Arming pilots both concerns and comforts

Kevin Cowherd

I'M TRYING to picture something here, and the more I picture it, the jumpier I get.

The first thing I picture is an airline pilot with a gun at the controls of a 747.

Then I picture a wild-eyed terrorist bursting through the cockpit door and announcing a hijacking.

Then I picture the pilot, one hand on the controls, turning around to shoot with his free hand, the way the stagecoach driver in the Old West used to hold the reins in one hand and shoot at the bad guys over his shoulder.

Meanwhile, the plane is dipping and rolling and passengers are screaming, including me, sitting back there in seat 18A with a spilled Coke puddling in my lap.

No, check that.

I wouldn't be screaming at this point.

Because I'd already be dead of a heart attack.

Anyway, I bring up this scenario because the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilot's union in the country, wants its members to be allowed to carry guns in the cockpit to ward off hijackers.

Look, I'm all for warding off hijackers.

Especially if they're trying to hijack any flight I'm on.

But the idea of gunplay at 35,000 feet makes a lot of fliers like me nervous. Me, I start gripping the armrests if someone just mentions turbulence, never mind if gunshots ring out.

So yesterday I called Roy Freundlich, a spokesman for the U.S. Airways unit of the pilots union, to discuss this whole business of guns in the cockpit.

Freundlich has been a pilot for 21 years, 14 with U.S. Airways. When I asked him right off the bat if he wanted to be armed in the cockpit, he didn't hesitate.

"Yes," he said. "The threat to airline pilots and passengers has changed. It isn't about hijackers coming on board to bargain [for something] anymore. It's about hijackers getting on an airplane ... to destroy the airplane and harm a lot of people."

So, in the wake of the horrible attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the pilot's union is proposing some radical changes.

For one thing, they want more secure cockpit doors.

"Right now," said Freundlich, "they keep out the old lady who mistakes the cockpit for the bathroom. But that's about it."

Any adult who wants to kick in the door, or ram it open with his shoulder, would have no problem, Freundlich added.