Watch Your Mouth

Watch Your Mouth

Delivering a politically correct passenger briefing or PA

Lest someone posts thine vile words or actions to The Kingdom of Social Media, lightens thine purse with litigation or washes thine mouth out with a bar of soap.

When I transitioned from the Mad Dog to the Guppy, I had to restrict my gravelly-voiced public address jabbering to accommodate the 737-NG’s automated safety announcements (see “In the Groove,” T & T June, 2017). I now limit my PA’s to one at the top of climb, an update at the one-hour-to-go point and a final PA at the top of descent. If you have yet to uncover why some airline pilots make no PA’s at all, please read on with giddy anticipation of this whimsical, not completely factual disclosure of political correctness gone awry and a hypothesized role it plays in the pilot shortage. 

The automated announcement system on airliners is not only used to lower the workload of flight attendants and increase consistency and accuracy, there is also a politically correct rationale entwined in their cautious yet sterile reasoning. And it’s this rationale that’s to blame for the extinction of the old-school PA, face-to-face interaction with customers, replaced by our solitary confinement behind a bullet-proof cockpit door. I mean flight deck door. More on this subtle linguistic distinction and its relevance to the pilot shortage in a bit.


Since the availability of a free seat on the regional jet from AZO to ORD is unpredictable, my journey to work consists of an hour drive in the Jeep followed by a two-hour ride on a “luxury” bus. Today, I’m on the bus segment of the commute and realize that I’ve forgotten to reload my supply of toothpicks. On the last trip, it was my toothbrush that was left behind (that’s something that can inhibit human interaction, politically correct or not). And like an annoying splinter in your finger with no tweezers, something stuck between the choppers is an all-consuming distraction. The lack of a toothpick leaves me without a socially acceptable, in-public-view remedy for the “FOD” from my beef barley stew. After all, I can’t pull out a length of dental floss or stick a finger in my mouth. Or can I? 

We Have No Instinctive or Intuitive Knowledge

Can we use a fingernail, floss or even a toothpick in public view? Can we say the F or T words out loud? What if I’m in my airline uniform? They’ve already prohibited us guys from making adjustments or scratching, and from spitting, belching and swearing. We can’t chew tobacco and there is no sneezing without covering. Apparently some pilots, men in particular, have no instinctive or intuitive knowledge about such things – nor crafting a politically correct passenger briefing or PA. Understanding and avoiding such social faux pas is a learned behavior and this airline pilot learned plenty of social restrictions along the path of enlightenment. From a factory working outdoorsman (guilty of most of the prohibited activities above), to a fighter pilot, to an airline career where I am under the all-seeing eyes and ears of the flying public. Let not you, my non-PC pilot friends, suffer a similarly painful study in social etiquette nor the fine art of tooth-picking. 

The good manners that mom and dad taught us are now called “politically correct.” And politically correct speech and behavior is an important aspect in all endeavors. But the PC police have gone too far. I understand why boarding announcements and inflight PA’s are now recorded instead of live. Each body movement, facial expression and word, including any unintended inferences due to intonation, inflection, volume and tone must be passed through a committee of linguists, accountants and attorneys. All this to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, embarrassing someone, causing undue stress or being labeled as a bigoted and biased B-word. So, whether male or female, when in public or one-on-one, don’t do any of the guy things listed above, nor show prejudice or bias toward race, religion, gender, age, hair length or those that use toothpicks in public. 

Better to have something stuck in your choppers than a bad word stuck in your throat.

A few of the previously mentioned, left-behind toothpicks live in my wallet and another few in the pocket of my airline work shirt. The ones in my wallet are for days off, traveling in civilian clothes and while on layovers. In the cockpit, I can’t reach those that are in my wallet because I’m strapped in and sitting on it, so the ones in my shirt pocket are used when I’m at the controls of the mighty Guppy. But while the word Guppy is still permitted, we can’t say the C-pit word anymore – too much emotional trauma over the origin. 

Its first use began as a way to describe a place where cock fights were held. A cock is a rooster, also known as a gamecock, and is a male, gallinaceous (a heavy bodied, ground feeding) bird, usually a chicken. Later, cock-pit was used by Shakespeare as a reference to the round, noisy and crowded theatre. Then it later described the rear part of the lowest deck of a fighting ship before also defining the steering pit of a sailing yacht – a small sunken area where a coxswain is stationed. Eventually, the term spread to describe the area used to steer an airplane. Now, only “flight deck” is allowed to pass through the non-gallinaceous, non-anatomical PC social filter when describing our office.

An example of a modern-day petroglyph.

You are Not Arthur Fonzarelli

In addition to the C-word, we probably shouldn’t say “strapped in” or “sitting on it” either (unless you’re the Fonz). But what if I’m on the flight deck needing a toothpick and it’s just the FO and myself? What if the FO is female, does it make a difference? Does refraining from using one in front of a female make me a gentleman or a chauvinist? Is the answer the same for any adjusting, scratching, belching and occasional use of profanity? Can I say the S-F-B or T words out loud? What if the potentially prohibited word begins with a vowel instead of a consonant? When making a PA or communicating with the crew, perhaps some type of text abbreviation or emoji would be wise; they’re the only remaining social format with few bounds, rules or decency. Isn’t it ironic that 4,000 years later, we’re back to using symbols to communicate? Smartphones, road signs, restrooms and symbols aboard airplanes all use some type of modern-day petroglyph. At least the petroglyphs from cavemen were sensitive to the feelings of others – and they didn’t need diversity, inclusion, bias, sensitivity or PC training to know the difference. Or perhaps they were in fact trained in such matters but were prohibited from posting training results on the cave walls. The very first privacy, anti-bullying, anti-shaming ordinance most likely. 

True Cause of Pilot Shortage Exposed!

The pilot shortage that many predicted (including yours truly: see “Pilot Pendulum Predicament,” T&T January, 2013 and “Simple Math Soapbox,” T&T September, 2014) is finally affecting the bottom line of the majors and low pay is no longer the root of the cause. It’s us old guys and gals that are retiring in droves because we cannot adapt to the use of PC emojis. Politically correct etiquette has reached a crescendo and formal, mandatory diversity, sensitivity, inclusion and anti-bias training have superglued our lips together. In addition to the piloting profession’s inconveniences and fishbowl lifestyle, some Part 121 pilots now list etiquette and political correctness conundrums as tertiary reasons for choosing to retire. There will be no saying “thank you sir/ma’am” or “ladies and gentlemen;” much too gender specific – use “folks” instead. No saying hello from the cockpit (the location is subject to that anatomical or chicken-fighting misinterpretation). Severe thunderstorms must now be called “heavy rain showers.” We can’t say severe or storm, and turbulence or windshear is called “bumpy air.” We’ll be “on the ground soon” must be “we’re landing soon.” We can’t have them thinking that it’s just any-old, non-specific ground we’re headed for. An engine failure is a “problem with one of the motors.” A porked approach is for “spacing” and a cancellation for crew rest is the “FAA’s fault.” 

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

If our generation can learn FORTRAN, BASIC, COBOL, DOS, how to program a VCR and pump our own airplane gas, then maybe we can learn to be PC. Already, we can text in shorthand and we know the difference between LOL and LOP, OMG, OAT, ROFL and ROTG. We certainly don’t want to be seen on social media or the six o’clock news betraying some facet of PC though. So, remember my friends: better to remain silent and thought a fool than to use non-PC words or actions and remove all doubt. Perhaps we gallinaceous, old-school pilots should simply join those retiring in droves so that we can resume our adjusting, scratching, spitting, belching and tooth picking without the threat of a bar of soap to the mouth.

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