Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Not So Friendly Skies

Blogging will be sporadic this weekend, as I'm coming to you from the Drake Hotel in Chicago, quite possibly the fanciest hotel I have ever stayed in in my life, but still in an earlier century when it comes to wi-fi (everyone remembers the steam powered wi-fi of the 1890s). Also, I'll be composing on my surface, so be prepared for even worse typos than usual.

The plane was delayed in Cleveland last night, and as we finally taxied down the runway, there was some soft of rhythmic thudding as if a large moose were caught in the wheels, or possibly a Studebaker. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on how calming it is to know that as we defy the laws of gravity and fling our frail little bodies through miles of sky, we are in a fragile tin can designed, built, maintained and piloted by people who are actual trained professionals, not amateur dabblers.

If you are going to fly me somewhere, I need more than your good intentions or really cool ideas that came to you in the shower. It will not comfort me to know that you were really successful at playing shuffleboard or running a widget factory or just moving money around into it swelled into a giant pile.

Nor do I need you to stand next to me at the airport and berate me for not having enough grit to propel myself through the air. Nor is it useful to tell me that I have no business using gravity as an excuse and don't I believe that people can fling themselves from Cleveland to Chicago.

The "friendly skies" motto is powerful precisely because we know the sky is not friendly-- particularly when there are tens of thousands of feet of it between us and the hard, hard ground. Toni Morrison wrote in Song of Solomon that if you surrender to the air, you can ride it, but I like that more as a metaphor than as practical advice. If I'm going to surrender to the air, it will be in the company of trained professionals using tools created by trained professionals. The very least we can do for our children when we try to connect them with an education is to promise them the same.


  1. Another good analogy. And I remember when we had a lot more plane accidents for years after Reagan fired all the professional air traffic controllers.

  2. Since no one seems to appreciate the experience of teachers these days, we ought to extend that concept to other 'professions' too, such as pilots. How about hiring some really motivated college grads through a new FFA (Fly for America) program (selected by their excellent test scores) - give them an intensive 5 week pilot program and let them take over our commercial cockpits. I'm sure they'll get just as great results as all those overpaid old-timers (and everyone knows that commercial airliners are mostly run by comptuters now anyway - how hard can it be?) Since they'll be so young and enthusiastic, they won't need as much sleep and we'll be sure they'll be trying their very best for a couple years until they move on to another career. Think how much cheaper tickets would be if we stopped paying those greedy seasoned pilots such ridiculous salaries. Who needs career pilots when young flying practioners can score just as well or better on tests?

  3. You all hit the nails right on their little old heads.