There was just something exhilarating about the dive from those frozen, blue flight-levels over western America; plunging down through the various cloud layers as the aircraft rolled into a turn, then leveling off to see the wide expanse of horizon ahead. It was early morning and the surface contours were partly defined by long, westward leaning shadows. Oakland Center had a few things to tell us as we sailed toward the eastern slope of The Sierras. The controller's voice was comforting - like meeting a friend after a long flight.

It had indeed been a very long flight - a Familiarization Flight or "FAM trip" for those who remember. I sat in the jump-seat, keeping a wary eye on the flight crew and wishing I was anywhere but this cockpit. All was appropriately silent through the approach and landing. This was a welcomed relief after the past several hours with these guys but it was a beautiful morning in San Francisco and we were headed for the gate. I made my best effort at a sincere thanks to the Captain for a "wonderful" flight then hurried out of the cockpit, shaking my head. As I waited for my luggage to appear I reflected on the trip.

We've all been in an elevator, a car or perhaps even a cockpit with strangers when suddenly an arguement arises between two people. There's no good place to look but down - no good thing to say but nothing. Its just awkward and you wish it would stop. With luck, you can escape the tension and avoid the possibility of being drawn into the fray. In an airline cockpit, somewhere high over middle America, there is no hope for escape.

We were somewhere just west of the Mississippi. The Captain and First Officer were discussing an ongoing job action at another company. The Captain (we'll call him Bob) had strong feelings about the matter and was in full support of those on the picket lines. Bob pressed his First Officer (we'll call him Brian) for an opinion. Brian did the best he could to remain neutral, which only encouraged Bob to further explain his position and expound on what he'd do if he worked for that airline. "Did you see the editorial in yesterday's paper?" Brian shook his head no. "Well check it out!" said Bob, reaching into his flight bag.

He pulled out the newspaper and handed it to Brian. Reaching into the case again he withdrew a magazine and turned toward me without looking. "Want something to read?" he asked; thrusting the magazine onto my lap. I looked down. A back issues of Playboy. Not waiting for my reaction, Bob returned to his diatribe over the job action. I glanced to the left and noticed a pair of long contrails several thousand feet below us. There was a knock on the cockpit door. A flight attendant entered to discuss the available lunch options. She greeted me with a smile, offering to get me something too. I declined so she turned to leave the flight deck.

The Captain stopped her. "So what do you think about this situation over at ***** Airlines?" "Oh I haven't been following it that closely" she said. Bob seized the opportunity to recap the issues and assert his opinions. I glanced at Brian who seemed to be taking careful inventory of his approach plates. The flight attendant nodded politely but it was clear she didn't agree with Bob's views. When he finished, she said she didn't think a job action was the right thing to do. Brian looked up from his Jepps and I began fidgeting with my ID badge.

Captain Bob literally bellowed at the woman, accusing and convicting her of crimes against reason, then condemning her to a life of blissful ignorance. Unfazed by his ranting, she held her ground and defended her position. This so infuriated the Captain that he practically leaped out of his seat and ordered her off the flight deck. She turned quietly and left. The door closed behind her with a click. It sounded like the hammer being cocked on a revolver. I studied the cloud tops below us.

So ended the longest five minutes of my life. The atmosphere during the remainder of the trip was as blithesome as the witness gallery at an execution. Awkward. I started thumbing through the Playboy . . . but purely for the articles.

© NLA Factor, 2010

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