The Ugly American: 4 Ways to Defend Yourself from a Suicidal Pilot Locked Inside the Cockpit

Travel Features

As an air traveler you may think there is no defense against a situation like that of Germanwings flight 9525, in which the copilot Andreas Lubitz was discovered (too late) to be a depressed, mass-homicidal dickwad with a penchant for locking his captain out of the cockpit, flipping a switch and sending his aircraft careening into the mountains. But are you really helpless? No. The following are four ways to increase your odds against encountering a suicidal pilot in your upcoming travels.

1. Lean on airlines to hire more female pilots. Females are 99 percent less likely to be suicidal mass murderers. That percentage would be higher, but I took into account those idiot British teenagers who made the news recently when they were detained on their way to join ISIS. But even with that in mind, here is the exact number of women who made the list of worst mass murderers in history: Zero. I know it’s politically incorrect to suggest sexual discrimination—maybe you’re a member of a “group” and you’ll email me with a list of how I just offended your sensibilities by suggesting a gender bias—but my own group, which is called the “I Don’t Give a Crap About Your Group” Group, wants to make it off the aircraft without the need to be shoveled up, so suck my ass.

2. Go back in time and stop demanding ridiculously cheap airfare. The cost of air travel hasn’t gone up since the seventies practically, yet the cost of fuel has skyrocketed. Where do you think the financial cutbacks came from to accommodate that cavernous juxtaposition? Not from shareholders, who all fly by private jet, and certainly not from the salaries of the CEOs, who bleed their airlines so dry with golden parachute payouts it’s a wonder airlines can afford oxygen masks anymore. No, the cutbacks came from, among other areas, the severance of expensive safety measures that used to serve as a buffer between a speeding paying passenger and, say, the side of a mountain somewhere.

3. Don’t fly. Seriously. Plan your trip by car, bicycle, camelback or covered wagon instead. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. Air travel is evil. It allows people to go from one part of the globe to another in a relative eye blink … dumping onto other cultures hoards of doe-eyed bovines who are completely unprepared to accept their surroundings. In the 1920s when people traveled by foot, train, horse, etc., they devoted years to their journey. When they got to their destinations they were entirely different people. They’d had a chance to shed their idiotic preconceptions because respect for the cultures they passed through was essential for their survival. A degree from Oxford is fine and good in the center of Piccadilly Circus, but it’s not worth crap when it comes to fleshing out pits of quicksand along the Amazon. For that you need to communicate with the locals, and by “communicate” I don’t mean bitch incessantly about how the ice in your cocktail is cubed instead of crushed.

4. But if you do fly (and you will), book your flight on a major U.S.-based airline. Large commercial jets have cockpits that require at least two pilots to man the aircraft for takeoff and landing, but once the plane has reached cruising altitude it’s not necessary for two people to be at the controls, which is why, for example, the captain of that European-based Germanwings jet found himself locked outside of the cockpit while his mentally unstable co-pilot aimed the aircraft into the Alps. U.S. airlines, however, have for years adhered to a mandated safety regulation that requires two qualified people in the cockpit at all times. This means that when the captain needs to leave the flight deck to use the lavatory, a flight attendant or breaking pilot enters the cockpit until the captain returns. This measure assures that, for example, if one pilot became incapacitated with the sudden urge to flip a switch and commit mass homicide, someone else will be there to flip it back.

Hollis Gillespie writes a weekly travel column for Paste. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, coming out in June. Follow her on Twitter.

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