A few years ago I was getting ready to depart from a busy east coast airport to California. It was very crowded and chaotic. Normal for this airport. Making matters worse was a fast-moving front coming from the south, bringing stiff, gusty winds, dark clouds, sporadic sunshine, and rain. Rather pretty actually.
You didn’t need a wind sock because the departing airplanes would instantly weathervane a good 40 degrees to the east. Pilot reports consisted of moderate turbulence and wind sheer. And worse. As I was getting the clearance, I asked for reports from the departing aircraft. Same thing. Bad rides and moderate turbulence with wind sheer.
I watched a crew wrestle their jet down the runway and taxi into the FBO where I was parked. After the passengers disappeared I asked the captain about the approach. He laughed and said he probably should have diverted. As he walked away I decided I would delay our departure. After all, according to the radar reports the system would pass about 45 minutes after our scheduled departure.
I have to admit I felt like I was doubting my judgment because everyone else was coming and going as if it were a pleasant weekend morning. I would be the only pilot admitting trepidation, but it was just common sense to wait.
My passengers arrived on time and I called ground control for taxi. I informed them that we would like to taxi out to the runway but delay our departure until weather conditions improved. On our way to the holding area, ground asked how long we needed.
“Approximately 40 minutes based on the forecast,” was my response.
We informed our passengers that we were going to hold for a short time to allow for the weather to improve. They accepted the plan. After a few minutes I heard the aircraft behind us tell the tower that they would be delaying their takeoff. Shortly thereafter two more planes did the same thing. Then a fourth crew asked to hold.
I made a mental note to review what just happened. Not only was my self doubt erased, I felt justified in my decision and learned an interesting lesson.
I realized that some pilots that day were not comfortable flying in those conditions but kept flying anyway because everyone else was—one definition of peer pressure. Nobody was willing to say no. Or at least willing to wait. But when I announced over the radio that we would wait for better conditions, it seemed to give permission to the other crews to delay.
Sometimes it takes someone to make a decision in a better direction for others to take notice. Pilots seem to forget the concept of Pilot in Command.
No one remembers their delayed flights. But they sure relive the worse rides of their lives.