“A true hero!…You are a hero!…Sully = hero!…You, sir, are a real hero…This man is a hero!…”
Now that the jubilation has settled, I think it’s important to point out something.
No rational airline pilot wishes to be called a hero.
It’s true. If you are called that….name, it is the beginning of a nightmare. It means that a bad thing has happened. You undoubtedly had something to do with said situation (even if you were the reason it turned out well). It means there will be……consequences.
- It means you will be put under the microscope by the Feds, and the passenger’s attorneys, and whatever dimwitted reporter is staked out at the front of the terminal after the accident/incident (your company always prohibits you from talking to the press – It’s in the Employee Handbook! READ IT!! LEARN IT!!! LIVE IT!!!!).
- It means that you dare not pick up the phone when it rings once you get home (unless you have caller ID).
- It means you are probably not going to be able to leave the house for awhile, and when you do, you’re going to have to replant that area out by the sidewalk, where said dimwitted press types are holed up waiting to dry gulch you in an interview (that you have to hide from anyway).
- It means you’re probably going to end up in civil court for the remainder of your natural life, while the legion of passenger lowlifes take their shot at the Great American Lottery (lawsuits).
- It means that if you get the aircraft safely to the gate, and if you get the last passenger safely off the aircraft, and if you’re able to walk off the plane, then you will have to run the press gauntlet at the front of the terminal.
I’ve known guys that have foreseen the impending inquisition, and changed into their civvies before walking out of the terminal. They then hid in the parking lot until one of the other crewmembers could rent a van and sneak everyone off airport property. (True story)
Do not confuse us with popular culture types. We do not desire fame, or notoriety for that matter. If we had wanted to spend the rest of our lives as media creatures, we would have taken theater when we were in college, or (shudder) run for office. With very specific and peculiar exceptions, we are “normal” people with strongly developed aversions to public acclaim, or scrutiny. If we do our jobs correctly, Joe Public doesn’t even know we exist. That’s how we like it.
There is no percentage for a line pilot in being called that….name. It’s not like the military, where you get to wear a nice medal (there’s no place on your uniform to wear it anyway), or maybe get a promotion because of it (your seniority system limits that). You certainly won’t get a raise or bonus for it (your union contract limits that as well).
No, being called a hero is never a good thing for an airline pilot. If you make the mistake of thanking us to our face we will smile, offer our embarrassed acknowledgement, and rapidly scurry off since we’ve been recognized (also never a good thing). If you are kind, just write a short note thanking us for saving your lives, and give it to a flight attendant (she’ll get it to us). We can read it when we’re alone. That’s a nice thing to do. A private expression of gratitude is always the best. We usually don’t have enough time, at home, as it is.