top of page

Exiting The Hold

The following was written by Captain Matt Ringen. The article was originally published on the EAA website and has been republished here with the consent of both Captain Ringen and the EAA. We hope you enjoy the article as much as we did!

“We’re going here to there, up then down. Any questions?” Humorously, this old briefing joke is usually followed by a more proper dictation of the flight at hand. We have all used comic relief in our industry to help lighten the seriousness of the day’s sometimes taxing events. It redirects your mind to realize that, despite the challenges of aviation, we’re capable to carry on. We are still supposed to be having fun! We love this stuff — right?!

Take note, I said the joke above is usually rectified. But, imagine being in a flight deck preparing for the next departure and your trusted partner-in-flight barks, “We’re going here to there, up then down. Before Start checklist and shut that *bleeping* door!” Wham! That’s the end of that. Do you feel that cringe, too? It lands like a brick on tile. When these “jokes” hit too hard and sarcasm drips as thick as engine oil, it’s my belief that you’re hearing a cry for help. You’re in the presence of an aviator that has lost that lovin’ feeling.

I’ve flown with numerous different pilots. I'm paired with a different pilot nearly every time I start a new trip. Commercial aviation allows you to meet plenty of people and hear their stories and their backgrounds. The career perspective of these coworkers runs a wide spectrum, and I started to take notice of a particular sliver of

pilots. There is a category of commercial aviators that, over time, appear to be in the business simply, and perhaps only, because it pays the bills. For days, they make no mention of the flying we’re actively engaged in together. They couldn’t care less about even the slightest of wonders we are privileged to experience, day in and day out. It is as if flying itself isn’t occurring at all.

When I first jumped into the airline industry, this demeanor befuddled me. Why did this person run the gauntlet of testing required to be here? Why inflict that amount of stress and perhaps financial investment on oneself? This career is demanding, you’re tested often, tough choices are common. There is a myriad of professions that provide lower dosages of stress. So, why here?

I know why I’m here, I think flying is straight-up thrilling. I savor it. One of the first captains I flew with declared on each takeoff, “Yeah baby, we’re flyin’!” I sympathize with that feeling. I could do this for a long, long time. I have even accrued my own secondhand jokes too. “You’re telling me someone is going to toss me the keys to their multi-million dollar flying machine, pay for the gas, and pay me to fly it to new places? Sounds awful.” As a young and eager professional pilot, it is nothing less than the dream come true. But why doesn’t this joke make that grumpy and indifferent pilot laugh?

Because to them, it is awful. They’ve been doing it for so long, and it is so repetitive, it simply is no longer fun. To them, the environment is sterile, the flights are woefully scripted, the company is “after them.” They don’t see it any other way anymore. They don’t enjoy the fine excitements of this incredible career because they’ve become fixated on the infuriating parts. They may even feel trapped because of “seniority” or that their skillset has become so narrow and specialized that they don’t feel qualified to do much else. So they believe they’re slated to “ride this sinking ship” to the end. Yes, I’ve heard it become that negative and worse. I ask these coworkers when the last time they flew something other than an airliner was. They don’t respond with a day or month. They respond with a year, and not a recent one, not even close. Even more heartbreaking are the ones that respond with their beloved military model of their younger flying days, “1995, Legacy Hornet. Got hired straight to this place after that.” The flame is extinguished. It makes me want to put my hand on their shoulder in empathy.