“Whose leg is this?” the man blurted out as he arrived in the entryway of the flight deck.
The captain immediately took offense to the sudden interruption. “Do you mind identifying yourself?” he asked.
We were sitting on the ground in Denver preparing for departure. Normally, we welcome visitors to the cockpit with open arms. But, don’t ever suddenly appear in a captain’s work environment demanding answers without first introducing yourself.
“I’m the passenger in 9C. I want to know who will be flying because my friends and I are going to judge the landing in Chicago on a scale from one to ten. We do this all the time and find it adds a little bit of fun to the flight.”
“Fun for who?” the captain replied. I could tell he was annoyed with our guest and wanted no part of the challenge.
Our visitor kept going: “Fun for everyone. It gives you guys a bit of a challenge and it’s something fun for us to talk about after the flight.”
The captain started verbalizing some of the thoughts that were already going through my head. It was my leg and we were planning on landing on one of ORD’s shortest runways. ATIS winds were reporting a slight crosswind with a little bit of gust. We are professionals tasked with keeping things safe… not fun.
Passengers without any piloting experience tend to “judge” landings on completely different criteria. All that matters to people in the seats is how soft the airplane kisses the ground. I’ve watched pilots float halfway down the runway trying to milk a smooth touchdown. While a passenger may score that a ten, I’d give it a two. A perfect landing is a squeaker in the touchdown zone with the main wheels equidistant from the center-line.
Still fairly new on the 737, I was hoping for an average touchdown that met all the remaining criteria.
It didn’t really seem to matter what the captain tried to explain. This guy was determined to judge the landing.
I joined the conversation.
“Sir, you say you do this all the time?” I asked.
“Yes. Every flight.” he replied.
“Well, knowing my peers, I’m guessing everyone puts in max effort for the highest score, right? Have you ever had a ten?”
“Oh, yeah… I’ve given out plenty of eights, nines and tens.” He started to perk up a bit. Clearly, unlike that grumpy-ass captain, I was willing to be a contestant in his game.
“Well, here’s the deal: If you’ve had plenty of other pilots earn those high scores, I’d like to be different. I’m going to try for a one. So, how firm does it need to be to score a one?”
His demeanor instantly changed.
“You’d purposely slam it on the runway?” he asked in disbelief.
“Oh, yeah. You just tell me how hard it needs to be… This is going to be fun.”
I looked him right in the eye as he stood silent with his mouth slightly open. After a few seconds elapsed, I glanced over at the boss in the left seat. He was smiling as he also awaited the reply from our dumbfounded friend.
Then, I smiled and let him off the hook.
“Look… I’m just joking with you. I’d never do that… But, just to reiterate what the captain said… We’re landing on a short runway in Chicago with gusty winds. I’m going to give you a nice safe touchdown based on the criteria pilots and the FAA use for landings. If you want to score it based on your criteria, that’s fine… but, your challenge won’t influence how I execute it one bit.”
Looking relieved, he boldly stated that he knew I was joking the whole time.
He then randomly proceeded to inform us that pilots with aerobatic experience make the best airline pilots.
“Do you have a lot of experience with that?” he asked the captain.
“Sir… I think it’s time for you to return to your seat. We’re almost ready to push back.”
The exchange gave us something to talk about during the two and a half hour flight. Upon arrival in Chicago’s airspace, the conversation shifted back to our required duties.
After flying a right hand pattern and bumping down final, I managed to achieve an average touchdown on the center-line in the first third of 27R. With maximum reverse and normal braking, we turned left on the high speed taxiway near the end and began the lengthy journey towards the terminal.
At the gate, by the time we opened the flight deck door, the judge had departed.
He didn’t relay my score to anyone on the crew before he deplaned.
So, I gave it a seven.
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