Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ask Josh The Pilot, Volume III: The Sucking Edition

By: Josh The Pilot

AnnaPink said...

I am flying to Miami from DC in a few weeks. I am really nervous, because I will be sitting in an "exit row" seat of the airplane. I don't know why, but I am afraid some crazy person will try to open up the door (or something) midflight and I will get sucked out. Should I be worried about this? Are there protections in place to prevent this from happening? Also, why isn't everyone on board an airplane issued a parachute? I mean, they could give it back when the flight was over. Are parachutes hard to work, or expensive? I am honestly worried, so don't kid too much if you can help it.

AnnaPink, I love getting the opportunity to calm peoples' fears about flying. Based on your nervousness, I'm assuming you haven't ever flown before, so I won't make fun of you because I know your fear is quite genuine, though ultimately unnecessary, because it's fear of the unknown. Thank you for giving me a chance to make flying a little less unknown to you.

My first bit of advice is RELAX! Flying is very safe and so much more fun than driving. You may have heard that you're 100 times more likely to get in a car wreck on the way to the airport than you are to be in an airplane accident. In other words, once you are airborne you are in the safest position you can possibly be while traveling. Another way to think about it is this: Imagine you've never before ridden in a car or an airplane. Then one day, someone offers you a trip involving both a car ride and an airplane flight. For one week before your trip, you listen to the daily radio news reports. You will hear about literally hundreds of car crashes on the roads, but maybe, maybe one airplane incident. Which mode of transportation would you be more apprehensive about?

Don't be concerned with some crazy person opening the door and you getting sucked out. First of all, if someone was that crazy in the first place, he wouldn't be flying. Ticket agents and flight attendants are trained to recognize irrationally behaving passengers and will deny them boarding before the flight begins. Second, you can't be sucked out even in the almost infinitely unlikely event of a cabin decompression, even an explosive decompression. There is not enough pressure differential between the air inside the airplane and the outside atmosphere to create the kind of force necessary to "suck out" something the weight of a human being. Besides, you will have your lap belt on while seated so it's guaranteed you won't be leaving the airplane until you walk out the door when you're on the ground.

While we're on the subject, I would like to take a moment to allay another fear people have about flying on airliners in this post-9/11 world. Terrorists will never again try to hijack an airliner. They know that the moment someone makes a run at the cockpit, the air marshal on board will shoot them. If the marshal runs out of ammo, there are many passengers who will pull a Flight 93 and subdue the hijackers. If the passengers aren't successful, all pilots carry weapons now and will gladly dispatch to the 72 virgins (that's a slam against Muslim extremists, not Muslims in general) any attackers seeking to take over the cockpit.

Regarding parachutes, the simple answer is they are unnecessary. Parachutes are only needed when there is a high likelihood of the possibility of needing to exit the airplane while it's still in the air. Aviation technology (engines, airframes, etc) is so reliable and safe these days that the possibility of having to return to earth by a different way than you left it is virtually nonexsistant, unless you're a skydiver. Only military pilots flying warplanes in combat (because they're getting shot at) need parachutes. Occupants of airliners and general aviation (small) aircraft flying the friendly skies need only be concerned about the small child in the next row wailing her dissatisfaction with the world. Besides, it takes almost as much training to operate a parachute as it does to fly an airplane, so even if everyone on board was provided a 'chute, most people wouldn't know what to do with theirs, so they'd be better off staying inside than jumping out.

Last of all, if you're still uneasy about being in an exit row on your flight, you can always request to be reseated. There will be dozens of other passengers willing to swap seats with you so they can enjoy the extra leg room!

I hope you feel better now about taking your flight. Enjoy your time in Miami, and maybe we'll meet up when I finally move to DC. I would love to answer any more questions you might have about flying or aviation in general. I can probably even arrange for a tour of the air traffic control facility where I'll be stationed, so you can see who does the real work of keeping air travel safe. Blue skies!

Quick note: Obviously, JTP is taking a lot of time with these answers--he wants to do a good job for the screaming masses--and as you know he has quite the backlog. You can comment all you want on answers he's provided and request clarification, but we'd appreciate it if you held further questions until I put out another call.

After all, somebody has to fly the plane.


how can you not love him at:


John B. said...

That and by the time you fight through the panicing throng of people in front of the exit door, people who are frantically trying to figure out how to put on and operate their parachutes, once you fight through that crowd, the plane will be nose down somewhere in the Appalachians.

I'd rather take a Chilean tour bus, thank you.

MissDirected said...

Just because I'm an evil bitch, I must point out that there may be more car accidents than plane accidents, but 250 people aren't likely to die in a single car crash.

I used to love flying, but as I get older I get more afraid. Even though I know it is statistically inaccurate, I believe that the more I fly, the greater the chance is that I'll be on a plane that crashes.

Jill said...


Holy crap! You sound just like my husband. Are all pilots like this???


Referring to your past MSN article on how pilots ruin movies with any type of flying in them, I STILL laugh about it. Only someone dating/married to a pilot knows exactly how true this is! Thanks for the laughs.

Anonymous said...

"I must point out that there may be more car accidents than plane accidents, but 250 people aren't likely to die in a single car crash."

Which is why we hear about it in the rare event it does happen. You're still safer in the plane than the SUV.

LiteraryAlchemist said...

I used to love flying... it was all novelty and stuff. You got to get excited that you were going to the airport and getting on a real grown-up aereoplane [zoom!].

Then this work thing happened and I started having to travel on a regular basis. Somewhere, I became the jaded, cynical, get-out-of-my-way-on-the-Heinlein-pathway bully. All I want, any more, is to get inside the tube, find my seat, don my iPod and read myself to sleep.

All the while praying that JTP's aforementioned dissatisfied child is in another area.

She usually isn't.

Next call for questions, I wanna know what JTP has to say for folks like me! ;)

amy lou the reader said...

I've never flown before. And now that The Husband has a credit card with miles, the likelihood of us hopping on plane - to Florida, since my best friend lives in Palm Bay - is increasing greatly.

I was very interested in JTP's answer, and he's definitely assuaged some of my fears - especially in light of the fact I was almost sideswiped by a sliding semi this morning.

Seriously, thanks Josh. It meant a lot to this chicken in Wisconsin.

red pill junkie said...

Hey Josh, I've been wanting to ask you, and I know is kind of a stupid question for most people, but anyway...

Have you ever seen a UFO during one of your flights? or have any of your flight controller buddies had a weird experience with an unidentified "traffic"?

Now I know that you bought the Independence Day DVD, so unless you are a hardcore Will Smith fan (as MB clearly is :-) ) I assume there's an interest in the topic.

I'll be waiting for your reply, (which I guess will arrive by August or something, judging by the rate of answers you've given so far and the numerous questions still on the list!)


AnnaPink said...


I can see why MB likes you so much -- what a nice, thoughtful person you are! Thank you so much for explaining everything; you have calmed my nerves a lot. I have actually flown before, but it has been quite awhile, and for some reason it has weighed on my nerves more this time. I especially like your explanation of decompression -- it was very reassuring. I *am* going to ask to be reseated, because I have a xanax for the trip I will take, and while this will hopefully help with my nerves, I don't know if if will leave me in tip-top shape to help with...any extremely unlikely event. I will comment back when I come back from the trip and let you know how it went. Thanks for everything:):):)

Josh The Pilot said...
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Josh The Pilot said...

Missdirected, check out
I rest my case... blue skies!

Mike Marchand said...

I find I'm never dissatisfied with my seat on an airplane, since I usually spend the entirety of the flight in the lavatory.

Also, JTP, please smack around any pilot who thinks it's cool to pull Top Gun stuff with a cabin full of passengers who most certainly do not want to experience Top Gun stuff. On a two-engine connector flight once, the pilot decided to make a full-bank right turn to begin final approach. I know this because gravity caused my vomit to land on the window.

Anonymous said...

Awwwww, thanks, Jill. I'm fond of that article too :)

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Anonymous said...

Regarding sitting with a pilot during a movie that has any type of flying in it, have you ever sat through a war movie with a current or former soldier???


Anonymous said...

Nope, Danny, can't say that I have. Although I did once sit through Air Bud while next to a golden retriever, and that seemed to go okay.

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