Be sure pilot's in upright, locked position


News item: More airline pilots are falling asleep at the wheel due to improved cockpit technology and an increased demand for flights.

LET ME TELL YOU: This is not what someone like me needs hear.

When I board a flight and look in the cockpit, I want to see the pilots all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I want to see them alertly checking the instrument panel and poring over flight plans.

And if they want to drop to the floor and knock off 20 push-ups or stand and do some jumping jacks, that's fine with me, too.

What I don't want to see in the cockpit is anyone yawning.

And if the person yawning also has a pillow under one arm and a quilt around his shoulders, I will be backing out of the plane, pronto.

Look, you board a flight and see someone behind the stick in a bathrobe and jammies, it's got to give you a bad feeling.

Call me old-fashioned, but when I'm 38,000 feet over the Rockies, I like to think that the guy steering the plane is not snoozing face-down on the "Current Weather Conditions" chart.

And where are the flight attendants when all these pilots are dozing off in mid-air?

Hey, sport, instead of tossing me another pack of stale peanuts, why not go up to the cockpit and give the captain a shake, make sure the ol' boy hasn't drifted off while we head for the side of a mountain?

Instead of nagging me about my tray table and seat back being upright, why not check up front to be certain we're not landing in the Madeira Islands instead of New York, now that a certain someone's been napping for four hours?

The thing I don't understand is how these pilots can sleep at all with the pressure they're under.

Me, I can't sleep if I have a video due back at Blockbuster the next morning.

And here you have pilots dozing off behind the stick of a fully loaded L10-11 with 395 passengers bound from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

One thing's certain: As a nervous flier, I would sure appreciate it if the airlines would find a way to keep their pilots awake while I'm in the air.

It doesn't much matter to me how they accomplish this, either.

I don't care if they send some mob wiseguys into the cockpit every half-hour to wrestle the pilot to the ground and pour a cup of Maxwell House down his throat.

I don't care if they zap him with a cattle prod whenever his eyes start to close.

I don't care if they put a huge gong next to his seat and bang it every few minutes.

I just don't want to look out my window and see that we're bearing down on the Sears Tower at 500 mph while the captain catches 40 winks.

For now, the airlines are talking about increasing the lighting in the cockpit, as well as social interaction among the flight crew, in an effort to keep pilots from dozing off in mid-flight.

Actually, there's probably a simpler solution.

What the airlines could do is create a new position aboard each flight known as, oh, Flight Facilitator.

This would be a minimum-wage job to start, no experience necessary.

This person's sole responsibility would be to sit up front next to the pilot and ask annoying questions such as: "What's that light for?" and "What happens when you press the stick this way? No, let go of my hand, I just want to show you."

Let's face it: By the time the plane lifted off, the pilot would be so agitated that sleep would be all but impossible.

In the unlikely event the pilot actually did begin to doze, the Flight Facilitator would be authorized to slap the pilot across the face and scream: "WAKE UP, DAMMIT! YOU WANT TO GET US ALL KILLED?!"

My friend Ron says his ex-wife would be perfect for the job. She hated to see anyone dozing peacefully, especially if it was Ron, ++ and especially if he was on the couch.

On these occasions, she would creep up to within inches of his face and yell something like: "YOU WORM, DID YOU FIX THAT RAIL ON THE DECK YET?!"

Someone like that could have a bright future with the airlines.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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