CA-FO Briefings


I have a question about briefings, particularly the briefing the Captain gives the FO before the start of a trip. Though I am a Captain myself, and I have some experience with giving and receiving briefings, I am always looking for ways to improve. One thing that I have been tweaking is my briefing to my FO before we spend the next 3-4 days together.

So, for anyone who has experience with this, or anyone that has listened to enough briefings, what have you found that works well? What doesn’t work well?

I know there’s no such thing as a perfect flight. Same goes for briefings. I also realize that even a perfect briefing could lead to poor threat and error management. What I’ve learned is that it ultimately comes down to both pilots showing up with a high teachability index, a willingness to learn, and a mutual agreement about how to appropriately conduct oneself.

When I get paired with an FO with a humble attitude and enthusiasm for bettering themselves, we crush it. It’s almost as if these kinds of FOs don’t require a briefing, although I still give one anyway.

Occasionally I get paired with what I like to call a 3-bar Captain, which is part of the reason why I’m asking the question about briefings. 3-bar CAs approach flights with a chip on their shoulder. I would love to hear how others have dealt with this behavior. Some are easier to detect than others. That’s why I keep coming back to the briefing as it is the perfect time to set expectations.

I strongly believe that setting the right tone from the beginning is essential. With the experience that I’ve gained, I have revised my briefings multiple times. I am just curious to hear what others have to say about this.



Funny you call them 3 bar CAs. I call them 3 and half stripers and I’ve heard others call them 4 stripe/bar FOs or simply the “cool kids”. Regardless the fact that we all have names for them shows they’re clearly not an isolated issue. I actually had one peckerhead stick his hand up up at the beginning of my briefing and say “listen, I’ve been here a while, you’ve been here a while, we really don’t need to talk about this do we?” (the punchline to that story is he was fired not long after for a number of reasons). What I find frustrating about them (or the existence of them) is I believe it’s not entirely their fault. No one wakes up one morning thinking this behavior is ok. They’ve gotten the memo from the CAs they’ve been flying with that it’s ok to go with the “this airport, this rwy” briefing. Everyone does it right for a while until they start flying with people who don’t and they want to be one of the cool kids too. I’m certain Tory when you were an FO you flew with CAs who did it right and others who didn’t. You chose to model yourself after the ones who did it right. Unfortunately there are others who go the other way because they percieve it as easier and if you see alot of this that means there’s alot of CAs not doing it right. How best to handle them is of course a problem.

One of things I’ve found somewhat effective is I no longer have a “canned brief”. When you’ve got that briefing down to perfect so much so that YOU’RE literally not even hearing what you’re saying that’s a problem. They can hear it and they tune out. I try and make mine more of a conversation and I almost always acknowledge the redundancy of what we’re doing (ie, hey I know you’ve heard this 1,000 times it’s so easy for this to become rote and WE can’t let that happen…). I also never say “if X happens you’re going to bla bla bla”. I say “if I call “abort” on the takeoff roll I’ll do ABC, and you’ll…?” and I stop. If they’re listening they’ll jump right in, if they’re not I’ll call them on it and explain why I’m doing what I’m doing. The potential threats and consequences, etc. The idea is to engage them from beginning. I find it’s the rote, canned brief is often the a big part of the problem and that of course is why we’re pointing out the threats. Complacency being a huge one. One thing I’ve done with particularly hardcore cool kids is I’ll say I’ve got CQ or a line check coming up and I really need to tighten up so we’re going to do this trip like it’s sim. I’ll say that and they’ll giggle but then I start and I mean it’s sim time and I’ll start pointing out “hey you’re supposed to be on this page” down to the smallest detail. This makes it into a game because trust me once you start pointing out everything non-standard they’re doing they’re going to start looking for what you’re doing so they can score some points. As long as you’re treating it as an exercise and keep the tone light, I’ve actually had people thank me saying they hadn’t realized how far off the ranch they had wandered. I’ve also just called guys out and said whether you participate or not I’m not going to stop so this can be as pleasant or unpleasant as you like. Admittedly not the best CRM but I’m far from perfect.

In the end sadly you will always find there will be those individuals who for whatever reason simply don’t get it and despite your best efforts they’re convinced they’re somehow right and you’re just one of “those guys”. It definitely makes it more a more challenging and frustrating trip. That frankly is one of the reasons who I fly with is often my number one priority above where or when. Hopefully maybe one these tips might help but again there will always be outliers. What’s important is not to let them wear you down or make you feel like you’re the problem. You’re not, they are.



One of the things that I try to do is keep my briefs, brief. Some pilots have a tendency to go on and on, when that happens the other pilot tends to tune out. I cover all of the necessary information, but make sure to emphasize what is different about this particular flight. I like to say “our threats here are x,y,z”, that gets people’s attention.

As for the co-captains, that can be tough because sometimes it tales a while to realize what is happening. When you realize it, you can try to stop it be defining expectations in your next brief. One thing I did once was take a leg from the FO. It was supposed to be his turn to fly, ut he was being a co-captain, so I just decided to fly that leg. It was a very effective way of reminding him of who was in charge.


Wow I didn’t realize that this attitude carried all the way up to the airline level. I run across kids that think that they’re God’s gift to aviation pretty often but I thought by the time they get to the airlines it kind of wears off. Is there a certain demographic that this attitude is more prevalent in? For example is it more prevelant in the younger generation coming up, or is it more in the older FOs that are the same age or maybe even older than the captain. Or is it purely an attitude that you see in different demographics pretty equally?

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The truth is it’s across the board and again I blame the CAs. If everyone held the line there would be no expectation it’s acceptable or permitted.

On a positive note it does give me the occasional opportunity to be a complete pain in the butt and do some serious attitude adjusting which can be fun :wink:


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I like the sim technique. Very clever. Easy for the FO to put themselves in a familiar mindset. I may not use that trick exactly as you did, but I will take the spirit of that suggestion and apply it in my own way.

You could not be more right about holding the captains accountable for the FO’s behavior. If every captain held themselves and the FOs to a higher standard we would see a lot less of these “3 bar captains.”

Thanks for the feedback.



It is tough when that happens. That’s what I’m trying to avoid actually. I’m starting to realize that you can’t avoid it. It’s going to happen.

We have the ability to say “Standard brief” if there are no changes to the briefing, but at some point I like to give an additional briefing about expectations. That’s when I try to give the FO an idea of who I am and how I will be conducting myself. It’s with this briefing I try to send out good vibes in hopes that the FO will want to get on board. We are after all a team. Not everyone likes playing by the rules though. Or they try to take over, like in your example. Either way, it’s not acceptable. Taking a leg would be my second to last resort, but if it’s necessary I wouldn’t dismiss the option.


Tory, Adam and Chris,
Thanks for this post. It helps put onto perspective what is expected of me as a future FO and eventually a CA. It does raise a few questions though. I know from my own self reflections that when I’m in a team environment that I tend to “help” superiors by trying to show that I’m knowledgeable/capable of transitioning into their role, and in the future this may come across as being a co-CA. How do you determine where that line is? Better yet how do you avoid crossing that line? One side is an enthusiastic subordinate looking to learn and emulate, and the other is an unpleasant FO.

Shawn I have to ask how do you believe you’re helping? Trust me, if you’re sitting next to me I have to assume you’re a capable pilot or else frankly you wouldn’t be. We’re both professionals, have a role to play and both need to have faith that we both know what we’re doing. You trying to demonstrate your knowledge and capabilities would be a HUGE red flag that you’re either insecure or are the above mentioned 3.5 striper. Neither of which is a good thing.

I’ve flown with countless FOs who want to demonstrate their knowledge and ability but I’ve yet to meet one with either that surpasses mine (that’s not arrogance, it’s experience). If they want to play that game inevitably I will demonstrate to them how much they don’t know. Again not a good or productive environment but it’s definitely effective.

How you avoid this is incredibly simple. You do your job the way you were trained and do it well. Years ago when I was at the Regionals I got downgraded (yes that can happen). Having been a Capt made me a much better FO because I understood what the Capt needed and what he didn’t. What no Capt needs is another Capt sitting in the right seat. You’re a team but you can’t both play quarterback. Make sense?



My suggestion is to feel things out first before deciding to do something for the captain. Every captain has their own style, technique, personality, etc. It takes time to get a read on people. What bothers some captains doesn’t bother others.

I’ve developed a technique where I ask, then do. I still do that with my FOs. I get a lot of positive feedback because of that. The FOs love that I get their input before I make a decision. Of course, I’ve already thought about what I’m going to do. I ask anyway because it helps us stay on the same page, stay engaged, and the FO gets to voice their concerns. There have been times when the FO has a better suggestion and I’ll revise my plan. Being the captain means you’re the boss, but your don’t have to be bossy. Getting input from the pilot sitting next to you prevents resignation.

Another reason I do what I do is because if I don’t voice my intentions, I could lead us into a sticky situation. If I’m not communicating with my FO about what I’m doing and why and how I expect things to play out, my FO has to guess what I’m thinking. If I’m flying with an FO that’s not afraid to speak up, they’ll probably stop me the moment they feel uncomfortable. If I’m flying with an FO that isn’t as comfortable speaking up, especially when they disagree with a captain’s decision, it may take me longer to recognize my own mistakes.

Another reason why communication is important is, what do you have to prove? I’m not impressed by how much you know. In fact, the pilots that act like they have something to prove, are the ones I have to watch out for.

The other day I was flying with an FO from SEA to BIL and the FO handed me the paperwork with all of his markups all over it. “We’re 600 lbs from max landing weight,” he said.

Okay, I thought to my self. Thank you. That’s kind of you to point out. You also took the time to circle it for me. How sweet.

Fast forward. Now we’re on arrival. The FO still thinks that there’s a chance that we might land overweight. I verified it. Based on our current weight he was right, in that moment. He commanded me to turn on the APU. I hesitated, but thought, okay. Good call. A few moments later he called for gear down. We weren’t even on downwind btw, but we were high. I put the gear down. Then he started slowing down early as if he was still concerned about our landing weight. All along he’s not telling me what’s going through his mind.

And then it occurs to me that he’s using our old max landing weight. Our 175’s were recently approved for extended range, which increased all of our max weights. Since we were now below the new max ldg weight but above our old weight that’s when I told him that we were under our max ldg weight. His confirmation bias urged him to defend himself momentarily until I mentioned that the aircraft we were flying was approved for the extended range performance numbers.

We could have avoided all of this had he just talked it through with me before he started acting like it he was in charge. We could have come up with a better plan.

Of course, there are times when the ask, then do technique isn’t appropriate. In those situations we do what we can without stepping on each other and without rushing.


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Tory of course is correct, good communication is key. Problem is sometimes you’re trying to work something out and it takes a moment to articulate. Big mistake I often see FOs make (particularly new ones) is assuming the CA forgot something. We’re both pilots, we’re both trained and we’re both capable. The CA however is the “cockpit manager”. While the brandy new FO is chomping at the bit to check the next box because he’s still in rote mode, El Capiton may be thinking of a few other things (weather, fuel, MELs, the cabin, etc). That’s not to say the FO isn’t or shouldn’t, it’s simply some do and some don’t.

The other day we’re taxiing out and I hear a triple chime in the back (that’s how the FAs in the back get a hold of the FAs in the front or visa versa). Now it could be anything from “hey I need more Diet Coke” to “I think I smell smoke?”. I hear the chimes and immediately turn up the “cabin” interphone so I can hear if it’s something we need to be concerned about. The FO says “do you want the taxi checklist?”. I’m listening at that moment and quickly say “hang on I’m listening to the cabin”. He says “well I don’t want us to forget it” and is looking bothered and tapping the checklist on his yolk. It was nothing in the back so now I can proceed.

See I understand and appreciate he’s new, anxious and that checklist is his entire universe at that moment and there’s nothing else more important, BUT, I need him to understand that my universe might be a little more expansive, I’m not anxious and there’s actually a teenie tiny chance I didn’t forget, I’m doing or thinking of something else at that exact moment. The moral of the story is first RELAX, and second give the CA the benefit of the doubt he knows what he’s doing and maybe give them a second or two before you start prompting.

Oh and tapping your checklist is never appropriate UNLESS you’re in the sim and it’s clear someone forgot :wink:


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