Last week, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made a post on his Facebook account to show his support for women, which seems noncontroversial enough. But it wasn’t. Because in doing so, he praised a speech given by one of the most polarizing figures there is. But what does this have to do with aviation? A lot.
Here’s what Sully had to say, in his words: “Since 2016 I have been saying that first principles explain why the quality of women’s lives matters to me. I care about what happens to half the population of this planet not because I once had a mother, not because I am married to my wife, not because I happen to be the father of daughters, but because I am human.”
Again, that part is not controversial; at least I hope that today, in 2020, it isn’t. But what Sully wrote next amounted to shaking up a hornet’s nest and then unleashing it, as he proceeded to praise a speech given by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, referring to it as “eloquent and powerful.” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY), is a polarizing figure, one of the most polarizing ones I know of. The speech that Sullenberger was referring to was Ocasio-Cortez’s denunciation of fellow U.S. Representative Ted Yoho (R, FL), who on the Capitol steps had allegedly called his counterpart a vulgar and derogatory name ending in the “B” word. That is for context only. Ocasio-Cortez’s political affiliations, party or her views on other issues aren’t relevant to this conversation.
Her point, however, is. And that is, again, that men shouldn’t treat women in that manner. That was what Sully was amplifying. Again, this is not a controversial point. Men need to respect women. No one would dispute that.
But how is this an aviation issue?
It is, because women get treated like that on the flight deck all the time. This I know because I’ve had countless women who fly professionally share stories exactly like this one—being intentionally belittled, called names, in fact the exact same name in question here, and that’s a problem.
And I know that the men acting like this are the exception. In my aviation experience, and I’ve been doing this for a while, I’ve witnessed almost no examples of such demeaning behavior, period. Pilots are, in general, respectful, thoughtful, professional and kind. And we should accept nothing less. If we want the world of flying to grow, we need lots of pilots to start flying. A world in which everyone is welcome in the cockpit and respected and supported is the only way we can accomplish that. Not only that, it’s really easy to do.
Except for some pilots, as my friends have shared with me. But what can the rest of us do about it? Again, it’s easy. Let’s all make it clear that we expect professional and respectful behavior on the part of everyone we interact within our aviation travels, and if we witness something that’s just not right, we all need to say something to remind everyone that the baseline for our interactions in the cockpit, on the flight line and in the briefing room is, as Aretha sang it so well, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.