Comm 111 for Pilots

By Beacon Staff

I was on an airplane this past weekend, and the pilot came over the intercom and said something funny, it was about….. wait, it’s gone. It was probably the head flight attendant anyway; they’re more accustomed to talking to actual, real-live people.

It reminds me of another flight, a couple months ago, when I decided pilots need a public speaking and communications course.

We were flying out of Denver, and I’ve grown to loathe take offs, landings, and turbulence as I’ve gotten older. I used to enjoy that floating-in-your-seat sensation. I don’t anymore. So we’re cruising at whatever altitude with the tail wind speed, dew point, air pressure, cost of tea in China, and with some random historical point tens of thousands of feet below us and obscured by cloud when the disembodied voice of the pilot once again breaks across the music to tell us something.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem.” Swear to God, this is how he starts out. Among the things you don’t want to hear in your life: “Oops,” from your doctor, “I’m late,” from a girlfriend, “and “Your parents house was destroyed in a flood, they’re going to have to live with you indefinitely,” from anyone. I’ve got to say, I don’t want to hear the man flying the plane tell me, “we’ve got a problem.” He went on to explain the plane’s de-icer, (I can’t remember the technical term,) was malfunctioning, and we couldn’t fly through clouds. So we turned around, flew back to Denver, and got on a new plane.

A few years ago, in New Zealand, I was flying from Wellington to Christchurch; about an hour and a half flight. We got all the way to Christchurch, began our descent, and got to that point where it feels like the wheels are inches from the ground when suddenly we’re taking off again and circling around the foggy lights of Christchurch.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t find the runway,” he eventually says. Can’t find the runway! You mean there aren’t any sensors down there, guides, maps, the freaking force! Tell me the fog’s too thick to land, don’t just blurt out that you can’t find the runway.

“We’re going to wait for another plane to land, and see if we can go at it again.” The other plane landed, we went “at it again,” with the same near landing switching to a take off. It was like therapy, the tough love sort; three take offs and three landings in one trip, without getting off the plane.

At the end of the day, the pilot’s honesty is refreshing. Their enthusiasm about their job and the weather details probably send synapses flashing for the flight enthusiast and amateur pilot on board. However, if you’ve got bad news, especially the mediocre kind where my schedule is inconvenienced but my life isn’t threatened, ease me into it. Say; “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have to return to Denver,” this is a nice way to start, it doesn’t cause me to dig my nails through the plastic armrest, or send my mind racing through a mental checklist of the family and friends I need to call. It just makes me curious to hear why, and listen attentively for what happens next.