I am often asked if I have a ritual when I fly, whether it be in the cockpit or outside. I thought to myself when asked this, do they mean — a secret handshake, a foot shuffle, or an Irish jig?
I don’t do a jig or a dance but I definitely do the same “setup” the same way every flight out of habit. I think most people that fly are creatures of habit and I am no different.
1. Set Up My “Nest”
When I walk on the jet, I set up what pilots like to call our “nest.” This is where the rituals most come into play.
I always put a pad of hotel paper on the yoke clip. I collect pads from all over the world and secretly smile when I see the hotel logo smiling back at me from the yoke. I like to use blue ink and I always write the flight number in the upper left corner. The flight number is “who you are” and what air traffic control calls you on the radio.
Cockpit Note: Funny thing, once the flight is over, no matter how long it is or how many times I have said it, I forget the flight number once I am at the curb of our destination. The hotel van drivers roll their eyes at us when we clearly can’t remember!
Notes For Air Traffic Control
I also scribble the letter for automatic terminal information service and our gate number in the same upper left corner. If air traffic control asks me, and I have forgotten, I can easily verify with a simple glance. Once we have left the gate area, I copy each and every direction that the ground controller gives us and can read it back to them verbatim.
Cockpit Note: At some airports like Orlando International Airport, the instructions from the controllers can be quite complex and come at the speed of a machine gun. We are expected to get it right, read it back quickly, and comply. Taxiing at some airports can be like a maze of confusion and quite complex.
Additional Important Numbers
To the right of me, next to a clipboard below the window, is my scratch pad of important little nuggets for the flight. I jot down fuel numbers for takeoff information, minimum fuel amounts, burn amounts, and how much fuel to expect at landing. I jot down SOBs — ahem — souls on board, and lap children. I also jot down our purser’s name in case I need to specifically ask a question and can get the answer quickly.
2. Introduce Myself To Flight Attendants
One ritual I have is trying to walk around the cabin and introduce myself to each and every flight attendant prior to boarding. I have found that it can get a little confusing for them when a flight attendant calls the cockpit and I answer. If I haven’t met them, it’s typical for them to think they misdialed since most of our pilots are men. Plus, I want to personally let them know that if they need anything to please call!
Cockpit Note: A purser is the senior flight attendant on the plane.
3. Load iPad
After I set up my nest, I set my iPad on the consul with attach points and upload the flight plan, the TPS (Takeoff Performance), weather, and all company information for the flight. I put my special blue pen in the holder, plug my personal headphones into the jack, and place my personal pink thermos filled with chilled water in the cup holder. I place my kit bag and orient it the same way each flight: next to me on my right side. I can then easily grab my safety vest for the walk-around outside. This bag has a place for everything, and everything has its place.
Cockpit Note: In my industry, paper is being eliminated. The weight reduction of our 2,145-page operational and aircraft manuals is substantial. Our flight plans, performance charts, weather data, schedules, maintenance, and passenger information, to name just a few items, will be only viewable via our iPads. Just a click and a swipe and I can find the information I need.
4. Exterior Walk-Around
Every flight requires an exterior walk-around inspection. I conduct my walk-around the same way, in the same direction, and look for specific things. As I approach the jet, in all her glory, I pat the engine and say “hello” to her. Yes, it sounds corny, but I do it every time. I rub her and talk to her like she is a person. I tell her, “She is a good girl,” pat her, and continue on my walk-around. It is my homage to the fact that she is going to work hard for the next 10–16 hours and safely take us to a new and exciting destination. I think pilots as a group are creatures of habit and it serves us well to have our own rituals.
So the next time you are boarding a flight, look out the window and see if your pilot is patting your bird. It might just be me!
5. Greet Passengers
When I finish the outside inspection and come back into the jet, we typically have begun the boarding process. I love to personally welcome aboard each passenger that I come across.
For more on Christy’s adventures as a pilot, check out these stories: