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Cockpit Confidential—Reflections

Art Deco Doors at LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal

Art Deco Doors at LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal

A little more than a month ago, I wrote a posting about Patrick Smith, whose Ask the Pilot website has inspired me to read his excellent new book, Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, Questions, Answers & Reflections. If you want to read my original post, you can find it here. I thought I would like write about his book and why I think that anyone who is even remotely interested in travel should read it.

Most of the text is arranged in Question & Answer format, but the things I liked most about the book are the essays interspersed between the chapters. One of the things that has most irritated me about American airports is their swift decline from classy places to visit and soak oneself in the whole culture of flying to something that barely competes with inner city Greyhound bus terminals. In fact, I have never been to a bus terminal in Mexico or Argentina that wasn’t more comfortable than the best American airports I’ve seen. In one essay, Patrick produces a list entitled “Fifteen Things No Terminal Should Be Without,” which includes are such items as:

  • A fast, low-cost public transportation link to downtown. Only Cleveland and Portland, to my knowledge, can boast of this.
  • In-transit capabilities for passengers just transferring to another flight.
  • Complimentary wireless Internet.
  • Convenience stores.
  • Power ports for re-charging your portable electronics.
  • Showers and a short-stay hotel, instead of sleeping on a filthy floor in the terminal.
  • Play areas for children.
  • Better dining options, most especially fewer chain restaurants.
  • An information kiosk.
  • A bookstore.
  • Sufficient gate-side seating to accommodate all the passengers on a flight.
  • Finally, some aesthetic flair, such as the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia (departure exit pictured above).

We tend to think of flying as an experience fraught with massive inconvenience (to wit: the TSA, incomprehensible airport public address systems, and grubby terminals) and white-knuckle experiences (like air turbulence, bouncy landings, and ominous announcements from the cockpit). One of the things that Cockpit Confidential accomplishes in its 300 pages is to give you a good feeling for the amazing safety record of airlines around the world. When Malaysian Flight MH370 goes astray, it not only hits the news but stays there for weeks at a time until most TV viewers get a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach about flying in general.

Just to show that he doesn’t sugar-coat the airlines’ safety records, Smith provides a summary of the ten deadliest air disasters of all time (nine of which occurred in the 1970s and 1980s), with a survey of the special circumstances that led to them. He even provides an essay on the events of September 11, 2001 and why it is now totally unlikely that a similar event would ever happen again.

“Exuberant, Profuse, May Rot Your Teeth. Overall Grade: F”

“Exuberant, Profuse, May Rot Your Teeth. Overall Grade: F”

A special area of interest to the author is the subject of airline liveries (i.e. plane decorations), logos, and names. Above, for instance, is his evaluation of Southwest Airlines’ new livery, which he regards as the worst-designed of the top ten U.S. airlines. I was particularly amused by the names of some airlines that I never heard of, and would be especially wary of flying. They include such beauties as Kazanskoe Motorostroitel’noe Proizvodstevennoe Ob’yedinenie (“which is the sound a person makes when gargling aquarium gravel”); Zhezkazan Zhez Air (good for catching a few Z’s); Wizz Air; Kras Air (imagine an h after the s), and U-Land Airlines (now defunct).

In my previous post, I mentioned adding Cockpit Confidential to my TBR pile. Good thing, too, because Patrick’s book is definitely a keeper.