Think and behave like a leader

Flying is an exciting profession. Apart from the opportunity to see the world and staying in top rated hotels one could meet interesting personalities on board the aircraft and oftentimes experience challenging encounters that could test one’s patience and problem solving skills. On the positive side, such experiences could be used as lessons learned. I would therefore like to relate such an encounter that I had many years ago while I was flying the Fokker 27.

It was the start of a routine flight departing in the afternoon and scheduled to end in the evening just after sunset and I was the Captain of the flight. The flight schedule involved four transit stops before arriving at the destination.

As the aircraft was taxing for the take off position, one of the flight steward came on the cockpit-cabin interphone and reported that one of the passengers, a lady refused to fasten her seat belt and asked me what he should do as the said passenger just refused to listen to him. It is a requirement for the cabin crew to ensure that all passengers are strapped before take-off, therefore such behaviour could be an issue. I told the flight steward to order the passenger to buckle up and that if she refuses, to tell her that the Captain will turn the aircraft around, summon the security personnel and that she will be taken off the flight. The flight steward did as he was told and a few seconds later, he came over the flight intercom to report that the passenger still refused to fasten her seat belt.

I was in a dilemma. If I were to turn back, the flight would be delayed and I would have to skip some of the airfields as those airfields could only be operated during the day as they were not equipped for night operations. This would have inconvenienced quite a lot of the passengers who were bound for those affected airports. On the other hand I could not condone such behaviour on the flight as it is detrimental to flight safety. I had to think fast on my next move as there were other aircrafts waiting in line to depart.

The cabin crews are taught how to handle difficult situations in the cabin and to seek opinion and assistance from the pilots only if they are unable to resolve the issue. In this instance they obviously needed some help. So I told my copilot to go to the cabin and to deal directly with the passenger. The copilot did as he was told and came out from his seat to go to the cabin. As soon as the lady passenger saw the copilot walking towards her, she quickly buckled her seat belt and we departed without further incident.

The problem would seem trivial to some, however in any situation and experience, we could always learn something from them. The following are the lessons learned from my above experience that I use in my crew resource management (CRM) training for pilots:

  • One should not compromise on safety. I have learned that in aviation, safety should take precedence over schedule. This principle should also be applicable in our daily life.
  • In life, problems can happen unexpectedly and one should always be prepared for them.
  • Have a few alternative solutions to problems that we encounter. In this way if one solution does not work we can always fall back on other alternatives without wasting precious time.
  • As a leader, do not be quick to handle the situation yourself. First delegate it to the other team members. If all else fails only then should the leader intervene.
  • Practice to think and solve problems on your feet. It is difficult at first, however if you have a template and practice it often, it becomes natural after a while.

Written by Azharuddin Osman

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