It’s not everyday you get the pleasure of sitting next to a pilot on a flight.

And no, I wasn’t sitting in the cockpit with the pilot of the flight I was on, but I still learned a great deal from my seat neighbour…

If you’ve been reading my recent articles, you’ll know by now that my wife and I went to Orlando to participate in a conference.

With my wife preferring the aisle seat, I found myself sitting next to a gentleman in the window seat.

Although both he and I were initially busy with our own projects on board for a while, by the time we were halfway to Dallas, we had struck up a conversation about who we were and what we did.

He was American with a pleasant ‘life has been good to me’ look about him.

As it turns out, he had recently retired from his position as a Captain flying for American Airlines. I mentioned to him that from his body language and the words that he used, I could tell that his experience with American had been a positive one.

“You are right,” he said, “I loved every minute of my career with American.”

I paused for a minute, wondering how many retired employees speak about their former company with such obvious emotion as this gentleman did.

He told me that ‘from its very soul,’ American Airlines placed the most importance in safety and its employees—if there was the slightest hint of a problem, they would move heaven and earth to fix it.

Although he was a Captain and had lots of authority to make decisions regarding safety issues, that same authority also existed for every employee who was encouraged to, and recognized for, speaking up about safety concerns that they identified. And in order to recognize a safety concern, a great deal of effort was placed on their training and education in safe work practices and procedures.

They also had lots of opportunity to take courses that weren’t related to their roles because the company believed that when a person grows as an individual, it could only be good news for American Airlines.

Job shadowing was an important factor as well so that employees could better understand what their coworkers’ roles and responsibilities were.

This, in his experience, had helped tremendously with communication and decision making.

He told me that when he had retired, he and his wife moved to Las Vegas.

But as can often happen with retirement, he still missed his former work…

One day on the golf course, a golfing partner, upon discovering that he was a retired Captain, mentioned that a friend of his was looking for a pilot.

His friend had a plane (a Cessna Citation for all you plane buffs), and needed someone to fly him down to Los Angeles and back again each Monday for business reasons.

Well, our retired Captain jumped on the opportunity and soon had his dream part-time job, along with a big smile on his face!

We spoke more about his favourite planes (his top being a MacDonnell-Douglas F4 Phantom which he had flown as an air force fighter pilot!), which greatly interested me, but what stuck with me the most after I stepped off that plane, was the message he shared about his time with American Airlines.

Workplace Safety & What We Can Learn From American Airlines

He spoke so passionately about how his employer built their culture around making sure that people were safe when they came to work.

And for that, he said, “I will always be grateful to them.”