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Pilot

When is enough of a good thing way too much? When you're flying American (AMR). Somewhere along the line somebody must have done a focus group or something, because it's apparent that the airline believes that fulsome, frank communications with passengers is of fabulous benefit to everybody. The effort is obviously well-intentioned. But the outcome is perhaps not.

I first noticed this a few years ago, when I would be sitting and waiting for a mysterious amount of time on the tarmac and then Chuck Yeager would come on the public address system with something like, "First of all, I'd like to thank you all for your patience..." This immediately drained whatever patience I was trying to cultivate. I hate being thanked for my patience. "... but there's an amber light here in the cockpit that we're checking out."

That was bad. There are a lot of reasons for amber lights, none of them particularly encouraging. Did I need to know about the amber light? Maybe. Did I want to fly in a plane that sported one, even briefly? Again, not too sure. I did know that the announcement did very little to help my frame of mind, but I guess they were just trying to be responsible and blah blah blah.

The trend has continued to develop, with ever-increasing levels of frankness being employed to win our admiration and regard. Which is fine. Unless, you know, it freaks us out entirely.

It's my perception, which may be completely off base (but I don't think so) that American Airlines hasn't put a new plane into domestic service in quite some time.  A little while back, they fooled me for a while with some new seating arrangements, but then I realized the snazzy new electric chairs had been installed into the same old Boeings. What American does instead, and it is very much to its credit, is to swarm over every airplane before it is permitted to leave the ground, fixing, checking, making sure that it is truly airworthy. This means a lot of late departures and safe arrivals. Still, I sometimes think they should post all take-off and landing times with a big fat asterisk.

Anyhow, yesterday I was scheduled to depart at 1:50 from San Francisco. The plane was slow to board. It is my belief, based on years of experience, that even the most infinitesimal delay at any point in the chain usually results in hours and hours of snafus and fubars, very often ending in the scrubbing of the flight and total decomposition of my day/week.  So my hair-trigger gut was telling me a) we had a problem and b) there was, therefore, a 68.4% chance that we would never take off at all, when Chuck Yeager came on the intercom.

"Well," he said, "we were all ready to go, but it appears that the brakes on the left side of the plane need to be replaced." He then went on about how that was really not a very big deal at all and that it might take less than half an hour and so on and so forth, but I didn't hear a thing, all I could get into my mind was the image of a plane landing at Kennedy Airport in New York and careening into Jamaica Bay when its brakes gave out.

"This is too much information for me," I said to the dead-heading flight attendant in the next seat.

"Well," he said, "I guess they're just trying to be honest."

I get that. Honesty is a virtue. In this case, however, something seems out of whack. Next time I would suggest something like, "There's a bit of weather in New York, and we're going to make sure that we have clear skies for your landing there. Kick back and have a free drink on us."

I like that much better. Not that such obfuscation is always called for. How different the world would look now if some honest broker had announced, "Well, we were doing fine until about a month ago, when it became obvious that our insurance was underwritten by a host of bad mortgage loans..."

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couldn't let it go huh Bing? i was truly hopeful up to the last sentence.

'Attention folks, thanks for your patience but it appears we've struck 200 birds so we'll be making an unscheduled stop in West New York NJ. We appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience.'

Thanks, Sully.

Well Mr. Bing i would have to say ignorance is bliss. That being said how could we ever move forward without information. I sure wish our govt. would tell us more when things are a little shaky, information always does an inteligent person well, while lack of it always seems to be our undoing. Having said that i would like to say that being in an aviation squadron using cutting edge aircraft from over 30 years ago that almost everytime a plane flies something breaks on it, sometimes it takes longer than others to find the problem all in all that plane that just landed and is getting ready to fly you to timbucktoo had something broke while it was flying, had something new break upon landing will have something already be broken when you take off and something will break or just generally not work during your flight. that may not look all that great untill you remember that it is still safer than driving.

Once, my family and I were on a US Air flight taking off from Phoenix. Right after takeoff, the pilot came on to annouce very calmly that some hydraulics on the plane had just gone out, so we had to land again in Phoenix. He told us the particular hydraulics involved mainly only affected the steering of the plane's wheels, so we should be able to land safely. But just as a precaution he was going to ask us to assume the "Brace" position just before landing. Head down between legs, and grabbing thighs with arms. Hmmmmm. Okay. Fine.

Except that when the flight attendant started to read us the complete instructions, her hands were quite obviously shaking. A lot. Which started to totally freak me out. My wife and I were like, "Do we wake the kids up to say goodbye, or let them sleep?"

The pilot went on to tell us more reassuring stuff, and you can guess from the fact that I'm writing this that we landed fine, amidst scads of emergency vehicles out on the tarmac "just in case." So the pilot was being honest and forthright, and the attendant probably just nervous having to recite a very unfamiliar book.

But the question is, if we were really goners, would I have wanted complete honesty or not? Would I have wanted 5 more minutes of false hope, or knowledge that could aid in final prayers? I'm still not 100% sure.

By the way, we got $300 vouchers each for future travel. And a new plane within an hour. So good job US Airways!

I think you've touched on a live wire here, Bing. Which means your own amber light will start blinking soon...

The 'just trying to be honest' thought is off-track, I think. What is really happening here is just another manifestation of something more and more prevalent in our society-- the need to give out too much information all of the time.

My father used to call it the motor-mouth syndrome (MMS).

It's sort of like blogging or commenting on blogs, but it's spilled over into everything now. Clang, clang, clang went the blogger... ding, ding, ding went the commenter.

And the noise is everywhere now.

I'm with you-- I don't need to know everything about everything and all the damn time.

Even if it's important. Because, really-- it's ALL important! Isn't it?

I tend to prefer it the other way. If you have to work on the brakes, that is fine if you tell me. At least I understand why (1) you are delaying my flight (brakes are important) and (2) why it takes a half hour.

I once had a flight delayed about 40 minutes do to "work on the cabin interior". The gate agent finally started boarding us as the mechanic was "finishing the job". We boarded the plane to find a man replacing the metal plates that covered where the ash trays used to be in the arms of the seats (this was not a new plane, obviously). Was that really worth my delay? Would my life have been at risk if one of those plates came off in mid-air? No. So please don't waste all of the passengers' time!

Too much honesty is definitely possible, and not only in airline passenger announcements. Something we were watching on TV prompted my 9 year old to ask me if I ever smoked. "Why no, and you can get addicted and it will ruin your health". Of course, there is always: "Honey, does this dress make me look fat?" Honesty can so inappropriate.

Officials at Nepal's state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said Tuesday. - Reuters Sept 4, 2007. OK - I guess I'd rather have the amber light and TMI than have to watch or otherwise participate in the goat sacrifice. I''d also rather have the DOW at 14,000, Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch independently owned and profitably operated, WA MU making sound mortgage loans and the average Joe secure in his little corner of America.

Who was it that sang...I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden?

At least we have our health.

yes ! First of all American is adding 737-800 too its fleet as it begins to retire the SP-80.As for the the pilot giving out what you feel is to much info. The Capt tells the psgrs whats going on cause he has too. Making up something could get both the pilot and the airline in trouble.

I'd say the more information before takeoff the better as long as we have the option to put our hat back on and disembark.

After all, if it takes mendacity and moonshine to do something, maybe we shouldn't be doing it.

What I hate is not info but misinfo, like being airborne and then the pilot telling us the time and he's off by three hours. Hey, in a cockpit that's the easiest dial of the myriad isn't it?

I know we are all persons of the hour, but let's get that hour right, huh?

What is the problem Bing? complains because they lie when there is a delay, and, amazingly to me; now complaining because they are being honest, wow! you are a difficult person to satisfy! I appreciate when someone is being honest to me, in 99.9% of the time it does not solve my problem but it makes a world of difference to me when somebody tell me the truth, there is never """TMI""" when some one is being honest. Imagine if we could turn back time and AIG, BofA, Fanny Mae, Freddie Mac, GE, Merrill, Lehman, Madoff etc, etc, choose this time to tell us the truth.

You're right, Isaac. When my life and professional existence is at the mercy of something over which I have no control, I get testy.

So you were impressed by their attention to the so called fix and repair of the aircraft were you.

That's the idea, send a bunch of guys out looking busy at repairs etc etc.,

so the passanger will take their mind off the fact that they are carrying just barely enough fuel for the flight and the reason they check everything is they are way over due for a major overhaul,,

patch it up and make do until the economy improves...

A plane that is properly maintained doesn't need a complete check over everytime it flys..

Bing you fly a lot.. could you see you way to carrying extra flight insurance for me,,,I figure the odds are better than a lottery ticket.

Think about that next time you are sitting there watching the tarmack.

Bing,,Don't take the extra flight insurance thing,,,the wrong way..just think of it as a business decision,,,you know ,,holding a "short position" on the flights..

Man, try waiting for hours and hours for a fligth that everybody knows is nowhere to be found (and, still, won't be cancelled) without so much as a word from ground people. You'll never, ever complain again, Mr. Bing.

More free booze and less honesty. That's what I want from both my bartender and my airline.

SF to NY is a red eye all the way. No hotel expense justifies an upgrade (see prior note re free booze), and people give you a pass if you doze off in meetings the next day.

Ron White on air travel...

I flew all the way from Flagstaff, Arizona to Phoenix, Arizona because my manager doesn't own a globe. We took off from the Flagstaff Airport, Hair Care and Tire Center there. The plane was really small, like a pack of gum with eight people in it, going (imitates sound of a tiny airplane) half the speed of smell. We got passed by a kite. There was a goose behind us, the pilot was screaming, "Go around! Go around!" On the way there, we lost some oil pressure in one of the engines, so we had to turn around. It's a 9-minute flight. Can't pull it off with this equipment. And they told us about it over the speaker system of the plane, which was stupid because they coulda just went (looks backward) "Hey, we lost some oil pressure." [gives a thumbs-up] Heard ya! Sure did. of course, I'd been drinking since lunch, so I was like "take it down, I don't care. Hit somethin' hard, I don't wanna limp away from this piece of shit." The guy sitting next to me is losing his mind. Apparently, he had a lot to live for. He turns to me, he says "Hey man! [gasps for air] Hey, man! Hey, man! [gasps for air] If one of these engines fails, [gasps for air] how far will the other one take us?" So I was like, "All the way to the scene of the crash! Which is pretty handy, 'cause that's where we're headed. I bet we beat the paramedics there by a half-hour! We're haulin ass!"

It's all about Transparency in the 0-9 or they have replaced the Air Traffic Controllers with lawyers...

And if you 'auger in', what's the worst that can happen? A few moments of terror before complete bliss, a few months for all of the corporate life insurance to materialize for the survivors, and the only one sweating it will be the spaniel...unless it's the wife's favorite. Time heals all wounds.

Oh, please... Wouldn't you otherwise be complaigning for having been deceived?...

No, Lisbon, I would not. A little polite deception in the service of my frame of mind is always appreciated.

Bing, I will take that abundant and sometimes useless honesty and give to the WS. How about - "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Cassano speaking. We should not have any delays or crashes ever with the new plane called 'credit default swaps'. That said, please 'embrace' yourselves because we'll be flying in unknown air space to make up our time." Oh yah? Let me get the heck out of this plane!

Ladies and Gentlemen this is your Captain speaking. Hamster one is dead. We probably can get there on Hamster two alone.

However, smoke em if you got em and if anyone has a good Cuban would you please ring the steward.

Imagine how Bernie Madoff feels now, from private planes, trains, and limosines to confinement with instructions over the b***h box and rude awakenings whenever.

Remember, he worked very hard to get where he got; regrets? I would imagine he has a few.

What wouldn't he give to sit on a tarmac pondering some luxurious destination on a remote white sand beach with an iced vodka martini.

Come to think of it, he can ponder the same thoughts in an isolated jail cell as well as on the tarmac.

Off topic. Bing, you know I drank for over 40 years without ever wanting, or having, a martini. Just didn't seem like a manly drink...I guess I shoulda thought about Sinatra swilling'em down...he was no light-weight. It must have been the rather silly looking martini glasses that put me off (that I now know to be highly functional).

Then I read one of your blog entries. I think you mentioned a martini so cold it had ice shards floating in it. Sounded enticing.

I sampled a few at a local watering hole reputed to make good martinis. I became hooked (which is really easy because you're basically swilling down cold straight alcohol). Now the freezer is filled with various spirits and martini glasses.

Who says you can't teach an old redneck new tricks? Thank you.

I always get uncomfortable when the pilot starts a one sided conversation with the passengers. I want the pilot to be super human, above general chit chat with the commoners like me. It just makes me feel better that way. The less I know about his/her sweaty palms, the better.

I was in Vegas on a "conference" and while we sat on the tarmac to come home the pilot announced we had some mechanical problems that needed looking into. Then, one of the guys who was with us on the conference, the brother of one of my colleagues, gets up and walks off the plane. 45 minutes later he gets back on, and we're on our way. Halfway through the flight, my colleague comes back and tells me with great bravado that his brother is a mechanic for the airline. He found out about the prolem, showed his credentials to the flight staff, got under the plane and fixed the graplegromitt thingy, and saved the day.

I would have been alot more comfortable on the balance of the flight, if I had not spent the previous three days with the guy, well, you know, in Vegas.....

Mike,

There's something beautiful about a good martini. I have them very infrequently anymore so when I do have one it's even more special.

I understand the problem, Bingster, I really do. But somehow I'm less troubled by the honest, oversharing Captain H. Hornblower, than by the thought of Captain HedgeFund giving me the pre-flight briefing. The lesser of two evils, as it were.

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Alessandra

See this is the kind of nonsensical drivel that I get a few times a day now, this one from Allessandra, a native of Alabama AND the US. Do you think Allessandra, or her bot masters, are making a joke here? After all, when Brecht wanted an "American sounding" name to use in his famous song, he chose the most lyrical word he could think of: Alabama. Could Alessandra be doing the same thing? I have stripped off the lame link she included because as far as I can see these messages are sent to elicit clicks. Yesterday I clicked on one, just to see? And I got a site dedicated to outdoor barbecue grills.

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