Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Timing is Important

#3 of My Series: Behind the Cockpit Door

My work and life mantra of being proactive and giving people the tools they need to do their job has been uppermost in my mind on every one of my flights in my 27 years of flying as a Captain. Learning when to open my mouth to be proactive soon became the third tenant of my now 3-part personal philosophy:  Be Proactive, Provide the Tools, and Timing is Crucial.  I abbreviate it as PTT or (be) Proactive, (give ‘em the proper) Tools, and Timing (is crucial). 

Using PTT one day on a round trip flight from Houston to Orlando, I decided to take action when I saw we would be late leaving Houston and suspected that would likely snowball into a late arrival back into Houston on the return flight.  I figured I could forward my request to the dispatcher early for extra fuel to fly faster than normal on the return trip in order to make up for lost time and hopefully get the airplane back on schedule when it returned to Houston.

It was a good proactive plan, but, as I was to later learn, bad timing on my part.  As I talked to my dispatcher for the outbound flight and asked him to forward a request for more fuel on the return flight, I didn’t account for the possibility that there might be a dispatcher shift change or that my message could easily get garbled or possibly lost.  Happy to finally get on board our late-arriving airplane, we began our preparations for the delayed outbound flight.  We were making good progress through our checklist until we got to the item called “Flight Plan.”   The First Officer (co-pilot) said, “Captain, there’s something strange here. Our uplinked computer flight plan is wrong, very wrong!”  I took one look at it and realized my error.  I was looking at the return flight plan FROM Orlando to Houston, not the one we needed to fly TO Orlando!

In his desire to help fulfill my “proactive request” the dispatcher had sent us the wrong flight plan data, causing us an unnecessary delay and a flurry of corrective activity at a time when we were already late and chomping at the bit to get moving.  It took us another ten minutes to request a new (correct) flight plan which was the only way practical way to delete the wrong flight plan.  Several cell calls to the dispatcher later, I realized that the real problem was my desire to plan ahead into an area where the wrong timing on my part could easily result in some unwanted and delay-producing results.   

Had I kept my mouth shut and waited until we were airborne, THEN made my request via our single-finger typing system used for sending airborne messages, I could have save everyone a whole lot of hassle. So now I’ve modified my “Timing is Crucial” to include a footnote:  Give ‘em what they need WHEN they need it. Too much info at the wrong time is as bad as no info at all!