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.