When a Pilot’s ‘Game’ Gets in the Way of Important Passenger Needs

There are really only two things that have improved air travel security since 9/11.

  • Reinforced cockpit doors. Before 9/11 the default was to peacefully resolve a hijacking. Now the rule is not to let hijackers in, and the reinforced doors keep them out.

  • Passengers who won’t remain docile when things go wrong. Instead of complying with terrorist demands, passengers will fight back.

Truth is there aren’t that many people trying to attack us, especially in suicide missions. Occasionally groups need to execute on their threats to demonstrate effectiveness to their donors. People join to feel a part of something, create meaning, but that doesn’t mean they actually want to give up their lives. And to the extent that we do make air travel safer, that would simply shift risk onto other areas of life.

Nonetheless, part of keeping potential threats out of the cockpit is that when the cockpit door opens – to serve meals or drinks to the crew, or for the captain or co-pilot to use the lavatory – a flight attendant will place a serving cart in the aisle to block the galley.

That makes sense. But I think it also creates an obligation on the crew to limit the inconvenience caused for passengers.

Last night I flew Washington National to Dallas and when it was time for one of the crew up front to use the lavatory, normal procedure was followed to block the aisle. Only our pilot didn’t take care of business. He spent 20 minutes flirting in the galley.

It wasn’t all that long after meal service. Small children sitting in the cabin needed to go to the bathroom. So did the woman across the aisle from me. You could see them squirming in their seats.

There was a long line for the lavatory at the back of the plane, and it would have been tough to get there anyway because of the flight attendants with serving cart in the aisle in economy.

So everyone waited. And waited. And waited. While no one could go.

In fairness, it did look like he was making progress: the flight attendant was laughing throughout, twirling her hair, every few minutes touching his arm… So, tradeoffs.

He finally used the lavatory. Came out. Chatted some more. There was a collective sigh of relief as soon as he went back into the cockpit. Really?!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why did px put up with that cr*p from a pilot. I wouldn’t have and would certainly be reporting it!

  2. I would simply take out my handy camcorder and smart phone) , record away, then file a complaint afterwards to the specific airline company…

  3. That would have been something worthwhile to report after the fact. All cockpit data would back up the story. It would be up to the pilot to then explain why he was out in the cabin for so long. I agree with not making a scene in the air…it would do nobody any good. Perhaps make mention to another F.A that others want to use the bathroom…but in a non-aggressive manner?

  4. Forget the rear lav. I’ve been on flights where FAs have instructed first class pax to sit back down when they’ve tried to get up while the pilot is using the lav. Plus if there is an emergency I don’t want some FA in the cockpit with the FO. I want both pilots in there, so take care of business and go back in.

  5. Agree with the need to report. The lav issue aside (which was egregious), crew behaved unprofessionally. When I have witnessed similar events, I felt unsafe as well as creeped out. I also question possible sexual harassment issues even though you note FA’s complicity here. What about other FA’s who this pilot approaches? The behavior you describe wouldn’t/shouldn’t be tolerated in any other professional setting.

  6. @toomanybooks – perhaps Gary is a member of those pickup/seduction groups which would chastise him for cockblocking…

  7. The situation would be better if they only blocked the isle while the door was actually open. That way, if the pilot wants to stretch his legs (or flirt), passengers can use the lav.

  8. You people have way too much time on your hands to complain about a crewmember lingering too long after going to the can. Grow up already.

  9. At the 15 minute mark with chitty chat, I would have probably been Tweeting someone in the social media department. Sky King probably needs a reminder note from the chief pilot about common courtesy and who pays the bills.

  10. I guess @Sully must have been the pilot in question, as I can’t imagine any other reasonable person trying to defend the behavior described.

  11. I’ve never noticed this before. I was on a CX in first and ran right into the pilot when he was coming out of the lav and going back onto the flight deck. I probably wouldn’t have reported the incident above unless I was one of the people who really needed to go, but I think you can just politely ask to use the lav. I would be shocked if a pilot after being told passengers needed to use the lav continued to stand there taking his time. It is disconcerting that a pilot would be off the flightdeck for a prolonged period of time though given the rare instances of a co-pilot having heart attacks or some of the other incidents we have seen in the recent times. Seems like a safety issue and I wouldn’t fault anyone for reporting it, because I think the airline may have similar concerns and would want to know about this type of behavior.

  12. Would you rather have a happy pilot flirting in the galley or a morose pilot brooding in the cockpit?

  13. Yes, Ken, you goober, I was the pilot involved.

    A fully-functioning adult would have pressed the call button and said, “I need to use the lav when it’s available.”

    Impotent crybabies whine about “reporting his ass” after the fact, or writing blog posts, or taking cell phone videos like its the crime of the century.

    What irritates me most is the salacious “he took too long because he was FLIRTING OMG” color to the post along with “Everybody had to pee, not just me” (so NO ONE rang their call button or said a word?) and “Won’t SOMEONE think of the CHILDREN?!!”

    But I guess, “I was inconvenienced because I had to use the lav and, in my opinion, the pilot took too long chatting with a crewmember” isn’t as good.

  14. Regardless of flirting or not, flight crew should not be out of the cockpit for that long, bar their tending to some sort of actual flight-related matter out of the cockpit.

    While you might be upset because you needed the loo, this is the real reason to be upset with this situation.

  15. I showed this story to a retired senior international AA captain. Here was his response:

    “Serious infraction of cockpit etiquette to be gone from the cockpit that long. I haven’t seen any FAs I would want to talk to for 20 minutes in decades!”

  16. Having been a military pilot (long haul) I know how important it is to get up and stretch for more than a few minutes (line tye back up again). The job will give you serious back issues early in life if you don’t, as cockpit seats are built for safety not comfort (happed to other pilots I knew) This post is a waste of time. So that’s why I am reading and responding on the train. I’ve followed Gary on twitter, but after this I’m done.

  17. Try using the attendant Call button, if it’s ignored do it again – eventually “chatty” would need to come to you and Pilot will realize he’s been out too long. When Chatty comes to your seat – say Thanks and go to the lav !I did that once and you should have seen the look on the FA’s face !
    Especially when I reminded her that her job was to look after the pax not chit chat for 20 minutes with a member of the Flight crew !

  18. Just flew back from OGG to SAN on Alaska on a red eye yesterday, first class, flight 814 if anyone cares. One of the pilots came out and flirted with the FA for about 10 minutes. Blocked the FC BA. Good looking young guy, older white female, must have had at least 10 years on him. Still she/he didn’t care, she was game and a willing audience to his jokes. She had a GREAT rack, which he was clearly drawn to. Human nature, understandable. I was waiting to use the bathroom but could see a love connection was happening – or sex connection. Either way, no biggie. Hope they had fun.

  19. This is an issue that should be reported to management and is a breach of the pilot’s contract. He’s paid to sit in one of the two seats in the front of the plane, not to spend 20-minutes nattering away at a FA. Aside from shutting down the washroom for first class passengers. Not sure why someone didn’t ring the call button to get the FA’s attention and speed things up. There’s no excuse for this abuse.

  20. First class passengers in an uproar over the bathroom, how many passengers share the front lav? Maybe a dozen at most. Try waiting for the lav in coach where 60+ people use 2 if we are lucky 4 lavs. Let the pilot get some action. It’s a long layover at the hotel he need to kill do,e time. He was likely there for 5 minutes just felt like 20

  21. I just observed this last week for the first time … the guy was out in the galley for 15 minutes with the FAs. I couldn’t believe it. How could one person be so self-absorbed as to inconvenience the entire front cabin? I’m sure it does get boring up there on a 6-hour flight, but that’s not the passengers’ problem, is it?

  22. I’m an older person with diabetes and heart failure. I need to go to the bathroom OFTEN, perhaps 4 or 5 times in a hour. To have access to the toilet is both unforgivable and dangerous. I am unable to hold my need to go. I travel business class for this specific reason and would not be able to wait for a pilot’s romantic delays. I hope this never happens to me, but if it did, I would go up to the FA & politely demand access to the toilet.

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