Jun 29, 2010

Chatty Captains?

This report describes a passenger's positive reaction to a Captain’s inflight announcements and how they added to the travel experience.

There is an alternate point of view, however. Now that most aircraft are equipped with inflight entertainment systems, PA interruptions are not always appreciated unless there's something really spectacular going on like a view of the Grand Canyon, or the left wing on fire! Business passengers don't like PA chatter if they are trying to work and often some passengers may be sleeping.

The article immediately reminded me of two extremes of PA style I saw in my early days at GooseAir riding sidesaddle - that is as a B727 Second Officer*.

Captain Gabba-Lou would pick up the PA microphone immediately after takeoff from San Francisco (I’m serious) to describe the view of the city and the bay area. He'd hardly stop talking all the way home. Of course one or two passengers loved the rolling commentary and let him know with great enthusiasm at the end of the trip. Meanwhile the flight attendants and other passengers were rolling their eyes in quiet frustration.

The story goes that one night a concerned second officer, wanting to protect the sleep and sanity of the passengers, surreptitiously reached behind his panel on the back wall and quietly pulled out the PA circuit breaker, disabling the flight deck microphone. When Lou realized he wasn't transmitting the SO made a big show of checking the breaker - “Standy while I recycle it…” And then he reset some adjacent non-critical CB. “Is that any better now? Nope? Well gee, guess that's not the problem then …” Miraculously the system started working again at the top of descent! “Go figure! Technology…”

At the other end of the spectrum was Silent Bill who had very little to say to the passengers - ever. One day just after reaching cruise altitude also departing San Francisco the purser brought up a note addressed specifically to The Captain. One of the passengers was requesting specific PA announcements about the scenic highlights along the way and even suggested geographical trivia Bill should include regarding the various mountain peaks and lakes. Bill's response, growled emphatically over his shoulder was: "What the (bleeeep) does he think I'm running here? A Brewster bus tour?" We burst out laughing as Bill shoved the note to the first officer grumbling something about "Take care of this, will ya…" and then returned to his own preoccupations with the passing scenery.

When my day came to make Captainly PA announcements I tried to find the happy medium between these two fine gentlemen. I’d try to discern the type of passengers we had on board - different for a weekend trip to Punta Cuna as opposed to the Monday morning business flights to Toronto. As well I'd consider the time of day or specifically check with the flight attendants to know if the folks were asleep.

I’d be interested in any comments readers have about PA announcements when you fly as passengers. Do you like them? Find them annoying? What about during irregular operations - do you want more frequent announcements?

“I now invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy the internet. Thanks for visiting The Wings Stayed On.”


*note: The Second Officer is the third pilot on the flight deck who takes care of technical systems and circuit breaker panels etc. The chair swivels sideways while working on the technical panel - so it is often referred to as riding side-saddle. The S/O is also often called the "Oiler." One captain was famous for introducing the second officer as "My sexual adviser because when I want his (bleeeeping) advice, I'll ask for it!" Apparently, not all captains adjusted easily to the third crewmember and having some controls beyond their own reach. Pilots dreamt up many ephitats for the second officer job as it was a non-flying purgatory we had to endure enroute to the front seat jobs. While many airlines used apprentice pilots in this non-flying position, many others employed flight engineers. The advantage of this option was having an actual mechanic on hand at off-line stations to deal with maintenance issues.

Jun 21, 2010

Living Aviaton History

Trans Canada Airline's first stewardess, Lucile Garner Grant, celebrated her one hundredth birthday on Sunday, June 13, 2010. (Note: TCA eventually became Air Canada.)

Lucile Garner was born in Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan in 1910 and trained as a nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal before moving to Vancouver. A pilot friend of hers had suggested Trans-Canada Airlines was looking for someone to set up a stewardess department and encouraged her to apply.

She was hired in June 1938, and was the first female employee, taking two trips from Vancouver to Seattle with United Airlines to learn how things were done. After that, she and Pat Ecclestone (the second TCA stewardess) learned on the job and from the pilots, with challenges ranging from designing uniforms to learning about weather patterns and aircraft design, operations and radio communication, and anything else that a passenger might want to know about, in addition to food services on a trans-continental flight, and how to stock a flight satchel. Lucile was in charge of all of this and more in her role of Canadian flight pioneer.

Of her most challenging IROP, Lucile recounts, "During a weather delay at Fort Nelson, I rode by dogsled to the radio station - bumping along on the frozen ice, the wolves howling in the distance. I thought, "This is great!"

More of Lucile's story is featured in a pamphlet found at this website....

Jun 3, 2010

When Otto Goes Bad...

Automation has oft-times been promoted as a way of eliminating humans from the flight deck. Ironically, pilots now must be prepared to fly the aircraft by hand while also managing the automated systems and being prepared to eliminate Otto if he "goes postal" - as illustrated by this accident: (you may need to click the PLAY button on the right side panel)