I have three daughters. I have two granddaughters. It is also 2016, so it should not have come as a surprise to see that my New York to Minneapolis Delta Airlines flight was flown by two women (above). Not only were they women but young women. They were so young, I would have done a doubletake even if they had been men. They looked like my students. But this was the first time I have ever seen two women in the cockpit, and I have been flying a long time.
“Probably be a safer flight,” one daughter texted. “Relax,” said a second. “Have a drink,” said a third.
I had a drink. Then I settled back for what was, in fact, a very safe flight. It was safe from a physical perspective; that is, we didn’t encounter any rough spots. But there was plenty of psychological and intellectual turbulence. Psychological on two fronts: sex and age. Intellectual, because I had to wonder what made me react the way I did. As I sipped a Bloody Mary in between Hail Marys, I broke it down.
First, sex and gender roles. After flying for years and having gone through some hair-raising experiences, I have created an archetype of the perfect pilot. This person is the leader of the pack. He is a lean, middle-aged man with silver hair who speaks in a measured, Texan drawl. He is relaxed, knowledgeable, and as boring as he is disciplined. He inspires confidence at 38,000 feet. If he is a bass-baritone and looks like a Roman centurion, even better. Anything that does not fit this image raises suspicion.
Age is more complicated, since it does not have to do with what you might think; i.e., fear of death, at least not directly. Instead, it is related to our perceived level of success. I say “perceived,” because most people aren’t satisfied with where they are in life and think they can do better. They may even feel guilty or ashamed. It’s part of the struggle to survive in a competitive world ruled by marketing gurus. And don’t fool yourself: even the most accomplished people experience the imposter syndrome.
Ironically, our society remains segmented despite the liberation movements of the Baby Boomers in the 60s and 70s and the technology revolution of the Millennials. The older you get, the more you recede into a world far removed from today’s social and cultural marketplace, most of which lacks historical depth and is driven by media hype. Maybe that’s just me. I know it’s Twitter.
The other day I went into an AT&T store to see about changing from Verizon, my current carrier. When I mentioned how dissatisfied I was with Verizon’s billing system and compared it with Worldcom, the salesman, who didn’t know the reference, said, “That was before my time. But, tell me, what features do you want in a phone?” I told him I’d like a phone that I could use to make phone calls.
After landing in Minneapolis, the two pilots let me photograph them in the cockpit. I had sent them a note mid-flight to ask if I could write about them in this blog. They couldn’t have been more accommodating. Of course, I forgot to ask them something that had been on my mind. Not once did they address the passengers during the flight the way other pilots often do. Was that on purpose? If so, then apparently I am not alone in my bias toward archetypal pilots.
I hope it wasn’t on purpose. It would be great to know that here were two professionals doing their jobs and loving to fly, nothing more.
I should probably update my archetypes.
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