Sunday Drivers

Sunday Drivers

Sunday Drivers

When others won’t play by our rules:
radio, runway and ramp rage

Sunday Driver – one who drives slowly, infrequently and in an inexperienced or unskillful way – like one who is out for a leisurely Sunday drive.

After qualifying for a concealed pistol license (CPL), I purchased a legal plan and liability policy designed for civilians. If there’s an incident, I’m to first dial 9-1-1 to summon medical help (for the fool that attacked me) and law enforcement (to gather evidence to keep me out of jail). This is followed by a call to the legal plan team. A local participating attorney will then swiftly be dispatched to advise and assist with the “keep me out of jail” part. 

Clients of legal plans like mine also receive e-mails about nationwide concealed weapon laws and the avoidance or application of deadly force. Recently, a mailer was sent to me describing ways to avoid road rage and methods to deescalate the situation before it reaches critical mass. How they knew that I’ve become a crotchety driver is a privacy conundrum. I suspect the monitoring and reporting system in the Jeep sent them a video of my latest Dennis Miller inspired road-rant. 

At times, we’ve all felt our patience decline and bad manners swell while driving – and not just on Sundays. While disappointing, we should not be surprised the behavioral norms of today’s drivers cascades into our utopian world of airplanes in the form of radio, runway and ramp rage.

Coefficient of Cantankerousness

In the days of King Arthur and Merlin, the solution to anger and frustration was simple: challenge the offending moron to a sword duel. The one left standing got the other’s horse, house, wife, dog, cat and cow. In the late 18th century, pistols became the weapon of choice. Though not as expeditious or final, in today’s civilized era we use less psychotic methods to deal with anger and resolve conflicts: hand gestures, shopping carts and automobiles. Road rage can include rude gestures, verbal insults or aggressive driving styles. It is engaged in order to release said anger and frustration. However, when pilots feel frustration regarding interactions with support personnel, radio transmissions (or lack thereof) or piloting styles, we do not have the luxury of an attorney or duel to calm the reactionary, gamma ray-infused Dr. David Banner inside of us. Nor may we pull into a Barnes & Noble, Starbucks or yoga studio to regain our pilot-y calm. We must get over it by lowering our coefficient of cantankerousness and move on quickly so as to remain focused on more critical decisions and actions. 

In the Part 121 world, it’s easy to get wound up. Not only due to weather, fuel, schedule, maintenance and safety concerns, but also rude passengers, stressed gate agents, tired baggage handlers and cranky flight attendants. The same applies for those folks dealing with all of the above plus an ornery captain. But especially frustrating can be the period of time from airport arrival to our taxi from the gate or FBO. That is when we deal with non-pilots unfamiliar with our bazillion acronyms, pilotisms and operational concerns. And you know how volatile a mix that can be if we are trying to beat the weather and/or get back home. But challenging the desk clerk or line boy with a glove across the face will not provide a satisfying duel or quicker movement down the runway (probably slower in fact). Once we begin the “before starting engines” checklist, compartmentalization must take over and any unresolved frustrations put into a box to be dealt with later, if at all. Because after the engines are running, the next challenge begins as we throw our call sign into the “ready to taxi” bullring – olé!

Cool Your Jets

It grinds me when I call ground: “so and so ground, this is so and so, taxi from Signature with information Delta.” “Roger, so and so. Taxi to Runway 35 intersection Romeo two, via Bravo, Foxtrot and Golf. Cleared to cross 22 on Bravo – information Delta is current, advise when you have Delta.” Major Tom to ground control, didn’t I just tell you that I have Delta! 

And it’s getting more and more common to hear a controller admonish a pilot or crew by saying, “Alright guys, you need to listen up. This is the third call and I’m busy here.” But when ATC fails to respond to us: “I have multiple frequencies here” or “Sorry, I was on the land line” or “Sorry, I was offline.” Pilots missing one or two calls directed at their call sign is a daily occurrence and having been one of the non-responsive pilots myself, I know that the reasons for missing a call are numerous and not necessarily nefarious. They can include: distractions from passengers or cabin crew, avionics volumes, radio selection, oxygen mask mismanagement, frequency errors or momentarily forgetting your call sign – just to name a few. But how about this for a punch in the gut. Having heard a similar call sign and thinking that perhaps they had missed a call, a pilot asked ATC if they had tried to call them. From the pilot: “Center, did you call 1324 Foxtrot?” ATC’s response: “Negative. We’ll use your call sign if we’re trying to call you, two four Foxtrot.” Ouch. 

Perhaps the bottom line is this: controllers have a busy job just like us and we are mostly unaware of the moment-to-moment distractions, phone calls, handoffs, weather advisories and decision-making that they endure. Both sides of the radio conversation need to pay close attention, put away the red bullfighting capes and cool their jets.

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

Once we fumble and fight our way off the ramp and out to the runway, it seems that the grocery store checkout line, fast food line, oil change line or bank drive through line “bad choice” axiom has followed us to the airport. No matter the line we are in, there always seems to be an idiot or two (or three or four or five) in front of us. The line for takeoff moves just fine until we are number two and then the number one plane is suddenly not answering the radio. There is no way to get around them to another taxiway or runway intersection. Come on man, this is costing me $10/minute just sitting here waiting. I’m going to miss “Last Man Standing” if we don’t get a move on. 

Sometimes a pilot will discover an aircraft systems issue and need to hop out of line and go back to the gate or FBO; that is expected. But forgetting (or one of the other many reasons we miss a radio call) to switch to tower and then still not recognizing it when the folks in front of you are taking off without a clearance (because you are not on tower frequency to hear the clearance) is a rookie faux pas. Fortunately, tower has seen this happen a million times so they will dispatch a truffle hog to root through all the frequencies until the missing plane is sniffed out and directed to tower frequency. “Tower, we’re up your frequency now. Did we miss anything?” Of course you did – where’s my sword. 

And here’s one from our side of the radio-rage coin. It was oh-dark-thirty in Denver and we were the only airplane on any frequency. Approaching the hold short line, we switched to
tower and checked in ready for takeoff. Tower said, “Ground wants to talk to you.” We switched back to ground only to have him tell us that he hadn’t sent us to tower yet. Next he said, “Okay. Now you can go to tower.” Really? 

Maintain an Even Strain

Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage. – Theodore Roosevelt

Having survived a number of abnormal inflight situations, most of us realize that another one is likely within the next 50 or 60 logbook pages. The severity of an issue can range from a blown fuse to a blown motor, but it’s a statistical eventuality in all flavors of aircraft and experience levels that stuff happens. Most of the time we are able to dodge or deal with obstacles like a slalom skier as we manage aviation and life frustrations. But daily interactions with bad drivers, millennial store clerks and robo-help lines can sometimes screw us into the ceiling and that’s not a good mental state for aviating. Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” 

It is easy to say or do something you’ll regret later. Instead take a breather, identify possible solutions and use humor to release tension. Most of all, be courteous. We certainly don’t want the monitoring magic in our airplane to witness a rant and post it to the world. And unless you really need another horse, house, spouse, dog, cat or cow, don’t allow the face-slap with a glove thing to cascade into our utopian world of airplanes.

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