KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Ross: I have a newfound fear of flying, I’m scared of the pilots

Oct 24, 2023, 8:09 AM | Updated: 8:19 am

Image: Alaska Airlines planes are pictured at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport the day after Ho...

Alaska Airlines planes are pictured at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport the day after Horizon Air ground crew member Richard Russell took a plane from the airport in Seattle, Washington on August 11, 2018. (Photo: Jason Redmond, AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo: Jason Redmond, AFP via Getty Images)

First, I want to acknowledge that the most dangerous part of any flight is the drive to the airport, especially if you get dropped off on the upper roadway at SEA.

But I must admit that the next time I fly, it’ll be hard not to think about the story of the off-duty pilot who suddenly reached for the engine shut-off at 31,000 feet on that flight from Paine Field to San Francisco.

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Happy ending, no one hurt. But it was one of those stories I found myself reading several times, hoping for some explanation that would make sense.

We’ve been told it wasn’t terrorism, which I guess is reassuring. Except, that actually expands the universe of people we have to worry about as we assess our fellow passengers during the boarding process.

We’re all prepared to tackle someone who lunges for the cockpit, but somebody who’s already in the cockpit? I don’t have a plan for that.

Fortunately, the pilot and co-pilot did, and they handled it just as you’d expect. Very cool, very calm, as if it was just a little turbulence over the Rockies. And once the plane safely landed, a flight attendant got on the PA and announced that the unruly passenger had a mental breakdown and needed to be off the plane as soon as possible.

So, what do we learn from this? Well, number one, it’s a good thing there were two strong pilots in that cockpit! Remember last year’s proposal to eliminate the co-pilot to cut costs? I don’t think that’ll be coming back!

Although I suppose airlines could use this to justify planes flown by AI with no cockpit and no pilots. In which case I’ll just ask all my relatives to move out here.

But the one detail that still worries me is that, according to a federal official quoted by ABC News, the suspect was en route to San Francisco, where he was scheduled to be on the flight crew of a 737.

And on the 737, he would have been on duty and very likely one of only two people in the cockpit. And the struggle would have been one-on-one. What’s the Plan B for that?

As passengers, all we can do is weigh the odds, which are still very much in our favor. And so, I’m going to classify this as a one-off that’s not going to change my confidence in pilots because every time I’ve peeked into the cockpit and I see those uniforms and I hear that calm voice saying, “We’re number one for takeoff; flight attendants take your seats,” I immediately relax.

Well, almost immediately. When I walk through First Class and see a guy who looks like he might be a sky marshal, then I relax.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: I have a newfound fear of flying, I’m scared of the pilots