A New Book: 3 Feet to the Left

How about something a bit different today?  It’s not uncommon for me to get requests to read a manuscript, and I will often do so if it’s related to the airline industry.  But it’s not every day that I get asked to write a foreword.  Korry Franke is a young captain at United, and he reached out to me with that exact request about 6 months ago. After reading the book and talking to Korry, I readily agreed to help.  Today, he’s releasing his book for the world to see (), and you can get a copy at Amazon.  To help support his efforts, I’m publishing the foreword I wrote in full below.

The 737 whizzed by the window, hovered over the runway in Los Angeles, and then gently reunited with terra firma. Once the aircraft was out of view, I swiveled my head back around to re-engage with Korry Franke about his career and this very book, 3 Feet to the Left, which tells the story of Korry’s first year as the youngest captain flying for United Airlines. It was the first time we had ever met.

Two months prior to that day was when I first heard Korry’s name. He had reached out to me personally, asking if I would be interested in reading his book and then possibly writing a foreword for it. As author of the Odenwaelder blog, I’m used to getting requests to read manuscripts, but being asked to write a foreword? I wasn’t sure what to say. After all, I didn’t even know this guy. In the blog, I’ve written about the airline industry for 12 years, but that largely focuses on the business of flying, not the ACTUAL flying. Having a background on the commercial side of the industry, doing pricing for America West and marketing for United, among others, shaped my views. And those views about the business weren’t necessarily aligned with the views in the cockpit. I couldn’t help but wonder why Korry wanted someone who had never flown an airplane involved in his project.

Fortunately, with a vacation coming up, I decided that at the very least, I could spend some time reading the manuscript. Korry had taken the time to seek me out, and he seemed to value my opinion. I figured reading his memoir would at worst be a mildly interesting way to spend an afternoon on the beach.

As I read the book, I began to understand more about why Korry had reached out to me. One thing that has always driven my writing is the pursuit of shedding light on why things happen the way they do in the airline industry. This book tries to do that very thing, and Korry, being a new captain at the time, makes it seem like we’re learning right along with him.

For the airline employee, frequent flier, or just casual observer, Korry’s anecdotes will prove to be fascinating. Long gone are the days of the “Sky Gods,” where captains knew everything and were never to be questioned. Instead, today, we have pilots trying to manage situations and coworkers in a delicate dance. They are not perfect, and this book puts a human face on those people who may seem invincible in their sharp uniforms.

In some cases, the stories are strangely comforting. For example, my heart started to race and my palms began to sweat as I read the tale of Korry and his first officer flying around an intense thunderstorm cell near Mexico City. Yet the matter-of-fact way they went about doing their jobs as if solving a puzzle calmly and efficiently made it seem, well, routine. Most people don’t get to see that side of pilots.

But this book is about more than just being an airline pilot. This is a much broader general business book about managers trying to find their way through difficult situations.

Take, for example, Korry’s experience on an evening flight out of Washington’s Dulles Airport that really stuck with me. A late-arriving passenger on a first class fare had walked on the airplane and started complaining about how the flight attendants said there was no room for his bag in the overhead bin. Frequent fliers have seen this story a million times but not from the perspective of a pilot. It was eye-opening to watch Korry wrestle with what, on the surface, seemed like a simple, insignificant decision. Few of us may find ourselves in the exact same situation, but Korry’s thinking in making the time-sensitive, difficult choice as well as dealing with the consequences of that decision can be applied to any industry where new managers are trying to find their footing and learn how best to run a team.

It doesn’t stop there. As Korry makes his way through his first few months as a captain, we can see that he’s searching for something. In the end, Korry comes to an understanding about how he wants to live his life, particularly about how he wants to define success, and that’s something that others who are seeking order might find valuable as well.

There’s a lot to like about this book, but the simple act of humanizing a captain and the cockpit experience would make this worth reading on its own. For more than a decade, I’ve tried to demystify parts of the airline industry for people who want to better understand how it works, but I’ve never flown an airplane myself. I can interview people, but I can’t give the captain’s eye view of why things happen the way they do. Korry Franke makes that happen with a book that has appeal far beyond the airline industry.

When Korry flew 6 hours just to have lunch with me that day we first met (before turning around and flying right back), I knew that he was serious about making this book a success, so serious that he was willing to spare a precious day off to come speak with me. I’m no longer confused about why Korry asked me to write this foreword. I’m now just glad he did.

If you’d like to read the book, .  Come back here and let me know in the comments what you thought about it.

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