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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Solutions to Mental Health

By Improving the Cultural Environment

Last week in the post: Mental Health and Culture, I presented the negative impact and power that corporate culture has on the mental health of a pilot, and how a toxic work environment can negatively impact any employee.  Today I want to share how airlines could improve the mental health of pilots, and the entire workgroup overnight, if they were truly concerned. 

With all the rhetoric about concern for pilots' mental health, I suggest there are some easy steps that could be taken to improve the mental health and associated performance of our pilots. 

1). Sign the pilot contract and remove uncertainty. There is absolutely no reason that airline pilots should wait 4-5 years, or longer, to get a contract to improve working conditions. The stress of this uncertainty is impacting the mental health of all your pilots, and contractual requirements are necessary to reduce fatigue. 

2). Airline management should honor Federal Regulations and stop extending flight crews to ungodly hours on duty via corporate "workarounds" despite the FAA's approval. Placing pilots on duty over 24 hours may be deemed a workaround, but that practice is in violation of any SMS. This practice is causing excessive fatigue and is a safety concern. 

3). Staff the airline properly to enable employee downtime. Granted, airline management allowed early retirement of far too many pilots to rid itself of the most expensive pilots, despite being allotted government money as a result of Covid. But two wrongs don't make a right. Fix your mistakes, don't cover them up with pilot pushing. 

4). Pay all pilots adequately versus paying some double time to incentivize pilots to fly fatigued. This statement circles back to point 1: Sign your contract. 

5). Management should be held to higher standards than those they lead. Hypocrisy angers most people, and the double standards of ethics and compliance sets the bar for other employees very low.

6). Scrap the doctor note requirement (that is easily obtained) and treat your employees with respect. Every U.S. pilot is required to sign a release asserting that they are fit to fly prior to departure. Unfortunately, some airline management has determined that these professionals cannot make that determination prior to arriving to the airport. Perhaps we should have a doctor sign the release at each departure certifying pilots are fit to fly, if pilots cannot be trusted to know their health. 

7). Allow pilots to use their allotted sick leave for mental health days without question. If a pilot were to have an argument with their spouse that has put them on edge, is dealing with a troubled teen, a crying baby, or just wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, that pilot should be able to use his or her allotted sick days for a mental health day. Those who know they should not be in a plane will act accordingly and call in sick anyway. If required, they will find a doctor to write them a note. No doctor will ever force a pilot to fly. My question is, why is the company forcing pilots to lie so the pilot can ensure a safe operation

8). Management should practice what they preach. Nothing sickens people more than observing behavior that contradicts the marketing mantra that is known to be false. 

9). Stop paying doctors to falsely assert pilots are alcoholics or mentally unfit because they report safety concerns. Meaning, stop retaliating and just solve the problem instead of killing the messenger. 

There will always be pilots with multiple issues outside the workplace that they are trying to deal with. The FAA wants those pilots to come forward if they need help. Everyone, management included, advises us to seek help before it's too late. The problem is, if all a pilot needs is some time to deal with issues at home, to exercise, sleep and get physically and mentally healthy, then wouldn't the first step be to take some time off? Why wouldn't that first step be to use their sick leave to get some much needed rest? If a pilot has sick-leave available, why is that pilot prohibited from using that time until he pushes himself to sickness or mentally breaks? 

10). The FAA should mandate that any pilot who needs time off should be allowed to use company allotted sick leave without question. 

“Take your time healing, as long as you want. 
Nobody else knows what you’ve been through. 
How could they know how long it will take to heal you?” 
— Abertoli

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene


  1. There are so many factors. For instance the HIMS program designed to help a pilot get back to the cockpit after treating the addiction issue. Only to be held up by the FAA and the bureaucracy of doctors they must use. The delays, the costs to the pilot. While disability runs out or is denied. Eventually driving the pilot to relapse and kill himself. Now his 5 year old daughter gets to grow up with that. If pilots weren’t forced to pay huge sums to specific doctors that get to exert unfair control over powerless pilots.

    1. To say "Sorry" does not cover my feelings over this. Until you have been there, nobody knows what it's like to be left twisting in the wind with the bureaucracy of it all, controlling you, delaying you, no money, going into debt, you can't imagine a future, can't imagine how to pay your bills, etc. These people who are supposed to be helping are doing the opposite, and their actions can push someone to the very end of their rope. In this case they pushed this pilot over the edge.

      I know a company and a doctor who left a pilot twisting in the wind for a year, and then instead of notifying the pilot their determination at the time of decision, in October, the Doctor waited two months until Christmas Eve to tell the pilot their career was over. The company was participatory in that action and pulled them from pay at the same time. They notified the pilot via email and a FedEx envelope the day before Christmas. That was done with intent to push the pilot over the edge, knowing what that would have done to the average pilot in the same position.

      I am so sorry that his little girl won't know her father. Let's change this program to make sure it helps does not hurt!

  2. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn’t care about the mental health of its armed officers...

    “‘I ultimately decided to leave (retire) because I was denied the ability to leverage my experience for the good of the [Federal Air Marshals (“FAMs”)] and I realize that I was part of a system which was putting the emotional well-being of FAMs at risk,’ Kathleen Christian, who resigned last year as a [TSA] clinical psychologist
    Last October, Mr. MacLean said his badge and weapon were taken away, and he was ordered to submit to a psychiatric examination after he questioned security decisions. He was cleared to return to duty in November.”

    1. There have been many good people asked to submit to those psychiatric examinations. The weapon of choice for those they cannot remove any other way.

    2. Indeed. First TSA tried to brand me as a treacherous leaker (the U.S. Supreme Court denied that in 2015), then a "racist" (fail), mentally ill (fail), a criminal (federal prosecutor denied criminal charges), and finally a "misogynist" because I dared to expose TSA bosses exchanging sexual favors with their subordinates.

      It's amazing how far megalomaniacs will go to protect their security-theater fiefdoms.

      And soon enough, I will expose former FAA top boss-man Steve Dickson for being in the pocket of the airlines and their lobbyists.

    3. Keep up the good work. When you are ready to expose, I will have some additional information for you.

  3. Karlene,
    Thank you for continuing to push this most important of topics. The tragic tale in the comment above is proof alone that the system is broken and must be fixed. Such an avoidable heartbreak! And yet, power continues to corrupt...
    Our union has been informational picketing, due to a long, long overdue contract. Such simple things Management can do to reduce the stress out there, yet seemingly intentionally does just the opposite.
    So much remains to be done. Thank you, again, for your continuing crusade, and "Flight for Justice!"

    1. That is an extremely sad tale and just one of many. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. Many unions other are informational picketing too. But it's time to get some semblance of stability for all. And yes... the Flight For Justice... did I tell you it's coming soon?

  4. Barbara, Thank you for sharing that link. I would like to help change the rules that a counsellor can recommend time off to rest, Currently there is at least one airline that won't honor a note from a counselor to assert the pilot needs a break due to stress. They are forcing the pilot to go to a clinical psychiatrist. Therefore, many won't seek help because of this. Any help you can provide to help move to more proactive use of health care services available, would help.

  5. Hi Karlene,

    I've only been in the industry for a few years now but already have seen exactly what you mentioned above. I've had many friends and colleagues vent to me that they wish they could see a therapist or other mental health professional but are too scared to because of the possible consequences as a pilot. It's sad to see and the fact that the FAA and management at the airlines doesn't seem to care is disheartening. There is very much a "pretend you are ok" policy within the industry and I think it's disgusting. Hoping eventually that can be changed because I fear the consequences if not.

    1. Jake, You are exactly right... "pretend you are okay"... From what I can tell, airlines don't allow a pilot to call in sick with a counselor's permission... it must be a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist... which then is placed on a pilots application for a medical. I hope with the new administration we can get this changed!!!


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