Thursday, January 10, 2008

Airline Bonehead PR Stunt of the Year (So Far): Let's Avoid the Opportunity to Discuss Air Turbulence

Above: Awaiting the Official Word while resisting the urge to speculate ...

I know it's only 10 days after New Years, but we already have a candidate for Airline Public Relations Bonehead Stunt of the Year: A flack at Air Canada who declined to discuss whether serious injuries sustained by passengers on a flight from Victoria to Toronto today were caused by severe clear-air turbulence even though that's exactly what passengers said after the plane made an emergency landing in Calgary.

"It's going to take a bit of time to determine exactly what happened, I would encourage people to refrain from speculation," the Air Canada PR man told CTV Newsnet.

Wot? He would encourage people to refrain from speculation, even as eyewitnesses saw dishes, trays and other passengers tumbling around and felt the plane rock and roll? Oh hell, let's do go out on a limb here and speculate, because the subject is important if you fly.

It probably wasn't a poltergeist. Nor was it likely a brawl among passengers who tossed things and each other around. I'd rule out a possible encounter with a joyriding U.F.O.

Here's a case in which I think we can probably take the eyewitness accounts at face value.

The plane "went up and then sideways," one passenger told the Calgary Herald and said that a friend of hers was injured. "She flew up to the ceiling and right down."

Another passenger was quoted saying this in the Toronto Star: “Some of the armrests on the aisle seat sides were bent 60 degrees from people holding on — that’s how extreme it was.”

Yep, sounds like air turbulence, sure enough. I don't think we need to await the NTSB report 18 months from now to figure this one out.

As I say, the year is young and I will be accepting nominations for new Airline PR Bonehead Stunts as time goes on. I mean, wasn't this a good time to at least point out how serious sudden clear-air turbuelence can be, rather than coyly declining to discuss it?

Incidentally, those airline in-flight announcements that suggest you keep your seat belt fastened even when the seat-belt light is out are a guard against sudden air turbulence. They're good advice, because you don't always get a warning -- and neither do the pilots.

Air turbulence is serious stuff.

Take it from me, you can be flying along peacefully, minding your own business, and all of sudden something totally and utterly unexpected can happen to make you realize just how mortally vulnerable you are in a metal tube hurtling through the skies six miles above the earth. This has a marvelous way of focusing the attention.

Since that unexpected trip into the Amazon I had 15 months ago, people have asked me if I'm more afraid of flying. Not really, I reply -- but I am a hell of a lot more afraid of crashing.

Wear your seat-belts. The airlines don't like to say this, but a seat-belt won't do diddley for you in an crash. They're mainly to protect you from air turbulence, and they work.


1 comment:

Linda said...

My Dad was a pilot in the RAF who came to Canada from Britain to train RCAF pilots in WWII. From my first flight many years ago, fortunately with my Dad, for my only visit to my English grandmother, he insisted (INSISTED!) that I have my seat belt buckled AT ALL TIMES because one never knew when turbulence or a sudden drop ( I don't remember what this is called) might happen.

To this day, I am mystified that not all passengers don't follow this simple procedure/advice/directive. The consequences of not doing so are clearly dangerous as evidenced this past week.