I've never enjoyed traveling by air. I've never been scared of flying but the discomfort factor was enough to kill the experience for me. For one thing, I'm a chubby sort and I don't fit in coach seats very well. Spending three hours with my shoulder pressed against a stranger kind of creeps me out. And, truth be told, I have control issues.
There is news recently, however, that might upgrade my dislike of flying from discomfort to outright distress. Take the headline today, for instance:
Pilots should have had warning of airport approach.
Call me crazy, but shouldn't they have kinda noticed that they passed the big clump of lights around the city they were flying to? This is not a story that makes for confidence in our airline pilots:
Two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot their destination by 150 miles before turning back should have had numerous warnings as they approached and passed Minneapolis: cockpit displays, controllers trying repeatedly to reach, the city lights twinkling below.
Yet the pilots didn't discover their mistake until a flight attendant in the cabin contacted them by intercom, said a source close to the investigation who wasn't authorized to talk publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. By that time, the plane was over Eau Claire, Wis., and the pilots had been out of communication with air traffic controllers for over an hour. (Associated Press)
Their explanation? They were having a "heated discussion over airline policy". Yeah, that's right, a heated discussion. Over "airline policy", no less. That sounds, pardon my French, like crap. I'll bet you they were asleep.
There is continuing discussion whether FAA and NTSB regulations adequately address the issue of pilot safety due to sleepiness and lack of off-duty time between flights. And now there is concern about the effects of sleep apnea on pilots' ability to be adequately rested and refreshed after a night's sleep. I know several people with sleep apnea; although it sounds like the disease of the week anymore (you ever know anyone who went to a sleep clinic that wasn't diagnosed with sleep apnea?), it's very real and can wreck havoc with your body.
Anybody worried yet?
And let's not forget this little tidbit:
In January 2008, two go! airlines pilots fell asleep for at least 18 minutes during a midmorning flight from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii. The plane passed its destination and was heading out over open ocean before controllers raised the pilots. (Associated Press)
Open ocean. No emergency landings there. Oops.
I guess my major concern with flying is my control issues. Let's, see, you stuff yourself into a metal tube with wings and put your life into the hands of two guys you have never met, have no information on their skills or experience levels, have no idea if they are rested, sober and emotionally stable, and have no way to assure yourself that the plane itself is mechanically sound? Sure, the statistics claim that I am in less danger flying than driving on one of the interstate highways in my city. But, at least in my Subaru I have control over whether I feel good enough to drive, whether my car is in good repair and when I'm on the road (hello, retirement - goodbye, rush hour!).
I don't travel much, but if I had to and I couldn't drive there, I might be catching a Greyhound. And sitting right behind the driver so I could poke him if he so much as nods his head!