A Shout Out to Captain Chenowith of AA Flight 177

June 2, 2007, 7:49 PM UTC

Yo, Captain Chenowith of American Airlines. I’m not sure I’m spelling your name right, but here’s to you, Bud. All of us who sat on the ground at Kennedy Airport in NY with you last night for four hours send you a big Whazzup. We like you. We wanted to tell you that because so far all of the communication between you and us has been one way, you to us. This note is to set that right. So here it is:

We know it wasn’t your fault that five seconds after we pulled away from the gate the Port Authority of New York shut down half the runways at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark for reasons supposedly having to do with weather. If there was some kind of weather, we sure didn’t see it. It was a lovely afternoon and then, after a while, night. But anyhow. You told us what was going on. You asked for our understanding and patience. Usually, when people thank me for my patience I find I immediately don’t have any. But somehow, you really seemed to be asking, so I felt, hey, I’ll live up to Captain Chenowith’s standard. I’ll be calm. I’ll sound like Chuck Yeager. I’ll be cool.

Day morphed into night. The hours went by. Every twenty minutes or so, you told us what was going on. My favorite part was when you admitted that if you asked the control tower for another estimate of departure time, they would get huffy on you and move us to the back of the line. We always knew those flight controllers were like that.

We also liked it when you expressed some slight annoyance, albeit tinged with realism and resignation, that all the international flights were getting off the ground while we were sitting and festering. That didn’t seem fair to us either.

The hours passed like minutes at first, and then like hours, and then like days, and still we sat, and every twenty minutes or so there you were, telling us what was up, not a voice of apology or cold authority either, but a fellow sufferer who wanted to kiss the sky as much as we did.

And then, as the moon rose high over the tarmac, you came on and told us what we suspected might be true… that the Company has a new policy (presumably born in the forge of the Jet Blue debacle) that no group of passengers may be imprisoned in a metal tube for more than four hours. “This is not our decision,” you said, “and it’s not one I necessarily agree with, but there it is.” At that moment, I saw you in my minds eye in your comfy cockpit, yearning to take a hard left, hit the runway and get airborne. But you play by the rules, and so we did too.

As always, it took a dog’s age for the staff at Kennedy to figure out how to get people off the plane, but eventually they did find us a gate. And before we left we heard from you one more time, asking us not to take out our frustration and resentment on the gate staff who would be there to help us. Personally, I was thinking of yelling at somebody in a uniform first chance I got. You pulled me down off that ledge.

There are a lot of people who do their jobs by the book. Many do the technical side and think that’s all they need to do — surgeons come to mind. But dealing with people is often an important part of what we do. And it’s nice to see somebody who does it so well.

Fly safe, Captain. As we wait on the tarmac this morning, rebooked, ready to at last head to our common destination, we say thanks!

We who are about to fly, salute you!