This Is Your Captain Speaking: Turn Off Your Gadgets

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,

This is your Captain speaking. Shortly,I’m going to push on a set of levers that will allow fuel to pour into the steel cylinders affixed to the side of the plane and, in the presence of well-engineered flame, create a series of small and controlled explosions that will allow us to lift roughly 400 tonnes of metal and flesh into the air and propel you towards your destination.

As part of this, when the plane heads down the runway, we will pass a threshold known as V1. Do you know what V1 means? V1 is the takeoff decision speed  and is the speed at which we will try and take off, even if one engine fails. Basically, V1 is the speed at which we are travelling so fast that we are safest in the air – we are beyond the realm of air brakes or the rather amusingly useless brakes on the wheels. You know that mechanical brakes can evaporate on trucks when they’re going too fast, right? Think an even faster “pfft, bloooo” for planes.

Having gone through V1, we will reach V2. That is the speed at which, having committed to take-off, we will attempt to rotate the nose up and we will safely be able to take off, even if one engine is down. You know this speed. We trundle down the runway and you might miss V1 but the moment we rotate the nose up, that’s V2.

If I can’t easily find out when either of these speeds are, we’re stuffed. I need the read-outs in front of me to give me a reliable idea of these speeds or my co-pilots and I will be working on guesswork and you, seriously, do not want that.

There are two points when you are seriously vulnerable in an aircraft: takeoff and landing. During both of these moments, our proximity to the ground and reduced speed combine to form a major liability: any misjudgement at this point can lead to catastrophe because we have not got any time to recover from disaster. This, of course, is why we ask you to turn off every single possible source of interference to out aircraft systems, which includes phones, iPods, iPads, MP3 players, Kindles, Kobo readers, whatever. We want to have the best chance possible to let the plane tell us everything that it can.

Some of you don’t turn the gadgets off and, as your Captain, let me berate both you and the people who educated you. You, because you ignored the legal requirement to comply with my instructions and your teachers, because they failed to adequately instruct you in the importance of cause and effect, personal responsibility, and anecdotal evidence.

If you, as a person, opt to leave your gear on despite being asked not to, you are saying to the roughly 500 other passengers that your need to read a book in an electronic form, or watch a movie, trumps their fundamental right to personal safety. Now, we’re not 100% sure that this will cause a problem but, as we’re also not sure that it won’t interfere with our systems and we do need to know lots of stuff about the aeroplane at these critical times, we ask you to switch this gear off. Will it cause an accident? Probably not. Is it safe? We don’t know. Right now, you’re not demonstrating an adequate knowledge of cause and effect or personal responsibility.

Oh, so your Uncle Willie left his mobile on and nothing happened? Great! Fantastic! Was it this type of plane? Same avionics? Was there unforeseen confusion in the flight deck that no-one mentioned (Probably not but you don’t know.) Hey,  I hear Uncle Willie drove through an intersection once against the red lights at 100 mph – why don’t you try that?  Anecdotal evidence, especially one exceptional case, proves nothing.

Actions have repercussions but this doesn’t mean that there will always be a 1:1 match-up between them. If mobile phones always crashed planes, we’d search you and confiscate them. It’s the possible and unlikely interaction of plane and gadget that we’re worried about and this is why we sincerely hope that your teachers have managed to get this idea through to you, along with the fact that rationalisation doesn’t equal reason and one contrary exemplar does not state a uniform case.

Let me remind you that we will shortly be flying in a 400 tonne piece of metal that hurtles through the sky at 650 mph on top of 2-4 engines of burning flame.

Do you actually want to make it harder for me to control this?

Think about the possible impact of your actions, comply with crew directions and, for a few minutes at the start and end of the flight, do what I ask you to do and turn off your gadgets. It might not do anything, but it might give you a chance to be irritated by a similar announcement on a subsequent flight.

Thank you for your attention.”

One Comment on “This Is Your Captain Speaking: Turn Off Your Gadgets”

  1. If only pilots could all be so direct. Last time I was flying back from Brisbane, the captain came on the intercom to apologise for our delayed departure. He indicated there was a warning coming from the flight computer, and he was going to “cycle the engine down, then spool it back up to see if that cleared the sticky valve and resolved the error message.” Now, I may be mistaken in my elementary geologist-to-technician translation of this phrase, but I’m pretty sure this means “hang on guys, I’m just going to jiggle things a bit and see if the warning light goes off”. Now, I wouldn’t have minded hearing this from a friend giving me a lift in a junky old Vauxhall when I was 16, but it’s not exactly the inspirational message you want to hear from a man about to commit you to the sky, as you observe Nick, in 400 tonnes of metal.


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