Amateurs - They Work Among Us

It has been just about two years since HeliMx magazine first came to life, and I have had the privilege of being its editor from the start. I say privilege because, of the hundreds of people that I have met and worked with so far, I cannot count one of them as an amateur. I count all as consummate professionals and I take my hat off to them. I’m sure that everyone would like to think that they are professional in their job, but what defines someone as a professional?

I once heard that in sports the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the amateur practices to get it right, whereas the professional practices to never get it wrong. When was the last time any of us practiced what we do for a living? More importantly, how do our customers perceive us? In their eyes, do we act, work, talk and present ourselves as someone they are comfortable with having work on their aircraft? Rest assured that if we don’t meet their perception, they will take their business elsewhere.

Be aware that amateurs work among us and will do more harm than good to our customers’ perceptions about our employer. If we needed open-heart surgery, would we want an amateur to perform the surgery? Our customers don’t want amateurs working on their aircraft, either.

I recently traveled to Spain on a major airline. Round trip from Phoenix to Madrid, Spain, takes a few hours to say the least, not to mention layovers between flight legs. Every flight I was on left the gate anywhere between 35 to 60 minutes late. So much for schedules being maintained. The main flight legs between the U.S. and Spain and Spain to the U.S. were flown on Airbus A340-600 aircraft. I say this because I want you to know the number of people we are talking about.

The aircraft had 52 business-class seats (thankfully, I was in one on them) and 290 economy-class seats, and both flights were full up. That’s a large number of people, baggage, children and anything else you can think of to contend with. Ah yes, welcome the amateurs. We are running late, 342 people are milling about with the usual mix of screaming children thrown in, and does the airline make any announcement as to what the delay is? Of course not. All of the airline gate personnel are standing together behind the counter talking to each other in Spanish and pretty much ignoring us, the passengers.

We are finally cleared to board the aircraft and the business-class contingent starts down the jet way. About halfway down we are stopped and told we have to go back inside the terminal as they have to put fuel on the aircraft. Now this aircraft has been at the gate for at least three hours that I know of, because that is how long I was at the gate, and as passengers are boarding they want to fuel the aircraft! Oh yes, the amateurs, they are among us. They finally get the fueling part sorted out and we board and we are on our way. Cabin service is excellent as you would expect in business class, but somewhere along the way the flight attendants took a wrong turn. They seem to be more concerned with which wine you wanted with dinner rather than the safety of the passengers, not to mention the air regulations that were blatantly not enforced. The amateurs were alive and well.

The flight from Madrid to Chicago takes about 9.5 hours, so needing to make a pit stop somewhere along the trip is not uncommon. Being seated two rows from the front, it was normal for me to use the toilet in the front of the aircraft. What was not normal was to go up front and see the door to the cockpit open and not one flight attendant standing there to turn away any nosy passengers. I couldn’t believe it. I actually stuck my head in the doorway took a look and went on about my business. The flight crew never knew I was there. Ah yes, the amateurs, work among us!

Lastly, as we were in our descent and final approach to O’Hare airport, we heard the normal request to place our seats in the upright position, put away our tray tables and turn off any electronic devices. This was repeated in Spanish and English so there was an excellent chance that it was understood by all. We are now about 50 feet above the runway and I couldn’t help but notice several persons in my immediate area that still had their seats reclined, tray tables out or electronic devices in use. Did the flight attendants do anything about this? What do you think? If it had nothing to do with which wine they would serve or passing out hot towels, they couldn’t be bothered.

Although this may seem humorous to some, I can assure you that from my perspective of being very involved in the business of aviation for more than 47 years, I found it disconcerting. My safety and that of the other passengers was at risk and those that should have cared appeared not to. What overall effect did all of these occurrences have on me? Simply put, should the opportunity present itself for me to travel to Spain or anywhere else in Europe, I will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that I have nothing to do with this airline again. If they want to employ amateurs, they are free to do so, and I am free to choose another airline next time I travel.

Do you have amateurs working among you? For your company’s sake, I hope not.

R. Fred Polak | Editor