I could not have asked for a better morning. We left New York early enough to arrive on the west coast around 10:45am. The three day trip was finished and it was time to commute home.
San Francisco’s weather was beautiful. The commute flight I’d chosen was on-time and “wide open.” I hustled over to the adjacent terminal where the gate agent immediately printed a boarding pass. If it were always that easy, commuting would be a breeze. I was in a really, really good mood.
I was the last one to board the aircraft. The flight attendant smiled as I came through the door and made the obligatory left turn towards the cockpit. Even though I’d been cleared by the agent, it is still customary to request the captain’s permission to ride.
Formalities completed, I turned and headed down the aisle to find my seat.
“Virgin America!?” The question came from a very enthusiastic gentleman seated in row three.
“Yes, sir.” I said. I knew the next question before he asked.
As predicted: “What are you doing here?”
I have a few friendly responses to the question. I smiled and said, “I got a little lost.”
He returned the smile as I continued down the aisle. In my mind, the conversation was finished. I’m completely accustomed to having that brief exchange with at least one person while boarding another carrier’s jet. It is reasonable… most passengers do not understand the unique lifestyle of a commuting pilot.
I’m always ready for the conversation. However, as I passed him, I was not prepared for his follow-up statement.
“Your airplanes are WAY better than this one.”
He said it LOUD.
I actually stopped and winced. Or, maybe I cringed… not sure. I spent the next half a second quickly contemplating a response.
Don’t see my predicament? Imagine going to a party at a friend’s home. When you arrive, the host and another mutual friend greet you in the living room. Then, in front of the host and all the other guests, the friend said, “Hey, your house is WAY better than this one.” The passenger had just become the friend with no tact.
If I ignored him, the statement would have just lingered. Agreeing with him would have insulted my hosts. Telling him he was “out of line” would have been rude. I appreciated his enthusiasm for our product, but, he obliviously put me in an impossible situation.
I leaned back towards him and offered the most diplomatic reply I could muster: “I wouldn’t say that sir… this airplane is better because it is taking me home.”
When the lead flight attendant came back towards my seat, I apologized for being involved with the conversation. She heard the exchange and assured me that nobody on the crew felt I solicited the comment from the gentleman. That’s the way I saw it… but, sometimes these situations morph into a life of their own. I was glad we were on the same page.
I stand by comments I’ve made several times on my blog: In my opinion, we have the best domestic airline product in the United States. However, there’s a time and a place for me to make that statement… and it certainly isn’t when the competition is generously providing a ride home. Aviation is a small world. We must do everything in our power to preserve the professional courtesies offered across our brands.