Thursday, April 9, 2020

Essential Service: Pilot in Times of Crisis


As a young man, I earned my wings during the Gulf War of 1991, a war that led to sky-high oil prices and spelled the end for two major airlines here in the U.S., Eastern Air Lines and Pan Am World Airways. 

I was a junior Washington D.C.-based captain on my way to work during the worst attacks on America since Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. My career also survived the Great Recession of 2008, billed as the worst recession since World War II.

Today, while Americans are advised to stay home because of a contagious and deadly virus, I fly every day, as my work is considered essential for the country. I move people who are medical workers and volunteers, people whose job is to prevent the spread of the disease. My cargo includes key medical supplies and equipment. On the business side, some of my passengers are in supply chains and keep our country working so that the economy, even at reduced level, is still providing essential goods and services to all of us. 

But I'm no hero; the real heroes are in the ERs and ICUs. They are in factories making ventilators and in labs working on vaccines. 

So with a long draw, I empty my cup of coffee in the crew lounge at SeaTac airport and strap the black GMT-Master II on my wrist before walking down the jetway for this 1,942 nautical-mile flight from Seattle to Atlanta, our flight plan filed for Flight Level 350, or 35,000 feet. Delta 2922 is scheduled to depart on time at 17:52 GMT, or 10:52 local, 42 minutes from now. 

Delta Air Lines, which started as a crop-duster operation in the Mississippi delta region 95 years ago has an amazing history, surviving difficult crises. And in 1991, it managed to buy the most iconic airline in the world and its routes, Pan Am. Pan Am pilots and flight attendants went to work for Delta, as the country's flagship airline⁠—for whom the original Rolex GMT-Master was built⁠—realized it couldn't survive.

From experience of working through crises, I know that the object attached to my wrist daily will create a formidable bond once the crisis is over. 

If there's a time to bond with one watch, it is now whatever the brand or reference. The watch that I wore on Sept. 11, 2001⁠—a watch that I had worn for 20 years and 10,000 flight hours, including 125 crossings of the Atlanticis now worn by my son, a Special Forces soldier in the U.S. Army.

The ad above highlights the commitment that Rolex makes to the customer. But it goes both way. For me, wearing a Rolex is a commitment that I make to share history with it in good times or in bad.

Ten years from now, I will look down at my wrist and know my GMT-Master has carried me during both a global pandemic and the worst economical crisis my industry has ever known. Together we will fight this, create memories, and we will live to share those stories with our grandchildren. The crown on my watch is more than a symbol; it's a sign of commitment.