Last week, I had the privilege of talking to an American Airlines captain. Unlike most civilian pilots, Captain Steve Bixler started his flying adventure in the military, earning his wings at the Pensacola Military Base in Florida after he earned a degree from the University of Virginia. After leaving the military, Captain Bixler joined American Airlines as an A330 Pilot and is currently awaiting training for the B787.
For student pilots, Captain Bixler said both the preflight briefing and POH are practically the same, just with more information for a larger aircraft. He also mentioned when you take the written test for a rating, there isn't a specific way or technique that would guarantee you a certain pass; the best way is to study the way you think works best for you.
After a few decades of flying with American Airlines, he has many airline stories and secrets to share. One of his stories takes place over South America while flying the A330. They had to divert their aircraft to a small remote airport in Brazil, and when they landed, they had to find a way to let all of the passengers out of the plane before refueling and heading out the next day. In this case, the airstairs that had rolled up to the airplane to assist in the disembarking of the passengers wasn’t long enough to reach the door so Captain Bixler had to improvise. In the end, he came up with a makeshift ladder made of planks of wood to extend the airstairs to the height of the A330, which worked successfully in aiding in the disembarkation of passengers.
If there is something to take away from my interview with Captain Bixler, it is that when an aircraft encounters turbulence, it can't be predicted. The only way pilots know turbulence is ahead is from the help of PIREPS (pilot reports) from other pilots who flew through the same turbulence before.
For those that hate airline food, I can assure you are not alone because he also thinks the food served gets old. Before you go “I TOLD YOU SO,” our captain also mentioned that meals are swapped every three months so this means you should give it a try before torturing yourself with the thought of disgusting airline food. As the interview came to an end, I thanked him for coming. And that was it - a whole interview with an official American Airlines pilot.