Teaching leadership to executives around the world, sometimes the curriculum and principles can get so theoretical that it’s nice to hear what leadership sounds like in the real world. I heard it on American Airlines Flight 2276 from Curaçao to Miami, December 27.


My work has made me an American Airlines Executive Platinum member and also a Global 1K on United Airlines. Between the two airlines, I travel over 300,000 miles/year. Other than flight delays and cancellations I have the typical day-in day-out experiences of most long haul business customers when I am traveling. Except on December 27.

After a winter vacation on the balmy Dutch island, our flight was off the gate on time, actually about a minute or two early. Flying as much as I do, I’ve gotten into the flow of getting on the plane, the announcements (yes, I listen), the taxi and run up, being cleared for takeoff, building speed for rotation and wheels up.

Somewhere about 4000 ft down the runway one of the turbines started making a groaning sound.

“Gosh, I’ve not heard that before.”

And then we were off on a fairly steep climb. After executing a left turn we were out over the water and suddenly we could feel the plane throttle back. This can’t be good, I thought.

In a second, a very calming voice on the PA, that of Captain Edge, says something about this not being someone’s day and although not in anyone’s plans we needed to head back because we have experienced a bird strike and the right engine is damaged. He explained he wasn’t sure how badly it was damaged but we are alright and they are expecting us back at the airport.

Very calmly he explained, “We will execute two left turns and be back in the pattern to land. All questions will be answered after we land. Just sit tight, we are all fine.”

I have consulted to leaders and organizations on leadership characteristics and potential for over 30 years. I was impressed by the Captain’s evenness as he made the announcement, as though this was just a short walk in the park. The number of training and simulation hours and his leadership were obvious. Captain Edge, his first officer and the entire cabin crew were extremely professional, calm and well trained. American Airlines should be very proud.

This was this gist of my e-mail to American Airlines as soon as we were safely back in the terminal. I concluded my grateful correspondence, thusly:

“By the way, do you get copies of incidents like this? I never thought about it before but I figured that you must get reports of situations like this, so I am sure I am not informing you of something that you are not already aware. The reason I am writing you is to tell you of the professionalism of the crew and to tell you how well we were treated in getting back to Raleigh-Durham. We did reach Miami that evening, about four hours late. We thanked Captain Edge and the first officer (name, unknown). We never thanked the cabin crew.

“Is there a way to give an appreciation award to this entire crew? I know there are ways to give appreciation to individuals on my American Airlines App–but how about for the ground staff in both Curaçao and Miami? They were actually waiting for us with vouchers and onward journey information! Most importantly, I want Captain Edge and his entire crew to be appreciated for their skill, professionalism and leadership.”

American Airlines, if you’re reading this, thanks for the leadership!

—Randy White