Interfaith in the Cockpit

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Interfaith leadership formation is a safety issue.

Not only is it a matter of personal safety (as those who have faced harassment know all too well), but for pilots it is also a professional responsibility.

As someone who still has a hard time believing that planes can fly (they are far too heavy), I am amazed at the professional training our student pilots receive at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. In addition to all the technical details and required skills, they also learn extensive safety procedures. Indeed, the aviation industry reminds people regularly about how safe it is to fly, and this excellent safety record is a direct result of forming student pilots in a pervasive safety culture.

Hence, as we began to explore interfaith leadership education on our campus, students, faculty, and staff of our College of Aviation immediately framed our conversations as a safety issue. Two issues emerged as central for their professional, interfaith, worldview - communications between crew members and having responsibility for everyone in the airplane regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs.

Pilots realize that clear communication is essential. Students learn to use precise, efficient technical language to establish clarity about their location, status, etc. If a problem exists, they cannot afford to lose time trying to convey essential information (indeed, professional standards reduce the likelihood of problems happening). Studies of previous crashes have revealed situations when a co-pilot did not speak up and share necessary information or recommendations to the pilot due to personal issues. Pilots themselves have memories of when they felt uncomfortable with someone else in the cockpit, and they recognized their own struggle to work professionally with someone with interpersonal biases. A crew member whose statements, smirks or glances make it harder for others to communicate is a safety risk.

Good leaders set an inclusive tone for every flight. At a recent National Gay Pilots Association meeting, one pilot shared her regular pre-flight crew briefing that emphasized her need to hear about anything that was disrespectful about another crew member or passenger. She recognizes that a breakdown in communication could lead to a mistake, and at 35,000 feet mistakes are multiplied 35,000 times.

Pilots accept responsibility for everyone on the airplane, and they recognize, particularly in a post 9/11 world, that appearances, beliefs and practices raise questions of safety. “Suspicious looking” people raise alarms in the minds of passengers and crew. One pilot on our faculty shared the story of a nervous flight attendant who called to the cockpit to describe an older man behaving strangely. He was rocking back and forth in his seat and repeating something in a foreign language. Over the course of the conversation, the pilot helped the attendant to see that this was not a terrorist but an Orthodox Jew praying. News reports and lawsuits indicate that pilots and crew sometimes do evict passengers for their appearances, and airlines know that further training is necessary. Airlines recognize that they have a particular investment in respecting the complexities of human diversity.

When you fly on Delta, American or other carriers, in addition to choosing vegetarian or vegan meal options, you can also choose a kosher, halal or a Hindu meal. As we remind our students, this is a metaphor for how the aviation industry understands itself in interfaith terms. Airlines want customers, and customers come from all different backgrounds. And airlines certainly realize that they assume responsibility for everyone on their airplanes, regardless of their worldview. They must find ways to respect the individual needs of passengers while also maintaining standards for all. Our students entering the aviation industry – not just our pilots – are coming to appreciate the ways in which their future sector requires that they develop interfaith skills.

To what extent is interfaith work a professional safety issue for everyone, not just pilots?

Can we see aviation education as a metaphor for – or microcosm of – the work of interfaith education as a whole? In pressurized cabins at altitude, it is easy to see the ways in which working together with people who orient around religion differently is a matter of safety. But in our own contexts, too, we often find ourselves responsible for diverse groups of stressed people, people who feel confined, possibly sitting next to strangers who may be out to get the armrest or another coveted prize. If we crash and burn as leaders, persons may not die, but parts of them might.

On the other hand, in addition to safe spaces, we need brave spaces, places where we can take on the complex educational risks of revealing selves and receiving others. Aviation education’s focus on professionalism sets boundaries to what should be discussed in the cockpit. Professional communication is not always the same as interfaith communication.

That said, the very act of flying from Point A to Point B presupposes that it is a good thing for the peoples of both Point A and B to be together in the first place. And everyone traveling together – both literally and metaphorically – has a common interest in arriving in one piece, even if there are moments of turbulence along the way. Just remember to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Theodore Parker, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Let’s bend it together.
In both my work as an interfaith leader and a dancer, rethinking is all about opening our minds, asking questions, and having conversations.
Some U.S. churches have been reckoning with this activity for years through ceremonies, apologies and archival investigations, while others are just getting started.
A global study of the communication patterns of 1.3 million workers during the global lockdown showed the average workday increased by 8.2% during the pandemic, and the average number of virtual meetings per person expanded by almost 13%.
Across Missouri, hundreds of pastors, priests and other church leaders are reaching out to urge vaccinations in a state under siege from the delta variant. Health experts say the spread is due largely to low vaccination rates — Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.
The solution, said Chris Palusky, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, is “the loving care of a family, not another orphanage.” He pointed to Scripture passages that say God sets the lonely in families and call on Christians to care for those who have been orphaned.
The following interview features Debra Fraser-Howze, founder and president of Choose Healthy Life, an initiative that fortifies community infrastructure to better address the pandemic in Black communities. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The seven monks have been clearing brush from around the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and running a sprinkler system dubbed “Dharma rain,” which helps keep a layer of moister around the buildings.
Over 800 Muslim Americans are expected to attend the family-focused event at the Green Meadows Petting Farm in Ijamsville, Maryland, making it one of the larger such gatherings around the country in the era of COVID-19.
Besides demanding equitable distribution of vaccines, the Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically.
Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and giving meat to the needy.
Our Lady of La Vang is said to have appeared in a remote rainforest in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Yet the debate about the vaccine in Tennessee is not solely a debate about science. Rather, I believe the vaccine debate is also a referendum on our public capacity to embrace vulnerability.
The study found that while there are many promising signs that students perceive support for their RSSIs on campus, there is also considerable room for improving welcome, particularly for students whose RSSIs are a minority.
Coronavirus deaths among clergy are not just a Catholic problem, said Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, with faith leaders across denominations having elevated exposure rates as “spiritual front-line workers” ministering to the sick and dying in hospitals and nursing homes.
Legislation legalizing human composting has encountered religious resistance from the Catholic Church.
From the 26th of November, 2020, a farmers protest has been in existence on the outskirts of Delhi, India’s capital city. For the past eight months, farmers in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, have been fighting three laws that threaten the future of agriculture in the country.
Sivan and I feel that it is crucial to work for increased vaccination rates, particularly with more transmissible and potentially more deadly variants emerging across the country and throughout the world.
We made calls to friends, disseminated flyers, engaged in social media marketing, partnered with faith-based communities, and engaged the local health department to encourage members of our community to come to our upcoming clinic and get vaccinated.
"It’s not about accepting other’s beliefs and pushing your own away - it is about being respectful, while still having the freedom to express your beliefs"

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.