As you tune in to your favorite awards show, whether it’s broadcast live or as an after the fact recording, there is one aspect of the presentation you’ve become so familiar with that you don’t even think about it.
Whether your favorite stars depart the festivities with a gleaming award in hand, or wearing a manufactured smile intended to mask their deep disappointment, you’ll notice there are no holes in the seating arrangement at any point throughout the presentation.
Seat fillers see to that.
Presumably even the upper echelon of A List celebrities in the house have to occasionally leave their seats to fix their hair, address a wardrobe issue, or maybe even perform a biological function. For a moment their seat is vacant, leaving a glaring empty space that, heaven forbid, might be evident on camera. That gap could be interpreted as a lack of interest in the event by the very notables it was designed to celebrate. Which could, in turn, lead to viewers changing the channel. Which would cause advertisers to begin falling away.
Clearly, this is a risky domino effect scenario. And so, seat fillers are employed. Regular old Jane and John Nobodys are encouraged to dress to the nines, wait in the wings, and scurry quickly to fill vacant seats while the cameras are looking the other way.
Essentially, this turns every award show on television into a sell-out, in the best sense of the term — even if every seat isn’t really sold to or filled by the person intended to sit there.
The overall effect is that audiences continue to tune in to see a house packed with celebrities. They find satisfaction and enjoyment in the viewing, even as they notice a fair number of faces in the all-celebrity crowd are not actual celebrities.
Filling seats is good. It’s important. Especially in show business.
In aviation we don’t play that game very often. We don’t tend to fill seats with people who serve no role in furthering the flight or in financing the operation of the aircraft. Yet, perhaps we should. There is a benefit to the practice that could do us all some good.
Recently I had a very simple assignment. I was to fly an airplane from Point A to Point B, where I would take a few pictures of the airplane before flying back to Point A. No big deal. The two points were less than 50 nautical miles apart, so it didn’t even qualify as a cross-country flight. This was practically a non-event, except for one glaring issue that nagged at me. The two-seater I was flying would only have one occupant. Me. Nobody else. Just me.
That didn’t strike me as the best possible use of my time or the aircraft’s abilities. An hour and a handful of text messages after experiencing this epiphany, I had a passenger lined up to fly with me. An old friend who used to fly small piston powered airplanes for a living. He’s transitioned to turbine powered speed demons now, airplanes that fly higher and faster than I can even imagine.
Tristan once acted as a CFI for me when I needed a flight review. We flew a J-3 Cub on floats off a small lake, splashed down in several larger lakes, and ran through the paces required for a thorough flight review. We also had a boatload of fun in the process.
Today, he is less familiar with the workings of an amphibious aircraft than he once was. But he’s a complete pro at cockpit management and safety practices. I was glad to have him along for the ride.
After taking off and climbing all the way up to 1,000 AGL, I turned the controls over to Tris, who flew most of the way to our destination. The morning was cool and calm. The sky was so blue and clear it was hard to believe the view out our windows weren’t computer generated images intended for a Hollywood blockbuster. Our ride was rock solid as we motored north, the countryside sliding below and behind us at a casual 87 mph.
While en route we talked about where our careers had taken us. We compared and contrasted the life of a piston pilot to a jet jock. We flew on. Tris reminisced about his time as a seaplane CFI and how easy it is for a professional pilot to lose touch with the lower, less expensive equipment that helped propel him to equipment that thrives at higher altitudes. These days he spends much of his time at flight levels where our propeller would be useless.
“The last time I flew over here I was at 41,000′,” Tris mentioned in passing as we cruised toward home at 1,500 MSL.
Filling that otherwise empty seat was a real joy for him, as it was for me. We got to reconnect as friends who have spent time together in the air and on the ground. We both got to take the controls of an airplane we really enjoyed flying. And we both got to sightsee while a seasoned pro guided our progress through the ether on a gorgeous Florida morning.
As I write this I’m one week away from attending SUN ‘n FUN in Lakeland, Florida. I’m scheduled to fly two airplanes into the show on different days. Both two seaters. Both are scheduled to be solo flights.
But I’ll bet you I’ll find someone to fill those empty seats. And I’ll be as fortunate to have someone along as my passenger/pilot will be to have the chance to fly into one of the truly great aviation destinations with me.
An empty seat is a wasted opportunity. I hope to remember that and act on it often.