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Johan Berg: How Crew Dynamics is Affected by the Number of Crew

Vi är stolta och glada att återigen ha ett inlägg från Johan Berg, tidigare TFHS-student, numera mycket erfaren pilot och kapten arbetandes i USA. Johan har denna gång skrivit på engelska och det är en mycket intressant text baserad på hans erfarenheter av samarbete med kabinbesättningar.

I am kicking off my 14th year of flying with reflecting on how group dynamics alter with the amount of crew members in a team. I have flown commercial airplanes in a few different configurations regarding crew. During my career the number of flight crew members of just two pilots has remained unchanged, but the number of flight attendants has varied between one and four.

I started flying various types of MD80, with three or four flight attendants. I later switched to the CRJ700/900, which has two flight attendants as a requirement and recently the CRJ550, which is a single flight attendant airplane. (Some may say my career is going in reverse, but I beg to differ.)

As I mentioned in an earlier article, I do everything I can to conduct some kind of pre-trip briefing with my crew, especially if there is someone in the team that I have never flown with before. It is the first, and possibly only chance, to set the standards for teamwork and CRM to function. This is a fundamental part of all problem-solving and trouble-shooting possibly faced and embraced during the trip. There are a lot of variables on how something like this can turn out, but in this article, I have chosen to focus on how the crew dynamics shift with the number of flight attendants in a crew.

Three to Four flight attendants
When there are three or more flight attendants, they easily form a group of their own within the crew. At every company I have worked the flight attendants sit together in a group and have a briefing before their flight. This is mostly done in the crew room or briefing facilities but sometimes it is facilitated on board. It has always been a clearly defined process even if it only took a few minutes. The larger the crew, the more crucial the briefings are. However, I confess that my limited experience caps out at four flight attendants. Hopefully someone can build on this article and provide their view into the dynamics on bigger commercial airplanes, particularly wide body airplanes flying long haul routes. The flight attendants set their own foundation for the teamwork to be done, usually facilitated by the purser/lead flight attendant. The pilots provide them with any relevant information for the flight but that is usually about it in regards to pre-flight interaction.

Two flight attendants
When there are two flight attendants there is often a natural balance. The flight attendants solve a lot of the issues and challenges together. It is not uncommon for the pilots not to hear from this duo until you are in the crew shuttle at the end of the flight. Most of the times, you see an instant bond and somehow the crew dynamics appears very balanced and equal. You hear references in terms of “we” and “them” between the flight deck and flight attendants, but not in a negative way. Their first outlet to seek advice and help was always each other before liaising with the pilots.

One flight attendant
One is, by a margin, the most sensitive number here. If the initial contact is neglected or overlooked, it can be very tough to be the lonely flight attendant. It is important to understand the attendant’s needs and how to make his/her daily tasks as smooth as possible. Not integrating this single flight attendant into the crew dynamics from the beginning and not understanding what challenges they might face on a given day with multiple flights – which may not necessary be particularly challenging for the pilots – can make for a day that could be overwhelming for the flight attendant. The only person this flight attendant can ask for advice and suggestions while in flight are the pilots. If there is some kind of resistance created in this communication the teamwork might turn into a significantly bigger issue than the operational issue itself.

From my observation, there are a few factors that if left unchecked, can easily break the culture/CRM between the pilots and the single flight attendant:

• Too strong of a bond between the pilots, especially if they’ve worked together before and do not know the flight attendant, can create a barrier.
• Another potential issue is if the pilots do not fully understand the impact of all the support that have been removed from the flight attendant when they work alone, compared with them working in a multi-flight attendant environment.
• It’s also important for the pilots to understand that an uneventful day for them can be completely different for the flight attendant.
• Sometimes all the flight attendant needs to make it all work out is a little bit of extra space for action, even though the flight attendant might not actually see this as a solution for themselves.
• Lastly, but by no means the least, is the importance to ensure that the communication is kept professional. One little inappropriate comment can ruin the dynamics. Communication is key, both on a professional level as well as a personal level.

I do not think this is something that can be regulated or standardized in any procedures. It’s something that we as professionals simply need to figure out and understand using our “emotional intelligence”. Remember to keep the reinforced cockpit door open when appropriate for communication, it is the key for successful team work.

Johan Berg

2 kommentarer

  1. Väldigt intressant Johan!

    Den lilla insikt jag har i denna värld baseras på en tid för länge sedan då min sambo flög långlinjer på SAS och jag ibland fick möjligheten att följa med. Jag hade ibland bekanta i cockpit och med sambon ”där bak” kom jag ofta bra in i gänget. Det var intressant att se ”spelet” mellan de båda kategorierna där kapten och purser hade nyckelroller för att skapa något bra.

    • Tack för kommentaren Anders – inlägg att väntafrån din sambo då kanske …? 🙂

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