By F/O Luis Perez (United)
Air Line Pilot, September 2003, p.55
"An Air Line Pilot will conduct his affairs with other members of the profession and with ALPA in such a manner as to bring credit to the profession as well as to himself."
—excerpt from the ALPA Code of Ethics
A few years ago, my wife and I were invited to a tango show at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. During the show, I witnessed a performance that affected the way I have been looking at my job ever since.
Sometime earlier, I had been on a layover in Chicago, when, coming back to the hotel after strolling around in the city, I heard a couple on a street corner talking in a familiar tongue. I turned around and asked them if they were from my home town.
Surprised, they said, "Yes!"
They quickly invited me for a cup of coffee. After exchanging our stories, they told me that they were dancers with "Tango × 2," one of the two most-respected tango companies in Argentina, and that they were touring major cities of the United States. To our surprise, their next stop on tour was Denver, my current home town. Delighted, we agreed to meet when they came to Denver.
On their second day in Denver, my wife and I gave our new friends a tour of the city, followed by a drive up the mountains. In turn, they invited us to their tango performance that evening. They had some of the best seats in the house reserved for us. Even though our friends were thrilled that we were coming to see them perform, they emphasized that the stars of the show were really Miguel Angel and Milena, the star dancers and the owners of Tango × 2. They raved about their talents and insisted that we pay close attention to their presentation.
The tango invokes sadness, irony, and misery—sentiments that were felt by European immigrants upon reaching the southern tip of America in the early 19th century. But above all, the tango embodies seduction, lust, and love—feelings that enabled these people to cope with the harsh realities that awaited them in Argentina.
Miguel Angel and Milena personified the tango. Their moves were seductive, their expressions filled with lust. And the way they looked at each other showed nothing but love. Their passion spilled all over the theater, and the audience returned the feeling with standing ovations.
After the show, our friends took us to dinner, along with a few other members of the company. At dinner, we learned that Miguel Angel and Milena were going through a bitter divorce. After the performance I had witnessed, I was in total disbelief. How could two people who had such feelings of rage and bitterness toward each other present an image of such passion and love on stage?
Over the years, I had had a vague concept of professionalism. That night, however, I really understood what the term meant. From that day on, I started to approach my work with a different perspective.
In our jobs as pilots, we at times come across individuals who, for many reasons, do not inspire great sympathy in us. We are humans, and we all have stereotypes or prejudices imbedded deep in our minds. Whether the pilot we are flying with is a former Marine or Navy pilot, tanker or fighter pilot, of military or civilian background, a he or a she, black or white, from this culture or that culture—the reasons why we may not be too fond of a co-worker abound. Moreover, when the person we are working with is not a peer—i.e., is a flight attendant, gate agent, or mechanic—the reasons for disliking the person become compounded. And to top it off, in our training environment, we sometimes do not have a lot of time to get to know one another, which makes our conduct even more critical.
When we come across such an individual, our professionalism is put to the test. I view these instances as opportunities to practice what I have learned from the incredibly talented tango dancers. On stage, their love for their art superseded the emotions they had for each other. From the stands, their product looked flawless. I hope to one day achieve that level of professionalism in my own work.
This article is reprinted with permission from United Council 93’s newsletter Puzzle Palace Gazette, June 2002.