When it comes to "Truth in Advertising," "Truth in Lending" and "Truth in Consumerism," I am ready to man the barricades to fight for the public's right to know. The only area in which I do not believe people should be informed about anything is when it comes to "Truth in Flying."
In the past, I have criticized airline pilots who insist on getting on the loudspeaker of their planes and giving passengers a sightseeing tour of the United States.
"Well, folks, we're now flying over Kansas, which you can't see because of the cloud cover, and pretty soon we'll be crossing the Mississippi, which just keeps rolling along, etc., etc."
I thought that was bad, but it's nothing compared to the pilot who feels his passengers are fascinated with the technical aspects of flying.
I was bouncing around the country last week on three different airlines, and I learned more about planes than I ever wanted to know.
We were sitting at the gate at La Guardia, when the pilot said, "I guess you folks are wondering what the holdup is. We have a lil' old leak in the hydraulic system, and the mechanics are trying to find it, because once you put these big birds into the air, they need all the power they can get. And while we have a backup system, I think I'll let them fix the leak, just so this lil' old red light up here on the panel will go off."
Ten minutes later: "This is the pilot. Well, it wasn't a hydraulic leak after all. It seems to be a lil' old electric short in the black box. They should be able to repair it in a jiffy by going in under the nose wheel, and splicing the wires that control the after-burner guages. The reason for the delay is that the pilot who flew this plane into La Guardia failed to report the malfunction. All he complained about was that one of the rear wheel tires had blown out, and that's been changed, so once we get the electrical wiring situation straightened out, it will be all systems go."
Fifteen minutes later: "Everything appears to be A-O.K. The red light is out and the hydraulics seem to be working fine, although the real test is when we get into the air. But we don't expect any trouble, so relax and enjoy the flight. I'll be back to you as soon as we're airborne, and if I see any red lights on the panel, you'll be the first to know."
A few days later, I flew from San Francisco to Chicago. It was a different pilot. We were somewhere over Colorado.
"Hi folks. Well, so far we've had a very pleasant trip, but planes in the area are reporting heavy turbulence ahead. Ordinarily, we'd try to fly around the storms, but in this case they seem to be spread over such a wide area that we're just going to have to go lickety-split right through them. It's going to be a little bumpy, but these planes were built to take it, and could even fly through a tornado if they had to. If you look out the window you can see the lightning and black clouds all around us. You have to expect this kind of weather in the summer in this area, as well as lots of hailstroms. So fasten you seat belts, and maybe you'll all have something to tell your grandchildren about."
The next day, I had the fun of flying from Chicago to upper Michigan. The pilot hadn't given us much information on how he was doing, and I was starting to get a little worried. But as we were making an approach for a landing at Traverse City, he suddenly veered off to the left, gunned his engine and started to climb.
"That was a close one," he said over the loudspeaker. "Those of you on the right side of the aircraft probably saw the little single-engine plane which deciced to land at the same time we did. Apparently the people in the tower were asleep, or maybe they thought we would both enjoy landing on the runway at the same time. In any case, I think we'll make another pass and hope this time we can set the thing down without a Piper Cub trying to knock our tail off. I don't want anyone back there to worry, because I'm going to report the plane as soon as I get on the ground. I'm going to have a few choice words to say to the tower as well."
I'm certain there must be passengers aboard our airline who are grateful for all the notes they can get on how the pilot of the plane is faring. But I've yet to meet one. Most of us still believe that "Truth in Flying" is for the birds.