Silent – 1928-1945 – Strong work ethic, humility, prudent saver
Boomers – 1946-1964 – Idealistic, revolutionary, collectivist
Generation X – 1965-1980 – Materialistic,
Millennials (Gen Y) – 1981-1996 – Globalist,
Gen Z – 1997-? – “Communaholic,” dialoguer, realistic
Squarely in the middle of the boomers, I grew up in aviation at the end of the last GA boom. The year that I started high school, a brand-new Cessna 172 was $33,950 and they built 750 of them. The favorite flavor of flight school fuel was red 80 octane, and a third-class physical was completed as if you were applying to be a Mercury astronaut. I paid $16 per hour to rent a new Mooney Cadet and $8 for a not-so-new instructor, all while earning $1.25 per hour washing airplanes and pumping that red fuel. It was a time when you needed a restricted radiotelephone operator permit to use the airplane radio, and your flight instructor chastised you for not only piloting errors but for improper use of the radio. After soloing, your shirttail was ceremoniously and publicly cut off, potentially exposing non-pierced nipples and navels. Those good times were followed by more great flying in the military and Part 121.
No Such Thing as Bad Student,
Only Bad Teacher.
Teacher Say, Student Do.
– Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita –“The Karate Kid”)
Shake My Hose
The United States Air Force UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) instructors would grab your oxygen hose at the mask and shake you to enforce a point and openly embarrass you in front of squadron mates. Soloing the T-37 resulted in being thrown into a congratulatory dunk tank. During my new hire B-727 engineer training, the ground school instructor slapped me in the head for allowing my family to do Jepp revisions. And the two stripe (career flight engineer) sim instructor swore profusely at my fighter pilot arrogance and helplessness while learning “the panel.” I can’t write about the traditions and humiliation tactics in the military fighter community for similar achievements and events because those words, actions and training techniques are now considered inappropriate and hurtful to one’s delicate feelings. Did this old-school style of training, initiation and buddy-bonding make me more respectful, learn faster and become a better pilot and captain? Hell yes, it did. Things have changed.
I’m Tellin’ Mom
While taxiing for takeoff in a B-737 at a busy hub airport, the captain noticed the FO was bobbing his head as if to music. Sure enough, the copilot had Bluetoothed his newfangled, noise-canceling, fuel-injected, turbocharged, 4WD aviation headset to his SiriusXM satellite-enabled smartphone (also fuel injected with 4WD) and was grooving to some tunes – not from the 60s, 70s or 80s. Shocked, the captain instructed the brand-new, on probation FO to turn it off. His relaxed, matter-of-fact response was, “I won’t miss any radio calls.” Thinking that this was a satisfactory response, the FO continued with his head-bobbing disregard for the captain’s authority, FAR’s, company policy and most notably: the fear of a violent oxygen hose shaking or a backhand to the side of his head. The captain once again insisted that the FO discontinue listening to music. After a surprisingly indignant confrontation with rolled eyes to the cockpit ceiling (no, not the “flight deck” ceiling) and a disgusted blow of resignation, the FO complied.
Here’s the kicker that has become the all-too-typical, go-to scenario in today’s “safe zone, no hurt feelings” environment: In response to the FO’s formal complaint to management (yes, he went and told his mommy), the company’s HR department called the above captain to have him explain why he had been verbally abusing the poor, young, traumatized FO. Fortunately, after the captain explained his actions as PIC, the FO was subsequently fired. This is not, however, the case across different workgroups.
A young pilot wishing to ride the jumpseat appeared in the cockpit. He needed a ride to the airline’s main hub to operate a flight later that night to London as a 777 FO. He was unshaven, in work-in-the-yard clothes and once the cockpit door was closed, pulled out a small pillow from his bag, removed his shoes and “laid” down in the jumpseat. Just prior to takeoff, the captain had to tell him to sit up and fasten his belt and harness. After passing through a cloud deck and continuing the climb to cruise, an FO at one of the regional carriers remarked to his captain, “Wow, this is great. I’ve never been on top of the clouds before.”
Part 121 operations require that the captain provide a preflight briefing to not only cockpit crew members, but the lead flight attendant as well. While attempting to gain the attention of the flight attendant for this briefing, who was on her cell phone staring at the captain while she talked for several more minutes, the FA sarcastically quipped to the person on the other end of the phone, “I guess the captain wants to talk to me, I’ll call you back in a second.” On another flight, the FA had to be asked to not only remove a display of jewelry on the galley shelf that she was attempting to sell to crew members but also to remove earbuds (and nowadays, AirPods) in order to hear the captain’s briefing.
Passengers now carry their belongings in plastic bags, wear all manner of pants, skorts, leggings, shirts with varying degrees of sexual and political statements and footwear ranging from sandals to toe-socks. I reckon it’s a generational difference that will soon be acceptable among working crew members as the term “casual Fridays” is retired.
“You’ve Gotta Love Millennials” – Micah Tyler
Sometimes millennials don’t shave before work and FAs (male and female) exert their “rights” by wearing a skirt with no hose, no makeup, multiple piercings in places that weren’t designed by God to have holes, or they wear tennis shoes with no socks. I’m glad that, at least so far, neither gender has viewed using toilet paper or toothpaste as an affront against their personal freedom, the gender to which they “choose to identify” or their right to avoid personal hygiene. Sometimes Gen X think the 0630 hotel van pickup time is exactly 0630. Even though by then, the van is full of other crew members who were in the lobby at 0620 and aboard the van at 0625. And then there are those who show up at the plane just 10 minutes before boarding. These same folks often only run the deice system when the “book” says to – even if we are taking ice outside of some engineer’s “parameters.” Or they want to the fly FMS economy cruise speed whether it’s too fast for the existing ride condition or too slow for the $80,000 worth of connecting passengers that will misconnect.
What Have We Done?
As the majors scour the world for new pilots, the supply chain has changed from corporate pilots, universities and the military to mostly the regionals and soon, a few from airline subsidized pilot training programs. The change of sources comes with horror stories of pilot-pushing and extremely low pay, perhaps one of the reasons for the more cavalier attitude towards the profession. The old-school standards of radio discipline, chain of command, time management and professional dress are changing. I worry that Generation Y airline pilots were mentored too quickly and by captains working under intimidation from a management that knew their pilots needed a solid pre-employment reference for the majors.
For the most part, life with the regionals was a continual sense of paying your dues on the way to the majors; obeying the master in order to receive an honorable release from servitude. An entire crop of burgeoning airline pilots was mentored in this caustic environment, wearing down young pilots into a nub of acquiescence. Simultaneously, due to mergers, 9/11 and bankruptcies, my generation allowed pilot pay to drop significantly lower than historical and inflation-adjusted norms would command. Thankfully, this type of treatment and food stamp-level pay has changed as the long-anticipated pilot shortage has become a reality. While it arrived too late for the generation of pilots already at the majors, perhaps the younglings will renew the profession to its former glory.
At the majors, most FO’s flew for 12 to 18 years with old-school captains before they upgraded to the left seat. And these old-school mentors felt little pressure from management to fly when sick, fly poorly maintained airplanes or in dangerous weather. In the U.S., we are retiring thousands of such pilots each year for the next 5 to 10 years. And while the captains and FOs flying today may have 45 to 70 years of combined flying experience, the flying time of a new captain and a new FO’s added together will soon not be as much as one retiring captain. These new folks have never heard of The Three Stooges, Ripcord, Sky King, Super Tramp or The Animals. No wonder they have little in common with Boomers. And ya gotta love the brilliant new radio lingo they use like “cool beans” and “my bad.” But despite these differences in generational characteristics and experience levels, the pilot partition of Gen Y and Z continues to show impressive skill and intelligence. Their level of adaptability noticeably exceeds previous generations, and not just in their ability to use Bluetooth electronics and essential oils. So, we may not be doomed after all – if we can just get past the piercings, tattoos, their attitude and those damned earbuds.