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  • Patricia Northrup


Updated: May 11, 2023


I have never had so much power at the tip of my fingers as I do as a Captain for American Airlines. It is an extremely seductive part of the job for me.

Although I have examples from most everyday I go to work, today was a particularly powerful day.

It all started in Bradley, CT…as I woke up, I was alerted on my phone that my 2:38 pm departure was already delayed and it was only noon. As I started to see what was up, I learned that there was a line of thunderstorms parked right over North and South Carolina and Virginia. They even had a tornado touch down on the field in Charlotte and had to evacuate the tower. Not good.

My flight was delayed until 4pm so I headed to the airport at 3pm…utter chaos. All of these poor people trying to get where they need to go and the entire southeast is at a ground stop.

Pilots work closely with a flight dispatcher to make sure everything is in order for our flight: weather, flight plan etc., so I start talking to Mike, my dispatcher. He has just come on his shift so we start chatting…air traffic control is issuing flow control times for planes to leave and ours is not for another hour and a half.

It is very frustrating as a passenger to watch the board keep changing every 10 min and just slowly roll forward. It gives one the impression that the airline does not really know what is going on…they just want to keep you close so they can board and leave if needed. Well, we were not going anywhere so I asked Mike to put an hour delay up there so folks could have a sense of when they might actually leave. He did. Then once traffic was flowing into Charlotte, we faced a new problem…a gate. I did not want to take off and then sit in Charlotte for hours waiting for a gate. It took Mike another 45 minutes to secure our gate….we posted that delay. When we boarded the airplane, flew to Charlotte and got to the gate, those folks did not spend one more moment on that plane than they had to. Many of them told me as they left that they appreciated all of the effort for that outcome. Power.

When I see a passenger is with us that has a million miles or more, I always head to the back and introduce myself and thank them for their loyalty. Most of the time, they are shocked, pleased and thankful for the kind words.

When we have maintenance delays, I take my bag of lollipops and walk the aisle looking for children who I can personally welcome aboard…I get some adult takers too.

When I know it is going to be a particularly bumpy ride, I always stand at the front of the aircraft and look the passengers in the eye as I tell them the reality of the flight. Like a boat on the water, we are going to encounter some choppy seas in the air. But I tell them that we are always searching for smooth air for them. Undoubtedly when I say goodbye, most say it was not as bad as they expected and thanks for the warning.

Power…power to do good.

Tonight our passengers to Los Angeles were delayed almost 5 hours, had to change gates, and were unsure if our flight was ever going to go…I worked with Mike all day for updates on where our plane was coming from, when the flight attendants would time out and tried to stay a step ahead of each pitfall that faced us…as I told the passengers on my PA that our crew of flight attendants hustled over to our flight to make sure we made it to LA, the passengers all clapped. Most people just want to know that someone is “doing” something, that somebody cares…

In this job, the power to accomplish good things is endless and the positive outcomes are infectious. I have 15 more years to wield this power and I plan to each and every flight!!

1 Comment

Edith Hamilton
Edith Hamilton
Oct 17, 2023

How inspiring you are as you use your power to do good for others in such a thoughtful and systemic kind of way. The little comforts you bring are a conduit for joy … what did amazing way to live.

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