Pilots and Flight Attendants are employees in a service industry. Saying no to a customer is not part of the culture of this industry, and certainly not when the customer is in the top leadership of the company.
A charter client flying coast to coast was a regular traveler with a competing charter company. One winter, his regular aircraft, a Gulfstream, was unavailable and his flight was booked on the competition’s Falcon. The pressure was on the Falcon crew to perform and interest the client in their service, yet the crews’ real challenge was the weather at their destination. Teterboro was having a lousy winter day and the runways were becoming contaminated with unfavorable winds. Half way through the flight, the pilots – both experienced captains flying as co captains – determined conditions were deteriorating and the outcome of continuing to KTEB was in doubt. Doubt is a true maker that an operation is approaching the safety margins and has undoubtedly been present at many, many accidents.
The crew made the decision to divert to Newark and called dispatch to make the necessary ground arrangements. The crew briefed the FA and then advised the passenger – it did not go over well. The Newark arrival was uneventful and just before a PIREP was issued: “Breaking action Nil”, stopping operations. The car service was waiting to take the passenger to his meeting in Manhattan, yet he was not happy, “the other crew always went into Teterboro”.
The next day the pax approached the Falcon for the return flight. The crew greeting him expected grief, a further upbraiding and assurance that this was his last flight on this aircraft. When the pax announced: “I made the meeting just fine, others did not, their aircraft slid off the runway after landing at Teterboro”.
Crews are goal oriented and focused to make it happen, but if crews are always expected to say “yes” safety is compromised. It takes experience, good procedures and a true safety culture that will back up the crew when they do the right thing and say “no” to the boss – which sometimes is the right thing to say.