A famous joke goes like this. “What’s the difference between God and an airline pilot?” Answer: “God doesn’t think he’s a pilot.”
When boarding a flight, passengers rarely think about the pilot being anything less than professional and skilled. After all, people are putting their lives in the pilot’s hands. But there are plenty of kooky pilots out there. For instance, aviation lore has it that a woman once boarded a flight with two Bengal tiger cubs. (Clearly there was some hand greasing to get these cats onto the plane.) When there wasn’t any room for the animals with the passengers, the pilot decided to put them in the cockpit. That’s one bold pilot. We got longtime pilot “Captain Ron” to dish on some of his all-time favorite weirdo pilots.
1. The Neat Freak Pilot
Most pilots meet each other for the first time just before a flight (and then end up spending two or three days together — it’s as awkward as it sounds). So for this particular flight, the first thing I noticed about my copilot was that he was extremely well groomed. There wasn’t a hair out of place, and it looked as if his uniform hadn’t been worn before, it was so well pressed. After he went through his flight checklist he pulled out rubber latex gloves. He then opened up a Cheetos bag and started to eat, all the cheesiness staying on the gloves and turning them bright orange. When he was done snacking he whipped off the gloves in triumph and showed me his spotless hands. After takeoff, never mind flying the plane — the Neat Freak Pilot pulled out a toolkit with precision cleaning supplies and proceeded to give the cockpit a thorough scrubbing.
2. The Smelly Pilot
This guy is infamous — and everyone in the industry is afraid to fly with him. Because of a stomach issue, he has terrible flatulence. Stuck in the tiny cockpit with almost no ventilation, some of his copilots have actually gotten ill. When I first flew with him, the smelly pilot let one fly, so to speak, within the first few minutes. I knew I couldn’t take this odor for the entire flight, so I grabbed my oxygen mask and ended up wearing it until touchdown, Navy pilot style.
3. The Paranoid Pilot
When this pilot sat down in the cockpit, he pulled out a baseball cap — and proceeded to cover it in aluminum foil, which he had handy in his bag. He then donned this silver headpiece with pride. When I asked him why he encased his perfectly adequate hat in Reynolds Wrap, he replied, “Radiation protection.”
4. The Narcoleptic Pilot
Right after takeoff this guy dozed off, and he snored through the rest of the flight. (Good thing there were two of us flying the plane.) The Narcoleptic Pilot woke up during the final approach, seconds from landing. He cried out, “Wait, why are we so low?,” gave the plane a burst of power and then handed the controls back to me to finish landing.
5. The Speed Demon Pilot
There have been some legends when it comes to inappropriate pilot behavior. One such captain was the Speed Demon Pilot. (In the industry he was known as “Boss Hogg,” because he looked like the ’80s TV character from “Dukes of Hazzard.”) It was pre-9/11, and this pilot flew fast. All the time. Pretty much as fast as he could without incurring any structural damage to the plane. He also never wrote a takeoff checklist. Clearly he had buddies in important positions at the airline to keep his job secure.