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A Story

When I was a commercial pilot, flying for a small "puddle-jumper" airline called Gulfstream International taking people from Miami to the Bahamian outer islands, I learned the importance of not calling a Customs official a "jerk".

Disclaimer: I didn't do it. One of our other captains did.

It happened at the North Eluthera airport. As you probably know, airline crews had to have their crew's paperwork (called the "Crew Declaration") stamped by the outgoing customs guy in order for airline personnel to be allowed back into the US. Well, one of our captains was behind schedule and in a hurry. The Customs guy, on the other hand, was on Island Time and in no rush whatsoever. He was in a bad mood however. Every time our captain presented his paperwork, it was rejected with a curt, "Not in order, Cap'n." After reviewing his paperwork to make sure he hadn't left something off, the captain tried again.

"Not in order, Cap'n."

He boosted the usual bribe from $10 to $20 US. (Euphemistically called "Captain's Funds", the airline issued us a monthly cash sum to cover the everyday eventualities like this.)

"Not in order, Cap'n."

Then he tried $50.

"Not in order, Cap'n."

That was about all our intrepid captain could handle. "Cut it out, jerk, I've gotta go!" he yelled. The Bahamian Customs guy answered by quietly pocketing his coffee can full of Captain's Funds, stripping off his uniform hat and sweater, and walking out back to sit in the shade and play dominoes with the local kids selling cold Cokes for $5 a can.

At about this time, I was on short final for landing, knowing nothing of the international incident brewing under the thatched roof. I unloaded my passengers and their luggage and made my way into the "terminal" to make preparations for a quick departure (I was late, too). About this time, the other crew's first officer came up and told me of their situation.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I took my paperwork and my last $100 of Captain's Funds to our protagonist. He just looked at me and shook his head. "I've got no chance at all of getting out of here today, do I?" I asked him. "No suh." So, I got on the terminal's phone and called our Operations folks to let them know what was happening and stop any more incoming flights from getting stuck.

One more was past the point of no return, so when they got down, we all caught a cab and started looking for a place to stay. I can't remember the name of the place we stayed, but it was pretty swank, and they billed everything directly to the airline.

Which was a good thing -- none of us had enough cash for the THREE DAYS we were stuck there until we were allowed to leave! Best vacation I ever had.



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