Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Come Fly With Me

Just in time for the holiday travel season, Readers Digest, America's favorite source of abbreviated information, has blown the lid off the airline industry.

Well, maybe "blown the lid off" is overstating it a bit. Investigative journalism doesn't condense well.

But what they have done is interview commercial airline pilots from throughout the country about the state of things in their industry.

The topics run the gamut from silly security rules to bad cabin air. And it provides an interesting snapshot of air travel in this day and age.

First, this startling revelation from a US Airways pilot in South Carolina: "We miss the peanuts, too." Then, from a first officer on a regional airline: "Sometimes the airline won't give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food." (See peanuts above).

"The government insists that security theater, and not actual security, is in the nation's best interest," says one pilot. "If it makes you feel any better, our crew had to endure the same screening as the passengers. Never mind that the baggage loaders, cleaners, caterers, and refuelers receive only occasional random screening. You can rest easy knowing that I do not have a pair of scissors or an oversize shampoo bottle anywhere in my carry-on luggage." (Yeah, but think about the economy. Eliminate the TSA screeners and 45,000 people are out of work).

"I'm constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I'm comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel," says another pilot. (I'm sure you could lighten the load by getting several passengers to exit the plane, especially if they knew the chance of reaching their destination was sketchy).

"We tell passengers what they need to know. We don't tell them things that are going to scare the pants off them. So you'll never hear me say, `Ladies and gentlemen, we just had an engine failure,' even if that's true." (I really don't want to know if an engine is failing or the rivets are popping out of the wings. If the oxygen masks drop and the attendants are singing hymns, I'll get the message).

"The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County. You're flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don't like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you're airborne." (Too bad they didn't mention Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, which is the equivalent of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride).

"No, it's not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes." (The last time I flew from Burbank to the Bay Area, the flying time was announced as two hours. The old Lockheed Turboprops flew faster than that).

"Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It's all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we're afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it's annoying." (News item: A plane had to make an emergency landing after 10 people were injured when the flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles hit turbulence).

"When you get on that airplane at 7 a.m., you want your pilot to be rested and ready. But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. They're in bad neighborhoods, they're loud, they've got bedbugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot." (Who does this guy fly for, Air Somalia?)

"The general flow of air in any airplane is from front to back. So if you're really concerned about breathing the freshest possible air or not getting too hot, sit as close to the front as you can..." (This is called first class. The price will take your breath away.)

"Here's the truth about airline jobs: You don't have as much time off as your neighbors think you have, you don't make as much money as your relatives think you make, and you don't have as many girlfriends as your wife thinks you have. Still, I can't believe they pay me to do this."

And despite all the gripes, you do it well. Happy landings.

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