February 8, 2018

An Open Letter From Your Captain

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Written by: Ben Zwebner
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Dear Passenger,

I see you.

I see you, the family on the vacation you have been planning and saving up for years. I see you, the bright eyed hopeful applicant on your way to THE job interview that will make or break your career. I see you, the student headed back to college after winter break. I see you, the busy executive constantly working on that presentation in your mind while you wait to crack out your laptop at cruise on your 3rd flight this week. I see you, sad and shaken on your way to see a sick relative in the hospital. Regardless of who you are or why you are there, I see you.

Whatever the reason be it happy, sad, exciting, or mundane it was important enough for you to plan in advance and pay a few hundred if not thousands of dollars to get to your destination. I see that. I respect that and it is because of this that I have a job and can support my family.

Because I see you and why you travel, I do not take the decision to delay your flight lightly. I know that at the very moment, that exact instant that I make up my mind to delay, I have ruined your long held plans and am affecting vacations, funerals, graduations, business meetings, reunions, weddings and of course, your connecting flight.

There is a well known mindset among us in the aviation world called “Get-there-itis.” It happens when a person is willing to gamble with safety in order to “just get there.” All too often, I encounter passengers with their own forms of Get-there-itis. Most recently, I overheard a passenger complain about my decision to deice the aircraft while there were only light flurries outside. “He is wasting our time. Nothing is sticking to the plane,” he said loudly enough to make it from row one to the flight deck. He was right. There was nothing sticking to the plane at that moment. Yet.

As captain, my job is to think about now and ten steps down the road. My job is also to be impartial to the reasons you fly. Believe me when I tell you that I want to take you where you need to go. I want to get you there comfortably and I want to do it on time. However, if I were to tell you that those are my highest priorities I would be lying. My number one priority, as is that of any pilot you will encounter in your travels, regardless if they wear the captain’s four stripes or first officer’s three, is getting you there SAFELY. If we manage to get you there on time, find the smoothest ride and touch down as softly as a feather falling on a pillow, all the better. On time departures and arrivals, smooth rides and soft landings are worth nothing if we knowingly endangered you in the process.

Luckily, the airline provides me with the tools and full authority I need to make sure I did everything I could to prevent the worst. Of course, the airline has their established deicing procedures, but even if I wasn’t required to deice according to our manual, the airline gives me the option to deice the aircraft whenever my judgement says we need to. Flurries now might mean heavier snow later before takeoff and there are hundreds of feet of aircraft that I cannot see behind my flight deck windows. So if I can do something that will increase the margin of safety, you can be sure that I will do it. This same judgement can be applied to maintenance delays just as easily as it was applied to flurries.

It didn’t really occur to me before I took the captains seat that I was not just hauling 50, 100, or 200 people in my plane. The result of my decisions would always have broader reaching effects. You, my passenger, are at the very least a child of two parents. You have spouses, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, girl/boyfriends, best friends, and social circles. If I decide to not utilize all of the safety tools at my disposal or to depart because “it’s only slightly broken,” aside from breaking policy or regulations, I would have consciously endangered you. If disaster struck, it would affect not only you and me but also the people closest to you in your life. Even in the smallest regional jets, those numbers multiply pretty fast.

When you bought your ticket, you were not just renting passage on a seat in an expensive pressurized flying metal tube. You were buying the discretion and training of your flight crew, and placing your trust in me, your captain, to make sure you get there safely. I see that responsibility above all. I hope that the next time I delay your flight, instead of muttering angry comments, you might see me too.

Safe Flying,

Your Captain


Top Image: “DFW Airport Gate A11 Photo i121 by Grant Wickesby Grant Wickes Licensed under CC-BY 2.0 Original source via Flickr

About the Author

Ben Zwebner
Ben Zwebner, 34, was bitten by the aviation bug at the young age of 8 years old after he went flying in the back seat of a Cessna during one of his fathers flying lessons. He grew up flying his home simulator on his computer and reading his fathers aviation text books over and over again. In 2006 he earned his Private Pilots License and in 2008 he became a Commercial Pilot and has been flying for a living ever since. He has flown traffic reporting, taught pilots as a flight instructor, was chief instructor of an FAA approved 141 flight academy, ran his own ferry company delivery airplanes all over the globe and has flown for two airlines. Ben is currently a captain on the Embrear-145 flying out of the Washington DC area.



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