Thursday, January 12, 2017

Captain's Authority, Captain's Responsibility

airline captains' authority has eroded
Should he run the entire show?

A recent incident on a JetBlue airplane where former Senator Al D'Amato was removed from the flight after causing a disturbance got me thinking about captain's authority. In this incident, some passengers needed to be relocated due to a weight and balance issue. When some of the passengers refused, Senator D'Amato apparently started a ruckus and blamed the captain stating "the captain needs to grow some balls", according to another passenger.

My first thought upon hearing this story was wondering why the captain allowed himself to become involved in a passenger dispute in the first place. That's almost always a no-win situation. Then I thought that Al D'amato is in his late 70s and probably still entertains the quaint notion that airline captains actually run the show.

In one sense they still do, but it is an extremely narrow writ. Federal regulations give airline captains absolute authority over everyone on a commercial airliner but only as it pertains to the safe conduct of the flight after departure. As the flight was still parked at the gate, the captain had no legal authority to order anyone to do anything, and my guess is that JetBlue policy states that pilots are not charged with moving customers. That is a customer service issue to be handled by customer service specialists.

And in case there is any doubt about that, pilots who still have old school ideas about injecting themselves into customer disputes can quickly find themselves with a few weeks of unpaid leave. I've seen it happen time and again. That, unfortunately, is the new reality of today's airline operations. Cost a guy a half a month's pay and he should eventually get the idea.

My guess is that the pilot was attempting to persuade some customers to voluntarily move, but I find it highly unlikely that he was empowered by JetBlue to order anyone to move. And I of course don't blame passengers who took the effort to get to the airport early to get in the first boarding group now being asked to sit in the back of the bus.

So what are your thoughts? Should we return to the old school days where pilots actually did run the whole show, or should they just stick to the mechanics of flying the plane as they are expected to today?

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Capt Rob