Automation surprises in aviation continue to be a significant safety concern and the community’s search for effective strategies to mitigate them are ongoing. The literature has offered two fundamentally divergent directions, based on different ideas about the nature of cognition and collaboration with automation. In this paper, we report the results of a field study that empirically compared and contrasted two models of automation surprises: a normative individual-cognition model and a sensemaking model based on distributed cognition. Our data prove a good fit for the sense-making model. This finding is relevant for aviation safety, since our understanding of the cognitive processes that govern human interaction with automation drive what we need to do to reduce the frequency of automation-induced events.