Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hopelessly Lost, But Making Good Time

My family and I are planning a little trip in the not-too-distant future. We're flying, which is a relative luxury for us these days, and my son is very excited about the upgrade from the back seat of the station wagon. Me? I'm just happy that our airline choice does not include Northwest Airlines.
You know, the guys who recently overshot a scheduled landing in Minneapolis by a hundred and fifty miles. At some level, I suppose I can sympathize. I have missed my share of exits in my day. Wrong turns are a matter of course when you're travelling long hours and the overhead light doesn't quite do the job of effectively illuminating the map and the one you've got is six years old and haven't we passed that same gas station three times now? I am suggesting that travel is not as exact a science as we might like. The simple inclusion of weather in any equation makes the outcome less than certain. But that's not what the crew of Northwest Flight 188 wants us to believe.
First of all, they weren't napping. First officer Richard Cole and captain Timothy Cheney had their laptops out while Cole, who had more experience with scheduling, instructed the Cheney on monthly flight crew scheduling. Thanks to an alert flight attendant contacted them about five minutes before the flight's scheduled landing. At that point, five crew members and a hundred and forty-four passengers were flying high over Wisconsin. Meanwhile, back on the ground, air traffic controllers in Denver and Minneapolis repeatedly tried without success to raise the pilots by radio. Other pilots in the vicinity tried reaching the plane on other radio frequencies. The airline tried contacting them using a radio text message that chimes. Authorities became so alarmed that National Guard jets were readied for takeoff at two locations and the White House Situation Room alerted senior officials, who monitored the airliner.
All the while, Cole and Cheney continued their dissertation on scheduling. On their laptops. The ones that they tell us to put away until after takeoff and before landing. And just how is this more comforting than the suggestion that they were sound asleep? No matter how you slice it, they had lost touch with what they were there to do: land the plane safely in Minneapolis. I may have driven past my scheduled destination on occasion, but it's not my job, and I don't have a hundred passengers in my back seat. Just one or two. One who is furiously trying to fold the map back into its original configuration and the other is reading a Garfield book and listening to his iPod. We'll get there. Once I work out my schedule.


Anonymous said...

When I've driven past an exit, I was still paying attention and driving my car -- I just missed the exit. In this case, the pilots don't seem to have been even paying attention to flying the plane!

Mike Licht said...

Work scheduling software. Sure.



Anonymous said...

They were writing their script for the further adventures of Balloon Boy...