it as I slid by. 

(Not me in the photo.)