I was an FO for 15 years at my airline. I had several captains that I couldn’t stand to be with.
First things first. Have a real heart to heart with yourself. Is this a personality thing? Am I the problem because of some behavior that is triggering this guy? Is this a safety issue? Am I able to perform my duties as a copilot in the environment this captain is creating? Is it just a bad day or is this the captains normal behavior? Is this behavior a safety issue? Is he a good “stick and rudder” pilot and does he follow the rules and regulations?” Be really honest with yourself and try to get past the emotions or anger you’re feeling. It sucks to be belittled in the cockpit by some jerk. Are you a thick skinned individual or do things hurt your feelings easily? Would you put your grandmother and daughter on his airplane without thinking, even a little, about the safety of the flight?
If you can change your behavior and maybe speak with the captain and explain what’s happening, that might be enough. Is he willing to listen? Is he willing to change his behavior? If he isn’t:
Can you safely complete the trip and then put him on the “do not pair” list and never fly with him again? If not:
Contact crew scheduling and play the safety card. They’ll replace you as soon as possible with a new copilot.
Copilots have more power than they think they do. Start a paper trail and document everything the captain said and did over the trips you’ve flown with him. Keep an accurate log. Dates, times and quotes. If he’s berating you or creating an environment that makes it difficult to do your job safely, then document exactly what happened.
It’s the captains job to manage the crew for maximum effectiveness. If he’s not doing that, he’s not doing his job. It’s that simple.
Most airlines have a FO’s irregularity report form. Fill it out with any irregularities that occurred during the flight. Did he raise his voice, loudly swear, follow the rules? Was he respectful to other people such as flight attendants, mechanics and rampers? Put it all in your report and turn it in to the office.
If you’re at a major airline, there is a “Professional Standards” committee that is designed for just this kind of thing. Call them and make an appointment and present your case. They will contact the captain and confront him about your allegations. They’ll council him in a non threatening way and hopefully he will change his demeanor in the cockpit. The captain may or may not be willing to own his behavior. If he isn’t then you should move to the next step.
It’s time to go through the double doors to the chief pilot. Write down your complaint with the dates and times and all the details of his behavior. Explain the situation methodically and unemotionally. Make a fact based complaint. Use the word Unsafe whenever it is applicable. Don’t leave anything out. The chief pilots goal is to have a safe pilot workforce and not get mired in a difficult situation. Be sure to back it up in the form of an email or written letter, hopefully both, to the Chief Pilot. By putting it in writing, you have created a record that will be very embarrassing to the airline if there is an incident that involves this captain and the airline knew he created an unsafe cockpit environment and the airline did nothing about it. Because of your email, the chief pilot is now responsible for “doing something about it.” The letter will also go into the captains personal file. If you keep it verbal, the chief pilot might be a drinking buddy of the captain and will dismiss the whole thing. Always do it in writing. If you really want the letter to have some firepower, cc the Director of Operations or Vice President of Flight Operations. That will really force the chief pilot to take action because now he has to answer to his superiors if they ask.
Next, go public with your issues. Talk among the other copilots about what you experienced and ask for their opinions of this guy. You’re probably not the first one who has felt this way. Most jerks have a reputation among the copilots. Don’t exaggerate or make anything up, just stick to the facts. If someone else hates flying with him, encourage them to put him on their “do not pair” list. If someone feels the same way you do, encourage them to start at Professional Standards and do all the stuff you did.
Ask the captains you fly with about his reputation. Explain what happened and ask about him. If he’s a jerk, everyone else probably already knows it. Again be honest and accurate. You probably fly with instructors from the training department sometimes. These guys are fonts of knowledge. They know all about company politics and procedures and they know who wields power and who does not. They will be able to give you very good advice about what to do about your problem. They may council you that you’ve done enough, they may suggest a letter to the training department, cc Director of Ops. They may tell you to call a particular person about your concern. These guys know where the bodies are buried.
Doing these steps is the only way that the airline can find out who has CRM problems and needs to be retrained and reevaluated. Captains have been terminated by copilot complaints in the past at my airline.
There’s no room in the sky for a captain that can’t manage his cockpit well. This is much too important a job for us to cover for a bad actor. We need to put safety above all else. Do your part and the airline and the industry will be better off.
Story time: When I upgraded to captain, I was on my Initial Operating Experience, IOE, with an instructor who was… terrible. He talked all the time, would bring up mistakes over and over during the flight, yelled and cussed at me when something small didn’t go right. We were pushing back in Atlanta and I heard the clearance to point the nose west but from some kind of miscommunication with the tug driver we ended up pointed east. He refused to ask the ramp controller if we could just taxi from where we were, it was about 6 AM and nothing was happening but he forced me make the driver pull us back to the gate and push again to the other direction. Then he kept bringing up this mistake every half hour for our trip to Nicaragua. He couldn’t let it go. I was shocked that this kind of person existed, especially in training. It got worse from there. This guy just couldn’t keep his mouth shut and badgered me on every decision I made. I’d been a copilot for over 15 years and knew quite well what was acceptable and what wasn’t. It got so bad that I almost left the trip but I didn’t. I stuck with him and he signed me off for that training module. I only had to pass a flight with an FAA examiner observing to finish my IOE and start flying the line.
So I did the whole thing I outlined above. He was known in the training department as a jolly guy who talked too much but was otherwise okay. I talked to copilots and captains that he had trained and they said that he wasn’t that horrible but they wouldn’t want to fly with him again. I met a few who had worse stories than me.
So I went ahead and wrote him up to the chief pilot, the director of ops and the VP of flight operations. I also sent copies of the letter to the head of the training department and the fleet manager of the 737 with a detailed transcript of our flight. I also added paragraphs written by the other pilots who had a difficult time with this jerk.
He wanted to be an instructor on the 787 to end his career. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it but he never got that slot and I heard later that he had decided to return to line flying…on the 737 where he belonged.
I don’t know if my correspondence did anything but it made me feel better and I think it was one of the reasons he didn’t get into the 787 program.