Sunday, January 10, 2010

Eine Kleine Ventilation

I'm sitting in the Milwaukee airport waiting on a jumpseat down to Kentucky, after an earlier jumpseat down from Appleton.

I see that there's been another aircraft incident, this time a United Airlines Airbus A-319 in Newark with a stuck main landing gear. The failure required the crew to land on two gear--nose and left main--and its engine. Well, all is well, of course; kudos all around.

Before my little snit, I should acknowledge that I agree the incident fairly constitutes news, albeit news which warrants a paragraph in the back pages of tomorrow's Times. Insofar as a gear-up landing constitutes an emergency procedure--there was at least a theoretical, if small, risk to the hundred or so people on the airplane--it seems not wrong to take notice. But I can't help thinking that this kind of incident makes the website's front page because it's spectacular and the risks are condensed into a single point, making it easy and manageable to cover. Surely far more than 100 people are at risk every day on New York City's freeways and subways, but the risks are piecemeal and diffuse. I just note that the most spectacular coverage always lands at one of the already-safest forms of transportation we have; there's an imbalance in this that has nothing to do with news value and everything to do with spectacle, I think.

But the real thing that gets my goat--after all, I clicked on the link, naturally--is the utter inanity and pointlessness of interviewing people for the "story."

Anytime you’re up in the air and you realize you have a problem, you wonder if you’re going to make it,” said one of the passengers.

Really? What constitutes "a problem?" Does every thump or bout with turbulence have you scrambling for your rosary? (Or do you keep it handy pre-emptively?) How many people do you know who have not "made it" from their flight? Do you know anyone who died in a car? On a motorcycle? Bicycle? Do you have anything to do with those obviously risky modes of travel? It just drives me crazy, this asking people what they were feeling as the cabin crew yelled "Brace! Brace! Brace!" What the fuck do we think they were feeling? What are they supposed to say? And does the guy who says "I was just thinking it's going to be a firmer touchdown than usual" get covered?

I realize there are control issues here; people hate being entirely at the mercy of the operating crew. Just like on a ship. Just like on a bus. Just like being in a cab with a screen between the front and back. Or like the trains millions of people ride every day; how many people get off their LIRR or NJT trains in the City and feel they'd just cheated death? And yet airplanes are at least as safe, and likely a good deal safer, than any of those conveyances.

Sorry. Guess it's time for me to go cheat death again.

5 comments:

Dzesika said...

Ages ago, someone told me that more people were kicked to death by mules every year than died in plane-related incidents. I have no idea where that came from or how true it is, but it makes sense and I've probably repeated it ad nauseam.

wunelle said...

Ha! That's excellent! I've heard similar comparisons, but my memory is too feeble to retain them.

BrianAlt said...

People get in their cars and drive somewhere. They are in complete control.

They die by the thousands.

Hooray for control!

I take a bus everyday. I've been taking NJ Transit buses into NYC for 16 years.

I have been in ZERO accidents on buses. I've only had one problem. In a freezing rain storm the driver decided to stop the trip because his windshield wiper was broken. That seems prudent. Another bus was by within 5 minutes and I was home a few minutes later.

wunelle said...

Actually, even I'm surprised that you've ridden NJT for 16 years without a single accident, given that you're driving in the densest traffic in America.

I drove a city bus in Minneapolis for 10 years, logging around 100,000 miles a year. In that time I had three minor scrapes, none of which involved any injuries and only one of which caused minor damage to the bus (broken mirror) and a car (scraped bumper). That's in a million miles, give or take.

I tend to drive my cars a lot as well, and in my 30 years driving I've had two major accidents and a couple minor ones.

In 15 years now as an airline pilot I've had a few incidents, but no injuries or damage. And by now I've got more time in airplanes than any other conveyance.

So the car seems to be where the action is.

BrianAlt said...

I've had one major accident and 3 or 4 minor ones. All of them were before I was 25.

I'm surprised too, but that really says something, don't you think? A friend of mine, who has been riding the bus for the last 10 years, says that he only had one accident on a bus. When the bus was leaving the PABT, the rear wheel well went into the divider and did some nasty damage. No bodily injury.

Amazing record on these buses!