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CO953
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How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:09 pm

I have been meaning to post this story for awhile. This is my first thread on the board, so I hope this isn’t overlong or too dated! As it deals with an equipment failure and a related question, It seems to me it belongs here, instead of the "trip reports" forum?

On Jan. 22, 2013, for the first time in 45 years of flying, I was on board a plane that had to turn around and return to the airport. While the defect itself turned out to be minor, let me tell the entire story of the flight, and then I'd appreciate hearing some discussion on how much or how little information pilots should give the passengers when this happens:
I was booked on SWA 3935, a nonstop from HOU-LAX departing 13:35 CST. Equipment was N551WN, a 737-76Q oddball , ex-Air Sahara.

Passengers lined up for boarding, and then we waited for half an hour for the cabin crew. They apparently had been on another plane that went tech, and then found themselves in the wrong terminal across the airport. So one stew in particular was disgruntled. Loading took an unusually long time - five pax in wheelchairs and then probably five infants with strollers, with arguing over whether certain strollers would fit overhead. Loading took the longest I ever encountered at SWA - a solid hour standing in line, including the crew delay.

I had a window seat over the right wing root. An old lady took the aisle seat, carrying a large doll in its original box. The stew and she got into a prolonged fight over putting the doll overhead or under the seat. Old lady only spoke a little bit of English and was arguing in Spanish while the stew gave her instructions in English. Frustrating situation for both. Stew finally grabbed the doll out of her hands, as pax were backing up in the aisle. "Safety first!" the stew admonished. So the old lady stopped protesting and starting reading a Spanish-language magazine, reading an article about Jenni Rivera's plane crash. I was reading a "Flying" magazine article about accident reports.

We got maybe 15 minutes out of HOU - I don't know how high..... the 10,000-ft. chime had already rung, when suddenly the engines throttled back and we leveled off... well short of cruising level. The engines had been surging and falling for a minute or two. The plane dropped a bit, then made a quick, funny sort of skid, like an aborted S-turn. Something definitely didn't feel right. I looked around and a few other pax were looking around too. Pilot came on the PA and said, “we have a systems problem and we will be returning to the airport immediately.”

Obviously, it was a tense return, and the old lady was crying. I had a knot in my stomach and wasn’t panicking, but definitely the thought went through my head, “well, who knows what a ‘systems problem’ is, so I guess there is a chance we could die.”

Here’s what made it unduly stressful, and the point of this posting – not one time after the original announcement did the pilots give us any update at all. Just silence until “prepare for landing.” This silence was actually what had me worried, because I could imagine that if the cockpit crew were overwhelmed, they might not have time for announcements. Looking back, I don’t think I was alone in feeling a lot of excess tension and worry because not one more word came from the cockpit, and that a “systems problem” left a LOT of room for imagination. Just an update would have made me feel better, as well as a little more specificity.

Upon landing, I asked the co-pilot in passing what had happened, and he said the cabin wasn’t pressurizing properly.
We deplaned, and then after not too long a wait, up pulls N669SW, an old -300 vet from 1987. Half the front fuselage was reinforcement plates and rivets. Funny what a sense of relief I felt boarding the old patch job with the ancient interior….A couple days later, I received an e-mailed apology and LUV voucher for the price of my flight.

I am very curious to hear some opinions – do you think that it would have been better for the passengers to be told a little bit more, or was the minimalist approach the best? I know for me I felt like I wanted more information during the return and had some unnecessary stress - not to mention the crying old lady.
 
rfields5421
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:29 pm

Quoting CO953 (Thread starter):
do you think that it would have been better for the passengers to be told a little bit more, or was the minimalist approach the best?

Each case is different and the flight crew/ cabin crew have to make the call based on their experience and judgement.

A pressurization issue - I would not think the pilots would provide more details because people are going to misunderstand about pressurization and start demanding the oxygen masks.
Not all who wander are lost.
 
c680
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:40 pm

It all depends, but #1 job for the flight deck crew is to fly the plane and get everyone down safely. That usually means full attention on the abnormal or emergency procedure.

Keeping folks informed should be done when necessary or convenient.

Would you want your surgeon to wake up up to tell you how your operation is going? Best to let the professionals finish the job, then inform the client.
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bennett123
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:40 pm

Not sure how much you could give.

Perhaps, say that pressurisation fault meant that you are unable to operate at normal cruise altitude. But also say that you are returning to get the problem fixed.

IMO, tone is as important as content.

If the crew do not look concerned, then I tend to assume that everything is OK.
 
cubastar
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:45 pm

Quoting CO953 (Thread starter):
do you think that it would have been better for the passengers to be told a little bit more, or was the minimalist approach the best?

Well, in my opinion, I have found that a little bit of knowledge about abnormal situations always helped.

Case in point, on our climbout (low altitude, just prior to gear retraction) our reliable DC-9 came up with a loud rattling noise and then a "thump" and then no more unusual noise. Everything looked okay; engines, fuel flow, hydraulics, no warning lights, etc. I knew we had a crewmember deadheading in First class so we opened the cockpit door and I looked back into the cabin only to see almost everyone on the aisle seats leaning over looking forward to the cockpit. I motioned for him, the crewmember, to come up and he then went back to look over the wings, etc.

Everything was running smoothly and nothing appeared out of order.

So, we made a PA saying as much, but that we would be returning to MIA, Basically, I just said that I knew that everyone on board had heard the same thing as us in the cockpit and although everything appeared okay, we would just have to have everything checked out.

Upon landing, we found that the right MLG "fixed" door (attached to the strut) had broken off and took a hydraulic line with it.

While deplaning, the vast majority of the passengers commented positively on our PA's and thanked us for keeping them informed and reassuring them. Just a little information and knowledge always helped.

Keeping them updated and calmly informed does the trick. No need to say, "we have a fire warning on one of our engines" when you can just a easily say, "we have an instrument indicating the possibility of a problem and to be on the safe side, we will be returning to have it checked out."
 
RussianJet
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:48 pm

An uncomfortable situation, for sure. However, I'd certainly rather the crew were focused on flying the plane and dealing with the problem than making more announcements. I agree with one poster above, that if too much information is given it might lead to people jumping to more specific, panicked conclusions - such as the demanding of masks, as already stated. Sounds like they handled it well on the whole though, making it up to you afterwards. Fair response.
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futureualpilot
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 6:58 pm

Quoting CO953 (Thread starter):
I am very curious to hear some opinions – do you think that it would have been better for the passengers to be told a little bit more, or was the minimalist approach the best? I know for me I felt like I wanted more information during the return and had some unnecessary stress - not to mention the crying old lady.


I understand the desire for information when something abnormal happens. That being said it is more important for us to fly the airplane and handle the issue than it is to fill the cabin in on the problem and its details. Most of the people in back tend not to know what we're talking about anyway if we include much detail, so a simple "systems problem" or "indication" suffices. Personally if time and workload allowed for it based on what you said in the OP, I might have mentioned something about a pressurization issue and that we're returning to HOU as a precaution, however, because I was not there I can't comment on the crew's decision making process. For what it is worth too much information can be just as bad as not enough when it comes to airplanes and abnormal/emergency situations.

Being an a.nutter and enthusiast your desire for more information is understandable but please understand than when an issue serious enough to warrant a divert or a return to the original field arises our workload increases significantly and requires our full attention. By not talking to the cabin we're putting your, our aircraft and the crew's safety at the forefront of our minds by working to get on the ground as expeditiously and safely as possible.

[Edited 2013-07-24 12:07:55]
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silentbob
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 7:09 pm

The problem with giving out information is that someone will always want more. Perhaps a slightly different comment like "there is nothing wrong with the airworthiness of the aircraft, but we do have an issue with an aircraft system that requires us to return to the field" or something to that effect would make people feel safer. However, you can't expect them to spend too much time composing a statement while they are running through checklists and coordinating a quick return to the airport they just left.
 
Eagleboy
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 7:33 pm

Aviate....Navigate....Communicate.

Getting the aircraft down safely is more important than pax discomfort. And as mentioned above giving info can often lead to demands for more info or indeed pax upset and perhaps panic.
 
CO953
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 7:44 pm

Quoting rfields5421 (Reply 1):
Not sure how much you could give.

Perhaps, say that pressurisation fault meant that you are unable to operate at normal cruise altitude. But also say that you are returning to get the problem fixed.

IMO, tone is as important as content.

If the crew do not look concerned, then I tend to assume that everything is OK.

Yes, I was looking for something like this. Once they saw that it was a pressurization issue, and so not a bigger emergency, I would have liked them to say something more just one time, to let us know that it was a relatively minor problem. Even just saying that it was minor would have helped quell 100+ imaginations that were left to their own devices that day. Of course, with bigger problems, I agree with those who are saying to fly the plane and ignore the pax.
 
ikramerica
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 9:12 pm

Pressurization is not a safety of flight problem below 10k feet and would be a normal approach situation into HOU. Now maybe the crew was hurriedly making sure nothing more serious was in play.
Of all the things to worry about... the Wookie has no pants.
 
MD88Captain
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:30 pm

An air return like you have described is very busy for the flight crew. Very busy. Throw in a malfunction and they have many duties to perform. Now throw in a situation where the pressurization is in manual mode and Wow. It can be mess. If your flight crew had to return with the pressurization system in manual mode, then essentially the FO would do nothing else than devote his attention to running the pressurization system. (Screwing it up will have everybody's ears hurting and possibly bleeding.) The Captain would fly and talk - basically he would "single pilot" the aircraft. Add to that, that we aren't supposed to chat below 10,000' and I can see why you got the silent treatment. (Yes, I would probably make an exception in that situation, but not all would.)

I've run into a manual pressurization situation 3 times that I can remember in 30+ years of flying, and it has been a goat rope every time. Even with extensive briefing.
 
Wingtips56
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 10:32 pm

Isn't there a prohibition on cockpit-t0-cabin announcements below 10,000 feet? Obviously an exception would be made if it was a dire emergency, if there is time, but better to deal with the situation if not.

I've been on 3 go-arounds before, and there were no immediate announcements. On one (CAI-BCN on MS) we pulled up and went around without climbing all that high. After landing, we were advised the aircraft ahead of us hadn't cleared the runway. On a DA/Dan-Air LGW-ZRH flight, we did get an announcement at altitude before shooting the second approach, but it was a longer go-around due to traffic.
Worked for WestAir, Apollo Airways, Desert Pacific, Western, AirCal and American Airlines (Retired). Flight Memory: 181 airports, 92 airlines, 78 a/c types, 403 routes, 58 countries (by air), 6 continents. 1,119,414 passenger miles.

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aerorobnz
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Wed Jul 24, 2013 11:38 pm

t wouldn't worry me.- in fact it would be my preference they focus on the job at hand...I understand that Pilots are busy and don't have time to talk to their cargo down the back. The easiest thing is to brief everyone once the plane is on the ground safely.

"sorry about the lack of communication earlier, our primary focus was to run through our checks and land safely, Because we had a pressurization fault we were also below 10000 feet, below which altitude the FAA requires us not to make announcements to you"
Flown to 147 Airports in 62 Countries on 83 Operators and counting. Wanderlust is like Syphilis, once you have the itch it's too late for treatment.
 
spacecadet
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:48 am

There was this incident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northwest_Airlines_Flight_85

There was an episode of "Air Crash Investigation" made about it. That flight almost resulted in a crash due to a rudder hard-over in a 747-400. During the incident, the pilots made a conscious decision to tell the passengers exactly what was happening. They thought it was better to do that than to keep people in the dark.

Ultimately it's just a decision made by the pilots, and every set of pilots could come to a different conclusion about how much info to give. In the NWA 85 case, I can see part of the thought process being that passengers would be better prepared for a ditching or crash if they knew it might be coming well in advance and had time to process it. In the case of a pressurization problem where there's no real danger of an accident, there might be no practical reason to tell passengers.

I personally would still like to know, for the same reasons as the OP. But it is true that those without technical knowledge may need to have more of an explanation than the pilots could ever reasonably provide - saying there's a problem with pressurizing the aircraft is just going to sound scary to people with no real knowledge of aviation.

I will say that it sounds like the pilot in this case could have considered his wording a bit better... it may sound trivial given that his real job is to fly the plane, but just like a pilot would never say "ladies and gentlemen, we might crash, so put your head between your legs and kiss your *** goodbye", I don't think saying "we have a systems problem, we're returning to the airport immediately" is the right phrasing to use when you don't want to scare people. They could have said something more like "we have a small problem, we're going to return to the airport as a precaution, but there's nothing to worry about."

[Edited 2013-07-24 18:51:37]
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tioloko100
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:01 am

They should give as little as possible when then can because its Aviate,Navigate and Communicate not the other way round.
 
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cjg225
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:05 am

Quoting CO953 (Thread starter):
Obviously, it was a tense return, and the old lady was crying.

So she understood enough English for this part?  
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CO953
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:04 am

Quoting cjg225 (Reply 16):
So she understood enough English for this part?

Actually, no - she didn't. I had to translate for her and ending up praying with her in Spanish.

The only reason I wrote the post was that I thought the crew left us imagining anything. If I, as an aviation buff, was left thinking there was a chance I might die that day, due to the sole, vague message, then others with less knowledge were even more in the dark.

As I don't know what went on up front, I can't judge, I'm just trying to convey the passenger's point of view.

Let me now contrast that with the return leg of the same open-jaw trip - the scariest landing I ever experienced.

Feb. 21, 2013, DFW-LFT, American Eagle, mid-afternoon. Checking the radar from GF's phone, weather in LFT looked horrific - tornado watches, etc, etc. Classic bow-shaped tornadic front predicted to hit at landing time. Before we got to gate at DFW, I told GF we might not make it in - might get diverted, and might have to deal with wind shear upon landing. Asked at the gate whether the flight would be delayed, and agents dismissed my concerns (I was asking ahead because we had someone meeting us and I was trying to plan ahead). GF then tells me I worry too much.

Boarded plane (think it was a modern Embraer) and as we buckle in, the single cabin attendant tells us right up front that the first half of the trip will be fine, but the second half will likely be bumpy all the way down due to bad weather at LFT, and he'll keep us posted.

Sure enough, halfway through the flight, we start seeing massive cumulonimbus. Start getting thrown around. GF changes her tune. We get to LFT and the storm is right on top of the airport. We are getting creamed. I tell GF to tighten her belt. We break out of the storm a couple miles out from LFT - I know the bayous - and can see where we are. On final we are getting thrown around like Yahtzee dice and then on short final finally get rolled about 45 degrees a few times. Pilot hits the gas and gets the heck out. Attendant immediately gets on the mic and says that the pilots aborted the approach because the wind-shear alert had gone off on the runway threshold.

At that point, I tell GF that I sure hope the pilot isn't going to try again through this bad storm, in a plane this small, and hope he diverts. We are in the clouds, and from this point on, the cabin is dead silent. Pilot decides to take another run at it..... a very tense moment - we break out of the storm at what must have been bare minimum, nose turned 45 degrees to the runway. He has elected to try the other runway and so we are approaching from another direction. He straightens out his crab at the last moment - slams it down fast and hard - glues it to the runway, wings rocking badly to the last second - actually a great landing, given the situation. I'm left thinking that the pilot is good, gutsy, crazy, or a combination of all three.

You had to have been there. Rain blowing sideways, coming from all directions. Scary, scary crosswind landing during a mesocyclone.

BUT:

Made less scary because the attendant treated us as adults - told us what we were in for- had us mentally ready in case of emergency - - and so, this LFT landing, as close to the margin as it was, was less stressful than the SWA flight. Once the pilots initiated the go-around, we all knew the landing wasn't happening, and anyway we all already knew, from the turbulence, what we faced. At least by being warned, we were alert and prepared.

Just thought I'd contrast that - from the pax persepctive - with being totally in the dark and waiting for a mysterious "systems problem" to make the plane fall out of the sky.
 
LTC8K6
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:26 am

I too would rather they just follow the basic rules of aviate, navigate, communicate.

They can explain it to me after touchdown.
 
FlyDeltaJets
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:46 am

As with anything else it's up to the crew. Some crews are better versed with flying while updating and others are not. You just have to stay positive no matter what is or is not being said and be happy when you land.
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airportugal310
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:17 am

I'll take some information thanks.

Can't tell you how often something seems wrong to a non-aviation person and a little information goes a long way to calming them down.

Everyone here speaks from a knowledge of aviation standpoint, but it's key to remember about the 99% who don't.
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QFA380
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:37 am

I honestly think pilots should be trained in ensuring calm in the cabin. Plenty of people are still nervous fliers, partly due to the complete helplessness once you're onboard. A checklist ticking robot upfront isn't fulfilling their job of safely delivering passengers when some will get on the ground after a relatively minor incident and begin a battle with PTSD, time off work or a new fear of flying.
You can harp on 'Aviate, Navigate, Communicate' all day long. If two people can't manage keeping passengers in the loop -particularly during a relatively non-emergency such as the above- they should stick to freighters or bush planes. I certainly don't want mavericks who consider the people paying their wages unworthy of simple curtesy and calming information flying any plane I ever find myself on. This goes for turbulence information, go arounds, delays, if pilots don't want to be labelled glorified bus drivers they shouldn't act like it.

For a reasonable crew announcement that reassured passengers during what was an actual emergency, here are the pilots of QF32.
 
davescj
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:57 am

Quoting tioloko100 (Reply 15):
They should give as little as possible when then can because its Aviate,Navigate and Communicate not the other way round.

In principle I agree. Clearly - and I think we would all agree - the more the crew is occupied, the more difficult it is to throw in another task, especially one that is not 'critical' at it were.

Quoting QFA380 (Reply 21):
I honestly think pilots should be trained in ensuring calm in the cabin. Plenty of people are still nervous fliers, partly due to the complete helplessness once you're onboard.

But this is where I end up as well. A key issue of safety is a calm cabin. In this case, since there was no need to brace for impact or similar, it was perhaps less necessary.

However, a quick word that safety is not threatened, but the turn around is precaution that will prevent more issues in the cabin.

Dave
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zrs70
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:12 am

Sorry in advance if this post seems curt. What was the point of all the details about boarding, the old lady, the doll, he strollers???? I was waiting for all this info to somehow be part of the question!
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tonystan
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:12 pm

Keeping the freight updated is low on their list of priorities I'm afraid!

If its "really" serious you'll know about it!
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Skisandy
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:25 pm

The details about boarding is to show that travelers already are stressed just from the regular activities when flying, which makes it even more important that they be treated with respect by the crew - that is - as people - and not as objects.

This whole idea that so many A.netters seem to embrace - that the airlines only job is to transport passengers from A to B is ridiculous. Is the only job of a waiter to put food on the table, or to also make the meal a pleasant experience? Is the only job of a surgeon to cut you up and sew you together, or to also explain everything and soothe your fears?

Sure the immediate crisis needs to be taken care of - fly the airplane first - but then there often is a period where the crew could very well spend a minute to talk calmly to the passengers - that would make a big difference.

Captain Moody had time to talk for a minute to his passengers, when all 4 engines in his 747 had quit due to volcanic ash, and they were gliding in search for a landing spot and frantically trying to restart the engines. He explained that all 4 engines were out and he said that he had "hope that the passengers were not in too much discomfort", or something similar.

The problems with pilots in the US is that they think they are Gods and they do as they please, and the rest better shut up. Also - it's the militaristic attitude that all uniformed personnel has in the US, from pilots to police to security guards. They seriously think that they are better, smarter, yes- a level above the common man. "I know what's best for you, and you better shut up".

Are many of you A.netters so indoctrinated by this society that you don't see the difference between A. Transporting people, like cattle, from A to B, regardless of whether they are in fear or not, or B. Transporting people from A to B in a a pleasant way?

Cattle has no choice, but maybe we people need to start tipping the flight crew, 15 or 20% would be appropriate, so we get a little better service.....
 
JBirdAV8r
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:38 pm

Quoting rfields5421 (Reply 1):
A pressurization issue - I would not think the pilots would provide more details because people are going to misunderstand about pressurization and start demanding the oxygen masks.

That's a very good reason. Anything short of a perfectly worded explanation is going to leave the passengers uneasy and asking questions, which is going to make the FAs jobs difficult and subject the passengers to undue stress. There's no point in lying to the passengers, of course--but generally when announcing an air return, short and sweet is best. Things are ALWAYS busy up front during one, even if we're not dealing with the issue itself.

I had an emergency that required a very quick return (we were in the air maybe 7-8 minutes). We landed and taxied in while only communicating with the FA. Upon gate arrival, we exited the flight deck, stood in the front of the airplane, looked at the passengers and used the PA to tell them what happened. I think they were grateful.

Quoting CO953 (Reply 17):
Feb. 21, 2013, DFW-LFT, American Eagle, mid-afternoon. Checking the radar from GF's phone, weather in LFT looked horrific - tornado watches, etc, etc. Classic bow-shaped tornadic front predicted to hit at landing time. Before we got to gate at DFW, I told GF we might not make it in - might get diverted, and might have to deal with wind shear upon landing. Asked at the gate whether the flight would be delayed, and agents dismissed my concerns (I was asking ahead because we had someone meeting us and I was trying to plan ahead). GF then tells me I worry too much.

Boarded plane (think it was a modern Embraer) and as we buckle in, the single cabin attendant tells us right up front that the first half of the trip will be fine, but the second half will likely be bumpy all the way down due to bad weather at LFT, and he'll keep us posted.

Sure enough, halfway through the flight, we start seeing massive cumulonimbus. Start getting thrown around. GF changes her tune. We get to LFT and the storm is right on top of the airport. We are getting creamed. I tell GF to tighten her belt. We break out of the storm a couple miles out from LFT - I know the bayous - and can see where we are. On final we are getting thrown around like Yahtzee dice and then on short final finally get rolled about 45 degrees a few times. Pilot hits the gas and gets the heck out. Attendant immediately gets on the mic and says that the pilots aborted the approach because the wind-shear alert had gone off on the runway threshold.

At that point, I tell GF that I sure hope the pilot isn't going to try again through this bad storm, in a plane this small, and hope he diverts. We are in the clouds, and from this point on, the cabin is dead silent. Pilot decides to take another run at it..... a very tense moment - we break out of the storm at what must have been bare minimum, nose turned 45 degrees to the runway. He has elected to try the other runway and so we are approaching from another direction. He straightens out his crab at the last moment - slams it down fast and hard - glues it to the runway, wings rocking badly to the last second - actually a great landing, given the situation. I'm left thinking that the pilot is good, gutsy, crazy, or a combination of all three.

You had to have been there. Rain blowing sideways, coming from all directions. Scary, scary crosswind landing during a mesocyclone.

Ah...I think you know just enough weather terminology to be dangerous. If we always waited for perfect conditions, we'd never go anywhere.

A bow echo generally moves through an area pretty quickly. Sometimes it leaves rain and gusty winds in its wake...and we deal with rain and gusty winds all the time.

Your airplane being small had very little to do with being able to fly safely through a thunderstorm, which I doubt you actually did.

You may have flown through turbulence intense enough to rock the wings, but 45 degrees is an exaggeration. And on short final, that would be an immediate go-around and likely a diversion.

And you weren't flying through a "mesocyclone."
I got my head checked--by a jumbo jet
 
smittyone
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:49 pm

Quoting zrs70 (Reply 23):
Sorry in advance if this post seems curt. What was the point of all the details about boarding, the old lady, the doll, he strollers???? I was waiting for all this info to somehow be part of the question!

Because it's epic.

And because it perfectly illustrates who is receiving the sterile "We have a systems problem and will be returning to the airport immediately" announcement...crying, praying Spanish-speaking old ladies clutching dolls.


Frankly, I had thought that airline pilots were required to master that faux Chuck Yeager country bumpkin drawl over the public address system that makes it seem like they've got everything under control (even if you can plainly see that the wing is on fire)....

"Good mornin' folks, this is your Captain again...well, we've got a silly little light here on the dash that duddn't seem to want to cooperate, so we're gonna bring her back to the barn and find us another pony to take you to L. A."
 
rfields5421
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:52 pm

Quoting CO953 (Reply 17):
Made less scary because the attendant treated us as adults - told us what we were in for-

And that is why the two situations you described - the original and the LIT landing were completely not related - completely opposite in how the crew should communicate with passengers.

In the first instance, it was an issue which developed unexpectedly and quickly during climb, the FA had no warning or time to prepare explanations. Any explanation from the the cockpit would be incomplete and create more tension and uncertainty for the passengers.

In the second, the pilots and FA had plenty of time before pushback to discuss what would likely happen. The pilots did not communicate what they were doing to the passengers when they got to LIT - they were too busy flying the plane. But the FA had been briefed on what to expect and what to say to the passengers.

The crews in both cases acted properly.

Quoting CO953 (Reply 17):
was left thinking there was a chance I might die that day

As an aviation buff, you should kow there is a chance you might die every time you takeoff in an airplane. That it will likely be quick with no warning.

But the realitiy is that you are much more likely to be killed or seriously injured just as unexpectedly in the drive to the airport.
Not all who wander are lost.
 
DTWPurserBoy
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:38 pm

Oxygen masks deploy automatically when the cabin pressure reaches 14,000 feet. Below that you can breath just fine without them. Of course, the pilots can deploy them manually at anytime but that is a maintenance nightmare to repack the rubber jungle.

Based on my 38 years in the airline business the engine surge and the skewing is more indicative of an engine failure. The plane tends to swing into the bad engine until the pilots correct it.

The pilots are necessarily first and foremost flying the airplane, identifying the problem, coming up with a resolution, talking to ATC and maintenance control and unfortunately cabin PA's are a little way down the list of priorities. When I have had things like this happen if I call the cockpit they say "We can't talk right now. We'll get back to you later" so I get on the PA and make some innocuous sounding announcement that we have experienced a slight mechanical issue and the pilots will be talking to us in just a moment and reassure the passengers that they are not staring at death on a cracker. The flight attendants all assume their best poker faces because everyone is watching us.

Same thing with go arounds on landing. Usually, all it means is that they guy in front of us landing took a little more time to leave the active runway and move onto a taxiway. The nose will come up, the engines will increase and the gear will retract and the pilots execute a missed approach. They have already planned for that in their pre-landing briefing with each other and there are standards departure routes for them to take at every airport. It can unnerve some passengers so I always say something on the PA until the Captain can make an announcement. It is not an emergency and happens every day all over the world.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been at a dinner party or other social gathering and when people find out what I do for a living they tell me their death-defying stories with phrases like "The captain came on the PA and told us we probably were not going to make it." This is blatant BS because (a) the pilots want to get off safely just as much as you do and (b) if the situation were that critical they are going to be too busy trying to save their own skins as well as everyone else's and (c) they would NEVER say something like that which would cause panic in the cabin.

So now all I do is say "I work with high-speed aluminum tubing." Their eyes glaze over and they walk away.
Qualified on Concorde/B707/B720/B727/B737/B747/B757/B767/B777/DC-8/DC-9/DC-10/A319/A320/A330/MD-88-90
 
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cjg225
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:06 pm

Quoting Skisandy (Reply 25):
Also - it's the militaristic attitude that all uniformed personnel has in the US, from pilots to police to security guards. They seriously think that they are better, smarter, yes- a level above the common man. "I know what's best for you, and you better shut up".

Wow, for real?   

Quoting DTWPurserBoy (Reply 29):
So now all I do is say "I work with high-speed aluminum tubing." Their eyes glaze over and they walk away


Well done. lol
Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...
 
CO953
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:21 pm

Quoting zrs70 (Reply 23):
Sorry in advance if this post seems curt. What was the point of all the details about boarding, the old lady, the doll, he strollers???? I was waiting for all this info to somehow be part of the question!

I like to paint detailed word pictures to help put you more clearly in the passengers' shoes, so you can feel what it felt like to be harried. frustrated, having a lady crying, etc.... and then to have the tension before landing.
 
Skisandy
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:23 pm

cjg225: Yes- for real. You should travel outside the US some time and see for yourself.
(I do understand the reason for the difference in how police approaches a situation in Europe, for example, vs in the US: In Europe people usually are not armed, hence the less aggressive attitude).
 
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falstaff
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:41 pm

I have only been on one flight where there was a big enough problem we had to return. Back in 1998 I was flying on a TW MD-80 STL-YYZ and about ten minutes out of STL the captain announced that we would have to return because of malfunction in the aircraft's radio. He mentioned that there was nothing wrong with the plane itself. After we landed they replaced the radio and we left close to two hours late.

I am glad he said something about the radio being the problem. if we just turned around and went back to STL I would have been worried.
My mug slaketh over on Falstaff N503
 
CO953
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:46 pm

Quoting JBirdAV8r (Reply 26):
Ah...I think you know just enough weather terminology to be dangerous. If we always waited for perfect conditions, we'd never go anywhere.

A bow echo generally moves through an area pretty quickly. Sometimes it leaves rain and gusty winds in its wake...and we deal with rain and gusty winds all the time.

Your airplane being small had very little to do with being able to fly safely through a thunderstorm, which I doubt you actually did.

You may have flown through turbulence intense enough to rock the wings, but 45 degrees is an exaggeration. And on short final, that would be an immediate go-around and likely a diversion.

And you weren't flying through a "mesocyclone."

Well, I understand your skepticism, as it all sounds bad. Let me clarify a little more why it was my #1 hairy landing - and for comparison I have flown out of TPE and into KTM during driving monsoons with horizontal rain and lightning bolts and this landing was worse:

1. Living here in south Louisiana, especially when staying put and battening the hatches for hurricanes, we live by radar. The front was one of the strongest I had ever seen on our radar - stronger than any band I have ever seen while hunkered down and hurricanes blow through. It was wicked. When we got to LFT it had probably just come through 10 minutes before - though yes I couldn't tell if it were still a bow front when we got there as we had the iPhone turned off in flight.

2. I defer to you on the small-plane aspect. I had thought that due to smaller mass, smaller planes could get blown around more, such as a Cessna getting flipped on its back by wake turbulence, while a 747's wings merely rock.

3. If the wings didn't make 45 degrees, they made 40 then. We really got tossed! We were on short final, and as I said, the pilot then made an immediate go-around. I was very surprised he didn't divert, especially with the wind-shear alert triggered.

4. As far as the "mesocyclone," I didn't phrase it quite right. The storm was a labeled a mesocyclonic storm on the radar. We get a lot of them in south Louisiana. I have no way of knowing if it were still such when we got to LFT. So we may not have actually flown though a mesocyclone itself. Here's some info from wikipedia:

"The best way to detect and verify the presence of a mesocyclone is by Doppler weather radar. Nearby high values of opposite sign within velocity data are how they are detected.[3] Thus the word mesocyclone is associated with weather radar terminology. Mesocyclones are most often identified in the right-rear flank of supercell thunderstorms and squall lines, and may be distinguished by a hook echo rotation signature on a weather radar map. Visual cues such as a rotating wall cloud or tornado may also hint at the presence of a mesocyclone. This is why the term has entered into wider usage in connection with rotating features in severe storms."

I'm just saying that I didn't lightly label my LFT landing as my #1 scariest. It was pretty hair-raising, and gave me added appreciation for the skill of the pilots determined to get that plane on the ground, despite adverse weather and the go-around!

[Edited 2013-07-25 07:53:44]
 
CO953
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:51 pm

Quoting rfields5421 (Reply 28):
And that is why the two situations you described - the original and the LIT landing were completely not related - completely opposite in how the crew should communicate with passengers.

In the first instance, it was an issue which developed unexpectedly and quickly during climb, the FA had no warning or time to prepare explanations. Any explanation from the the cockpit would be incomplete and create more tension and uncertainty for the passengers.

In the second, the pilots and FA had plenty of time before pushback to discuss what would likely happen. The pilots did not communicate what they were doing to the passengers when they got to LIT - they were too busy flying the plane. But the FA had been briefed on what to expect and what to say to the passengers.

Well said. Yes, different situations. I was trying to illustrate the passenger view.

Upthread it was mentioned about the FO maybe having to manually control the cabin pressure. I didn't know that, and it's very interesting. I wonder if he/she was actually having to rotate a dial, etc., to match cabin pressure with altitude? That would definitely increase the workload on the PF!
 
PanAm788
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 2:52 pm

Quoting Skisandy (Reply 32):

Yup, militaristic power-hungry pilots don't occur outside the US at all..  
Just look at the Tenerife incident!

Why are you picking on US pilots? I would argue that pilots for mainline US airlines are some of the best in world and the statistics for the last 12 years back me up.

[Edited 2013-07-25 07:52:42]
 
Skisandy
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:54 pm

I am not picking on US pilots' flying skills at all - they are among the safest, if not THE best and safest in the world.

I am criticizing their communication skills, or rather- lack of communication - which in my opinion stems from a deeply rooted authoritarian mindset. Why does nobody agree with me that just transporting the SLF from A to B is NOT the ONLY job an airline has to do?

Are everybody's expectations of human interaction that low - that you will accept anything?

What is so different with aviation? People complain if it takes more than 30 seconds to get their fast food burger,
but accept rudeness, lies, total lack of communication when it comes to airline personnel (I am not even talking about a crisis situation here. I am talking about the class A people: the ones in uniform whose commands you must obey how ridiculous they may be, and class B people: the customers).

There are many stories here on this forum about how flight attendants go on a power trip and call in the SWAT team because someone speaks a language that scares them and similar things.

All I am saying is that these airline employees need to treat their customers as PEOPLE, and not as freight, and that
includes the pilots. To fly 150 pax "safely" from A to B, while most of them are scared and frightened, because the pilot couldn't be bothered to say a few soothing words, is in my opinion doing a lousy job.
 
PanAm788
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:09 pm

Quoting Skisandy (Reply 37):

I agree with you that passengers shouldn't be treated as freight, but lack of communication from the flightdeck during a diversion/TOGA/rejected takeoff scenario is not a US-only occurence and I don't buy that it comes from a unique "authoritarian mindset". CRM originated in the US and if anything our pilots are better at co-management than the vast majority of the world. Many on here have suspected that a lack of CRM skills was a partial cause of the recent OZ incident. If anything it is a customer service issue, but even that is debatable, because safely flying the aircraft is the #1 most important thing in customer service (but as you point out, should not be the only thing).

Overzealous F/As may, on the other hand, be a more common occurence in the US, but CO953 isn't talking about F/As, he's talking about information coming from the flightdeck.

[Edited 2013-07-25 09:10:55]
 
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ssteve
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:19 pm

I was on an MD-90 where the pilot announced a "control issue" and we returned to the airport. Pretty tense, but there's not much elaboration on the airplane not working correctly that could assuage anyone.

Probably the most important thing is making the announcement in a calm manner, and the pilot did fine. And that may not have been a given-- turns out the elevator was acting wonky, and the firetrucks rolled out to watch us land. Might've had a little adrenaline rush going.

My wife is a nervous flyer and it wasn't until she saw the trucks that she realized she should have been more worried. I tend to think that more elaboration about just how broken the plane was wouldn't really have helped. And also the pilots were probably fairly busy, no? Probably only one or two checklist items for PA announcements.
 
DashTrash
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 4:59 pm

Quoting tonystan (Reply 24):
Keeping the freight updated is low on their list of priorities I'm afraid!

If its "really" serious you'll know about it!

Bingo. "Ladies and gentlement, we've had an abortion....".

I had to turn around due to a battery overtemp indication. After running the ckecklist and informing ATC, I hit the PA and said something to the effect of an indicator light coming, we're headed back. I added "I'm not scared, you shouldn't be either". Seemed to work...
 
mpsrent
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:30 pm

As passengers we often forget that flight crews are also humans who value their lives. Like us, they wish to land safely.

Under such circumstance priority one must be care and control of the aircraft. As such, I'm comfortable not hearing from the flight crew until the situation has been resolved.

Using the OP's example, the flight crew did provide basic communication that there was a system's problem and that they must return. If they had provided anymore detail as to the nature of the problem them may have created a level of passenger hysteria that wasn't warranted. I would have been more concerned if they told me nothing.

I believe that given the situation the pilots handled it well with a focus on returning safely without raising emotions.
 
BC77008
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:39 pm

The inquiry reads more like a trip report than a question regarding how much info should a pilot give during an abort? Well, to be honest, not much. Their first job is to fly the plane.
MY favorite airline and hub is bigger and/or better than YOUR favorite airline and hub!
 
jim4flyn
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:45 pm

Quoting CO953 (Thread starter):
“we have a systems problem and we will be returning to the airport immediately.”

If that is really what was said in the announcement, there is one word in that sentence that as a private pilot that would have made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And it's not "systems problem", it's "immediately". Assuming pilots always speak pilot, that phraseology would have communicated to me a very urgent and serious situation. Absent the word immediately, a "systems problem" coupled with no special announcements about brace positions or evacuations would have said "this is going to be a normal landing, nothing to worry about".

Assuming that is the actual PA announcement, I am wondering if the pilot's attempt to dumb it down created some unnecessary panic. Also assuming, pressurization was actually the real issue, I think taking time to brief the passengers a little more thoroughly or at least a quick call to have a flight attendant do it would have been much more appropriate.

I think some here who have used the Aviate, Navigate, Communicate argument kind of have it backward. Communicate is still part of the Aviate, Navigate, Communicate equation. You only throw if out the window if you are really too busy aviating and navigating. I think that Communication is just as important inside the aircraft as it is outside. There are accidents that have caused loss of life in both scenairos. Lack of or poor communication from a flight crew can be a safety of flight issue even in an emergency when you are tossing some of the rules out the window.

[Edited 2013-07-25 11:11:19]
 
RandWkop
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:46 pm

I think it was about 15 years ago. We were flying back to DUB from Crete on an EI A321. Probably a charter. About halfway through the flight the pilot came on to say that there was fog in DUB and we have "1 or 2 other problems" so we will be diverting to Schipol. Did not elaborate any more than to say not to worry and we would be on the ground in 15 minutes.

He gave no clue as to what the problems were and didn't seem to consider that he may have caused a lot of consternation in the cabin.
Anyway, when we had landed, he came back on to say that he was out of hours and Dutch ATC had forced him to land the plane. Why he could not say this at 35000 feet is beyond me.
We received breakfast vouchers and were on our way with a relief crew in about 4 hours.

I have to say that EI pilots are usually a lot more informative than this incident showed.

[Edited 2013-07-25 10:51:37]
 
AA777
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 5:56 pm

The psychology of it all is fascinating. Some people want MORE information. Some people want LESS. I have had clients who have serious illnesses such as cancer, and they truly want the least information possible. There's no perfect way to deal with such a situation as you're going to have 50-550 people all of whom want differing levels of information.

I once had an incident aboard an AA 757 BOS-AUA, back in like 1999 or so. We had been flying for 45 mins - 1 hour when the captain came on the PA and said we had to go back to Boston due to "problems communicating with the engine." He then described some things he was doing to burn off fuel (spoilers, gear down while we were up high), which explained the extra vibration and noise we were experiencing. But as we were about to land he started talking about how he was an "old, conservative pilot," which made me personally feel like we were going to be coming in for a scary landing. Thankfully the landing was totally uneventful....

We all process information differently and really there is no rule. I think we can all agree though that safety is the number one priority.

AA777
 
spacecadet
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:27 pm

Quoting SSTeve (Reply 39):
I was on an MD-90 where the pilot announced a "control issue" and we returned to the airport. Pretty tense, but there's not much elaboration on the airplane not working correctly that could assuage anyone.

That is the exact same announcement the pilots of Alaska Airlines 261 made. Didn't ultimately help save anyone (because it couldn't have, not that the pilots could have known that either way) but despite the difficulty in controlling the plane, they did elect to make several announcements to the passengers about what was happening.

Quoting mpsrent (Reply 41):
Under such circumstance priority one must be care and control of the aircraft.

One thing people seem to not be doing is making distinctions between different types of incidents. I don't see why flying a plane that won't pressurize would require more care and concentration than flying a plane that will pressurize. Is it really that hard to keep a plane at 10,000 feet or less? I just can't see why that would take so much of both pilots' attention that they couldn't or shouldn't take 20 seconds to make a proper announcement about why they're returning to the airport.

Quoting jim4flyn (Reply 43):
there is one word in that sentence that as a private pilot that would have made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And it's not "systems problem", it's "immediately".

Even as a passenger, I agree. But also, "systems problem" sounds almost intentionally vague, like he doesn't want to say what the problem really is.

Nobody's perfect and I don't want to harp on the guy too much, but I maintain that if he had just worded his PA announcement a little better, everything would have been fine and nobody would have thought anything about it other than "crap, I'm going to be late for my meeting/job interview/wedding".

I did once fly in a DC-10 that had an engine flameout on takeoff. I was very young and scared out of my mind but the one thing I do remember is the pilot making an announcement and sounding very calm and like it's something that happens all the time. He did have that Chuck Yeager southern thing going, and said "some of you probably noticed that we've had a little fire back there" but that it was out now and we were flying back to the airport for landing. I remember he apologized for the "inconvenience," which is certainly not a word you'd use if you were expecting an accident. It did help a little bit, and it's one of the few things I specifically remember from that incident now, as in I can still hear the announcement in my head.
I'm tired of being a wanna-be league bowler. I wanna be a league bowler!
 
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ssteve
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 6:54 pm

Quoting spacecadet (Reply 46):
He did have that Chuck Yeager southern thing going

Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff
 
Flighty
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:12 pm

Personally I find it essential to always have a guitar-playing flying nun to explain things to me.
 
CO953
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RE: How Much Info Should Pilots Give Pax During Abort?

Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:46 pm

Quoting spacecadet (Reply 46):
Even as a passenger, I agree. But also, "systems problem" sounds almost intentionally vague, like he doesn't want to say what the problem really is.

Nobody's perfect and I don't want to harp on the guy too much, but I maintain that if he had just worded his PA announcement a little better, everything would have been fine and nobody would have thought anything about it other than "crap, I'm going to be late for my meeting/job interview/wedding".

That's kind of the point.... the whole plane got very, very quiet (except for the quietly crying old lady) and the lack of any further announcement was just disquieting, combined with the vague "systems problem" line.

I'm really not trying to make a huge deal about it. More like, I really wanted to hear the opinions of professional pilots.

SECONDLY, and maybe I need to add this to the original post - (I don't know the etiquette here!)

Since the thread has been discussed, and this is the first thread I have ever posted, I have really been trying very hard now to re-remember every second of the incident. It was in January, so when posting, I was relying on notes I took the next day.

It's important to be a stand-up guy when posting on incidents, so I am going to do the right thing here before it gets any further:

After thinking about the incident for the last few hours - I now am thinking that my quote was almost correct, but that the pilot did NOT add the word, "immediately." Memory can play tricks, and in my notes, what looked like a quote (the word, "immediately" was in the notes I took the day afterward), I think was maybe a partial paraphrase. The clearest memory, notes aside, is that "folks, we have a systems problem, and we are going to have to return to the airport - we apologize for the inconvenience."

As I know that pilots read these threads, and also do not ever wish to say something incorrect that could have any impact on a hard-working pilot's reputation, no matter how small, I think I'd better officially retract the word "immediately" and revert to the revised quote in the previous paragraph. I am confident that that quote is the correct PA announcement that happened.

The rest of the story, including the lack of any further PA comments and the resulting stress, is correct.

This leaves me red-faced, and with the lesson to think in greater detail before starting a thread, but I would rather embarrass myself by retraction than purposely, out of pride, leave something out there that wasn't 100% correct.

[Edited 2013-07-25 12:48:28]

[Edited 2013-07-25 12:52:09]

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