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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are you a nervous airline traveller?

One of the safest forms of travel

This week I was ready to comment on The Oprah Winfrey Incident, but I made the mistake of finally getting around to watching "Flight", starring Denzel Washington. If you are a nervous airline traveller perhaps it would be a good idea to give this film a miss.

"Flight" is the new "Jaws." Both are made for entertainment and mega profits, and as films go it is a far cry away from a documentary. I do not wish to spoil it for you, so I will only say that its main focus is the alcoholic pilot. There have been very rare cases of pilots who have been escorted out of the cockpit because their crew members deemed them unfit for service, as was the case of a Quantas pilot in Sydney, Australia.

Everyday we place our lives in the hands of professionals, who, if they are impaired in their ability to perform could actually kill us. Here in Spain we have suffered two train wrecks due to excessive speed over the posted limits. The general perception is that these were most probably due to human error. There have been bus mishaps, and taxis are constantly under scruitny. Long distance truckers who are delivering on tight schedules are a nightmare; and hospitals are scary places because they bring together both high stress and a plentiful supply of drugs to escape into.

In the United States, Pres. Reagan signed an Executive Order on September 15, 1986 directing that all federal agencies establish testing protocols especially for safety-sensitive employees. This extends across a very wide band of activity, but especially focuses on the aviation industry. With respect to pilots there is an on-going random drug/alcohol testing program, and because of this the character portrayed by Denzel Washington could not exist. In fact, self preservation limits undisciplined behaviour to a rare few. Positive results only appear so rarely that the cost for each is about $45,000.

Not only are pilots examined but also those people we never see or even think about who are equally responsible for our safety are caught in the net of examinations, such as the service and maintenance crew, and that means the mechanics and air traffic controllers.  Air travel in the United States has become safer than ever, starting with vetting the passengers through to everyone who is involved in flight. The chances that a pilot or cabin crew member could sign on while evidently drunk or high on drugs is minimised by the fact that person would endanger their fellow staff.

So, if you are a person flying in the United States you could watch that film and take it simply as entertainment, although I certainly hope no company makes the mistake of showing it as the in-flight movie.


I have only dealt with flying within the U.S. National carriers around the world operate under a variety of rules when it comes to control of pilots and service personnel, so the truth is that we take much more of a gamble overseas. It is quite amazing that there are not a constant flow of air tragedies, given the absence of U.S. strict controls, so apparently self-preservation  is working although we know in our hearts there are people who are doing irresponsible things.

I wish I had not seen "Flight!"

Copyright (c) 2013   Eugene Carmichael