Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I often get questions from people, many whom I suspect have a fear of flying, about turbulence.  Apparently, this is what scares them the most about flying.  It seems that they expect a constantly smooth flight.  Smooth take off, smooth cruise flight, smooth landing......The reality is that air is just like water, it is sometimes very smooth and glassy and other times it is choppy or rough.  In fact, aerodynamics is based upon the same principles of fluid dynamics.  Air is a fluid in the sense that it behaves like a fluid.  There are literally rivers in the sky.  We know about the jet stream, cold fronts, warm fronts, air masses moving.  Do you think that all that movement happens in a vacuum?  Consider water and the confluence of two rivers or streams.  There are always eddies, currents and rough water whenever two streams of water meet.  This is what we encounter in very clear air often times.  Of course there are the obvious cumulus clouds that contain turbulence.  We as pilots try to ovoid those the the extent that is possible, but sometimes, you have to either climb or descend through them, especially when you are on a very specific approach or departure path.  It is bumpy, but that is all.  We want your ride to be smooth also, but that is not always possible.  Today's air liners are very structurally sound and they are designed to take a lot of stress.  There is a limit of course, but you never hear of planes "breaking apart" in the air due to turbulence.
   Think of a boat on a lake.  When ever it encounters a ripple, a wave, or another boat's wake, it will "ride" the waves.  Unless it encounters a tsunami, it will not break apart and will simply "bump" over those waves.  That is the same thing that happens in an airplane.  The fact that you are encountering turbulence, though perhaps uncomfortable, is further proof that the airplane is flying fine.  When you are in that boat, you don't think that the boat is going to suddenly sink do you?  Pilots are always seeking smooth rides.  Radio conversations to the air traffic controllers are often queries about "rides," and where can the smoothest ones be found.  We often climb or descend to get better rides.  Sometimes, it just isn't possible because of  the meteorological situation.
So just relax.  Everything is fine.  You are not flying through a thunderstorm, that will never intentionally happen.  We avoid those always.  You are just riding over the waves in your craft, be it a boat or a "ship of the sky."  And as I always say, "The riskiest and most dangerous part of your airline flight, is the drive to the airport."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

You can't wear THAT on my airplane!!

Great article on Yahoo about what some passengers try to wear onto airplanes.  Your "freedom of expression" ends at the door to the airplane.

The same goes for "wife beaters," and pajamas.  Honestly., sometimes I can't understand what drives people to wear the things they do onto an airplane.  Personally, I would  never wear flip flops.  If you have to evacuate in an emergency you are essentially going to be barefoot.  Moreover, the vents come up from the floor also and you can get some pretty cold feet. 

'via Blog this'

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to be a "Proper" Airline Passenger and Other Pilot "Secrets"

In my years as an airline pilot, I have heard from flight attendants working the flight about very specific passenger behavior.  Some of the stories I hear are really amazing.  I have had passengers met by law enforcement officials, and I have had a couple removed from the flight before we even pushed back. 

There are, as you know, certain behaviors that are not going to endear you to flight attendants and may even get you arrested.  There are very specific regulations regarding the circumstances that dictate when passengers can and cannot be boarded.  There aren't many, but there are important things to remember if you want to be perceived as the "proper" passenger. 

1.  DO NOT BE RUDE AND DEMANDING!  Please and thank you's go a very long way.  When you step on board, leave your foul mood behind.  Greet the crew cheerfully with at the very minimum, a "good morning," or "good afternoon," regardless if the flight is late and you have been inconvenienced.  It is never the crew's fault.  They want to be on time as much, if not more than you do.  If we are late, it typically affects the amount of lay over rest we get or the time we get off and get to go home after a long trip.  DON'T EVER TAKE IT OUR ON THE CREW!  That will get you nowhere.  We can refuse to board a person whose behavior indicates that they may be hazardous to other passengers.  That can be interpreted widely.Unruly, obnoxious, or disorderly persons will not board my airplane.

2.  DO NOT BE INTOXICATED!  You will not be allowed to board.  This is a U. S. Federal regulation.  If you have been drinking and are a "quiet," non-stumbling drunk, you may get on.  Just go to sleep right away and don't get sick.  If you are a loud, obnoxious drunk, then don't even try to get on.  If I, as the captain of the flight become aware of you, I will delay the flight and have you removed.  This includes being under the influence of drugs.

3.  DO NOT BE MALODOROUS!  Yes, this can actually prevent you from getting on a flight.  The only exception to this is if it is part of a medically diagnosed "disability."  We are not allowed to prevent "disabled" persons from boarding.  Some cancer patients can have this condition and all airlines have passenger care specialists that can deal with this.  If you simply don't bathe, then that is a whole different story.  On the other side of the spectrum however, are the persons who perfumes and colognes.  Yes, that to can be considered malodorous.  Remember, you will be traveling in a confined, pressurized tube with recirculated air.  This also means that you should refrain from doing things on board that are "malodorous," like putting on finger nail polish or consuming some exotic, strange smelling food (I will not even broach the subject of flatulence).  The air circulates forward to the cockpit.  I can smell everything.

4.  DO NOT BE A PACK MULE!  I know, I know....checked bag fees are onerous.  Checked baggage handling has gotten better and fewer are lost and misrouted.   But you cannot bring the kitchen sink and three other bags on board.  Believe it or not, people still try to bring on excess baggage.  Pack efficiently and you will be surprised what a roll aboard can hold.  The floor in front of your seat must be clear and anything you carry must fit in the over head bin or under the seat in front of you.  There is no exception to this for obvious reasons.    

5.  DO NOT REQUEST AN EXIT ROW SEAT if you cannot sit in a seat without using a "seat belt" extension.  If you are an, ahem..."large person" who flies, then you may have to use an "SBE'" or seat belt extension in order to buckle into your seat.  Not to be insensitive, but you and the seat belt extension are a hazard to persons attempting to exit in the event of an emergency.  It can become entangled in people's feet as they try to egress.  NOTE:  if you do sit n an exit row, you pretty much guaranteed to NOT sit next to a plus sized person.  Sorry if I offended anyone.  This is simply the reality.

These are just the some of the important points.  But remember that flying in a scheduled airline is not a right.  It is a privilege that you pay for.  Flying today is cheaper than it ever has been.  In round figures, and in inflation adjusted dollars, airfares today are almost three times cheaper than they were in the late 1970's! If you are not satisfied with your experience, please write the company and vote with your feet.  Go try another airline or form of transportation.  Trouble is, we have all gotten used to these "discounted fares," and now we expect to fly for practically free AND in first class!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Upcoming Pilot Shortage...... Made Worse by the Federal Government

Most of the laws passed by congress are full of good intentions, but always have unintended consequences.

There is a looming pilot shortage on the very near horizon.  Boeing estimates that airlines in North America need 69,000 new pilots by 2031, in its latest long-term market outlook released in July.  Fewer pilots are entering self-paid flight training and the military is downsizing, flying drones, and not producing the numbers of pilots they did in the past.  Huge numbers of pilots will soon be retiring; this despite the new age 65 rule that added 5 years to a pilot's career.  The world needs pilots.  Maybe there will come a day when a paying passenger will board a pilot-less airplane, controlled on the ground by a computer geek or fully automated and flown by software, but........I doubt it.  I wouldn't.
Because of the stupid actions of one regional pilot (Colgan Air, Buffalo, NY) congress took it upon themselves to penalize an entire industry.  New minimums require that a new hire pilot have 1500 hours of flight time.  Many pilots who pay for and have paid for private training, graduate with close to 500 hours.  They get hired by corporate, regional and flight instructing schools.  All this and usually about 50 to 100 THOUSAND  dollars in debt, to earn in most cases, less than 30 thousand dollars a year.  

Even many military pilots, who leave after their obligation to serve in return for flight training come out with less than 1500 hours of flying time.
No airline, will be able to hire anyone soon. 

Moreover, now every First Officer, or co-pilot is required to have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating.  This is something that every airline Captain has, as it is a requirement for becoming a captain.  It will not make First Officers any safer or smarter, but will make the politicians feel better knowing that they have done SOMETHING!  Moreover, this puts an additional strain upon airline training departments, not to mention the cost and the time "off the line," (not flying passengers) of the pilots in the training.  Currently, pilots receive mandatory refresher training twice a year.

Worry about future pilot supply for airlines has been around since the 1990s, but something has always happened to postpone the predicted shortage.  Industry experts today, however, look at the number of forward orders for new aircraft, predictions of world fleet expansion, and sustained growth in the Asia-Pacific region and cannot see a further postponement unless the world economy moves from sluggish growth into depression - and that is not, at present, being predicted.  The number of new pilots required to be trained in the next 20 years is 450,000 worldwide, according to the Professional Aviation Board of Certification (PABC). Simulation and training giant CAE estimates the requirement at 20,000 new pilots a year, which is roughly the same as PABC's prediction.  

So what does the United States do?  It ensures that we will now "import" our pilots from other countries and not many of them because of the strict screening process for non-citizen pilots.  Soon enough, we will not be able to keep up with the demand.  The "glamour' is gone from the profession (has been for a long time), the starting pay is pathetic and it takes many years to get to a point where you can actually live comfortably on the salary.  Hopefully the free market will increase the starting salaries (supply verses demand).

Still, it is a great job, one that I love.  It can be extraordinarily frustrating at times, but rewarding many other times.  If you are an aspiring airline pilot, start preparing now.  I am posting some links that you may find interesting and can help guide you.  Good luck!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The TSA......But don't get me started!

     This is an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by the former head of the TSA, Kip Hawley.  I am reluctant to write about the TSA and risk making myself a target every time I have to go through security.  BUT....I do have strong feelings about this well-meaning but flawed government bureaucracy.  

Why Airport Security Is Broken— And How To Fix It 
Air travel would be safer if we allowed knives, lighters and liquids and focused on disrupting new terror plots. A former head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley, on embracing risk.

     As I mentioned in a previous post ( Wednesday, March 28, 2012  "We Are the MOST Scrutinized Profession in the World, and NO, I am not Crazy") we as air line pilots are the most scrutinized profession in the entire world, yet we are subjected to security inspections as we go to our jobs of being responsible for the safety and the lives of hundreds of people.  Only recently, ten plus years after 9-11, are there now a few select locations where working airline pilots can now simply be verified via a data base and allowed to by pass security.  This came only after years of lobbying and cajoling by Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).   
     When the TSA was proposed after 9-11 as part of the Homeland Security Act, I cringed.  I knew what would happen and how this would turn into a huge government jobs program entrenched in a bureaucratic morass.  MR Hawley mentions the TSA's inability to adapt and change.  This is the inherent problem with any large organization, especially government. 
     I have nothing against the individuals of the TSA, most of them are very nice and professional.  The fact that I am subjected to security screening as I go to perform my job, is still an insult to me.  I have a badge, I have had my background checked.  More is known about me than most of the people in the airport.  My home base issued my badge and did my background screening, yet that somehow is not good enough for the airport at "Anywhere Else, USA."   
     I agree with many of MR Hawley's points in his article.  He doesn't address airline crew members.  The problem is that we are lumped into the general flying public, which we are not.  I can understand the remote possibility of an "imposter" obtaining a uniform and attempting to get   into a secured area.  That is why I applaud the checks now in place at select airports that verify our employment through a data base.  
     I firmly believe that we should be looking for terrorists, not weapons.  Terrorists are very adaptable.  They know what to expect and the unexpected is what we need to be doing to prevent them from harming us                                                                                                 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We Are the MOST Scrutinized Profession in the World, and NO, I am not Crazy!

I cringe every time an air line incident occurs that is widely publicized (and what isn't these days?), especially when it involves a crew member.  People will approach me and ask me what happened, as if I were privy to some secret information that is not part of the reported story.  Most of the time, I know as much as you do.

Latest case in point: the Jet Blue Captain who apparently went bonkers on his flight.  Prior to that, the Flight Attendant who lost it and made strange PA's and the emergency slide FA who grabbed the beers and made his escape (see my blog of August 12, 2010How to Keep Your Flight Attendant From Using the Emergency Exit on Your Flight )   Then of course, you have the rare occurrences of pilots who were suspected of drinking or the infamous "laptop" pilots.

With each of these events, the "media experts" suddenly begin to question whether "enough is being done" to ensure that pilots and flight Attendants are properly screened to be certain that these very isolated and rare incidents never happen.

Now I suppose we will see calls for annual mental health examinations on top of the already burdensome requirements that are imposed upon us.

Well, these days you almost have to be crazy to even want to be an airline pilot.  Let's see; if you are not a military trained pilot (there are fewer and fewer of these entering the profession), you need to spend about  $50,000.00 or more just to get to a point where you can be considered for a job, usually with a regional (which is not to say that regional pilots are any less experienced.  I fly for regional and we have Captains with over 25 years experience just with our airline. I have been flying for over thirty years).  All along the way, there are numerous FAA written and oral exams.  Then the FAA flight check rides to ensure your practical proficiency.

If you do get hired, you are paid less than $30,000.00 as a first officer your first year.  Many borrow the money for their flight training and end up making what amounts to a house payment for a very long time.  When you are hired. the training is intense and pressure packed.  There is no guarantee that you will even succeed and go on to "fly the line."

Aside from the intensive criminal background checks, security screens, drug and alcohol screening and TSA inspections we have to endure every time we report for duty, as a Captain, I put my job on the line about five or more times a year:

1 & 2.  I have to pass two flight physicals a year.  Any number of medical issues can "ground" me.  Moreover, if I receive a DUI citation (never have), I have to actually report that on my medical form.  Not even brain surgeons have to do that.

3.  I have to pass an annual recurrent flight evaluation.  This occurs in a very realistic visual simulator that can replicate numerous systems failures and put us in situations that we will most likely never ever see in real life.
We also have to pass an oral exam prior to the above mentioned flight evaluation before we are even allowed to get into the simulator.

4.  I have to pass a written exam taken after our annual ground school which consists of several eight hour days reviewing procedures, systems, latest changes and crew resource management.

5.  I have to pass an annual "line check," where an instructor pilot flies along on a revenue flight (one with passengers) to see how I perform.

Also, First Officers are always subject to evaluations by their captains, which can be positive or negative and result in some action being taken.

At any time, an FAA representative can just randomly show up and check my publications for currency, my license and medical as well as ride in the jump seat and evaluate me and my First Officer as we perform our duties.

So now, let's get MENTAL EXAMS in there.  Really?  I fly with some of the finest and most professional people in the world.  Anything less is not tolerated and undisciplined people do not enter this profession.  We fly as if our families are on board.  None of us take our responsibilities lightly.  The last thing we really need are more examinations; more scrutiny.  I truly love to fly.  I love to fly people.  I love the responsibility that comes with that and nothing pleases me more than watching happy passengers exit my plane after I have completed my job; getting them to their destination safely.  Remember, the most dangerous part of flying in an airliner is the drive to the airport.

Monday, March 19, 2012


from a Wall Street Journal Article by Scott McCartney (my comments are in bold italics)


     It happens on just about every flight.  My flight attendants are always getting passengers to turn off personal electronic devices when the door closes.  There's always at least one person who keeps talking, texting, tweeting, playing, watching, emailing and listening on headphones— ignoring stern orders to power down.  I have never had to remove an "Alec Baldwin" from one of my flights.  There have been times when one of my flight attendants asks me to make a PA about turning off devices so that we can push.  I have even said on my PA, "We don't want any Alec Baldwins."  Peer pressure from other passengers anxious to get to there destinations works wonders.  
     Many flight attendants  say this issue is the No. 1 spark for unruly behavior. So I am writing and including this article to help answer the question I get asked frequently since we have all (including myself) become so attached to these devices.  Most people really question whether they need to turn them off at all.   I know, I know.........'it's no big deal' or 'the rule doesn't apply to me'  If that is your thinking then you are "that guy."  
     Just remember that Airline rules backed by federal laws allow crews to turn a plane back to the gate and toss passengers off flights to prevent disputes in the air.  In most cases, it isn't the initial issue that gets people kicked off planes, whether they've been told to pull up their saggy pants, clean up their language or stop playing "Words With Friends" on their iPhones. Instead, it's the ensuing argument.   
     The numbers of incidents of customer misconduct have been going up for three years, with most of the increase related to electronic devices, flight attendants say.  This attitudes toward electronics can be attributed to "speed limit" psychology—everyone knows there's a speed limit and yet every driver at one time or another will exceed it.  Lots of passengers are skeptical of the danger of leaving devices on—one call or text message or game isn't going to bring down the plane, they figure. And who hasn't left on their BlackBerry and lived to tell?  
     Indeed, there's no firm scientific evidence that having gadgets powered up for takeoff and landing would cause a problem, only that there's the potential for a problem.  Federal Aviation Administration allows pilots to use iPads and other electronic devices to replace charts and manuals in the cockpit, powered up during takeoff and landing (unfortunately, not my airline, I still schlep around about fifty pounds of publications everywhere I go). But the FAA says it can't test all the different gadgets passengers may bring on board. The agency worries a multitude of devices could pose more danger than a single iPad for pilots. 
     Crews have anecdotally reported numerous issues linked to computers or devices on board, such as erroneous warnings on collision-avoidance systems, heavy static on radio frequencies and false readings on instrument landing systems, according to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, a database to which crews submit voluntary incident reports.   (I actually have seen caution messages while at the gate that would only happen if the airplane were moving that I suspect is caused by a particular type of phone and service provider).  In some instances, crews caught passengers talking on a phone or using a computer when they weren't supposed to. The crews were able to end interference by shutting down the device. Turning it back on recreated the problem, suggesting a possible link. (Even if you are far from the cockpit, you may be sitting near an antenna.) But attempts to duplicate interference with cockpit gear in laboratories failed.  
     In a study published in 2006, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University who rode 37 airline flights with a radio-frequency measuring device found emissions from cellphones that could interfere with global-positioning satellite systems. And the nonprofit RTCA Inc., which advises the FAA on technical issues, said in a lengthy study in 2008 that emissions from transmitting personal electronic devices, or T-PEDS, could interfere with critical aircraft systems.  Regulators believe there is a chance that electronic emissions from passenger devices could interfere with navigation instruments, and if even the remotest possibility of disaster exists, it's better to turn them off for takeoff and landing.  That rule is backed by a sweeping federal law. Passengers must comply with crew instructions on board commercial airplanes, or face potential fines and jail time.
      And it involves an often-overlooked safety concern: Passengers must be able to hear flight attendants in an emergency, so no headphones are allowed during takeoff or landing.   This is my pet peeve:  I know you are a "seasoned" traveler and know how to fasten a seat belt, but I always endeavor to keep my passengers informed, particularly if there are any unusual events or delays.  If you are blasting rap music into your eardrums while I provide pertinent information, possibly something that will directly affect you, then you are going to miss it.  Sometimes we feel like "Charlie Brown's parents" from the animated cartoon......whaa, waaa, waaa is all you hear.  FA's are always asked about things that they have already made a PA about.  
     "The problem is taking flight attendants away from their jobs, and they have to be ready for an emergency," says FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette.  
     Cellphones are banned during entire flights—not just during takeoff and landing—because they can interfere with ground-based antenna capacity. Most cell phones' GPS continue to work even in "airplane mode."  We rely on GPS to navigate and other, especially numerous or very strong GPS devices and signals WILL interfere with our abilities. The Federal Communications Commission, along with the FAA, bans in-flight use because a phone flying at more than 500 miles per hour, six miles above the ground, connects with lots of cell towers, hogging bandwidth. Connecting at that speed and altitude also takes lots of power from the phone, yielding stronger emissions that could interfere with instruments.  (not to mention that your battery will be totally drained by the time you land because your phone has been constantly seeking cell towers).
     Flight attendants say one or two people on almost every flight don't seem to think the device ban applies to them.
     "There's a lack of awareness of what the rules are, why the rules are there and what the flight attendant's role is," says Veda Shook, an Alaska Airlines flight attendant and president of the Association of Flight Attendants.  Airlines train flight attendants in methods to calm confrontations. Airlines also have leeway to judge whether a passenger should be removed and put on another flight.  Don't be THAT GUY!  Just get in, sit down, strap in and LISTEN.  You will be at cruise altitude soon enough and then you can listen, play, watch (but not talk on your cell) all you want.....until we descend, that is.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Been Awhile, but still at it. Back at Sea with the Navy.....temporarily

Well, since my last posting lots has happened in my world.  BOTH of my children got married and I have traveled many more miles to many different places.  It is gratifying to see your children out on their own and successful.  Now I am left to wonder what is next?  Downsizing!  Travel!
My latest adventure was to fly to Hawaii and meet my son as he arrived on the aircraft carrier he had been deployed on for seven months.  His lovely wife whom he left at the end of July last year flew out to see him after all that time without him.  It was a wonderful reunion. My wife and I spent the weekend there in the Armed Forces Hotel on Waikiki, the Hale Koa.  It was a wonderful and relaxing time and we made certain that the reunited couple had plenty of space.  We enjoyed lots of beach time and some sightseeing drives and plenty of "umbrella" drinks (beware the umbrella!).
The best part of this trip was being able to join my son on his ship for the sail back to San Diego.  Called a "Tiger Cruise," the Navy has been doing this for many years now as a way of allowing the parents, siblings (of a minimum age) and friends (not significant others) to see what it is their sons/daughters/friends do in the Navy.  For me, it was an opportunity to spend time with my son and observe him in a world that I am all too familiar with having retired as a Navy pilot.  I can say that I am proud of what he does and how he does it.

Funny how the more things change, the more they remain the same.  With the exception of so much of the crew being women, they deal with many of the same issues that I recall from my active duty days.  On the third day of being underway, we were treated to an "airshow," which demonstrated the capabilities of the embarked air wing.  I was fortunate to be in a position to take the amazing photo above of an F 18 about to trap "under the rainbow."
If you know someone who is serving in the Navy aboard a ship, and have the opportunity to embark on a "Tiger Cruise," I highly recommend it.