How the film “Sully” brings attention to workplace bullying


Photo from “Sully” movie trailer

We all know Sully as the pilot who safely landed all 155 U.S. Airways passengers on the Hudson River after a bird strike knocked out both engines. What most of us didn’t know is that while we celebrated Sully as a hero, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) grilled Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles about why they didn’t fly the plane back to LaGuardia or to a nearby airport in New Jersey and instead destroyed the aircraft.

Sounds like bullying? It is. Here are two ways the NTSB bullied Sully as seen in the film:

  1. Excessively harsh criticism. It’s one thing to conduct an investigation. It’s another thing to expect superhuman outcomes. It’s pathetic that Sully was put in a position to point out that both flight simulations landing safely at the two airports removed the 35 second human element of making quick analyses and decisions under extreme stress.
  2. Discounting achievements. Sully also pointed out that pilots aren’t trained for the specific circumstances they encountered that day. When the NTSB added 35 second buffers back into the simulations, both planes crashed. So not only did Sully and Skiles make a smart decision, but they also successfully executed a water landing with no serious injuries or fatalities. And had to defend themselves at a hearing at which the NTSB initialy argued otherwise.

How the film shows the common theme in workplace bullying

The film perfectly and simply illustrates the greedy, often selfish powers vs. the ethical and competent worker who is held to superhuman standards theme generally played out in workplace bullying cases. “We can see the insanity of reducing a human being to a computer construct in order to assign blame for the monetary loss. Targets are lied to about who they are,” said Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Bill coordinator Jessica Stensrud. “It’s all too typical of the corporate-controlled, money-focused digital world we live in. People blame others for being human instead of rewarding them. Computer tracking makes it easy to go after workers for doing their jobs and often doing them well.”

How Sully is different from other workplace bullying targets

Sully had a chance to exonerate himself by pointing out the 35 second human error discrepancy. But most workplace bullying targets don’t have that chance. They carry anger, rage, and undeserved shame with them to the detriment of their health, lifestyles, careers, and families.


We give kudos to director and producer Clint Eastwood for bringing attention to the idea that workers are more than a means to money. We’re human beings who should be celebrated for caring about other people instead of only valued for what we bring to boss’ wallets.


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