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Friday, February 3, 2012

Zen Redux: Zen and the Art of Passenger Mainenance

"This is an emergency announcement," the female voice declared in prim 'n proper British accent over the intercom of the British Airways’ 747—while cruising at 35,000 feet over the North Sea. "We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water."
Minor detail:  this “emergency announcement” was an accidentally-triggered prerecorded message. . . accidentally triggering 330 passengers to panic.
This recent embarrassing debacle reminds me of the old Airbus pilots’ joke:  “Ladies and gentlemen, we are flying a state-of-the-art,  fully automated Airbus and nothing can go wrong click! go wrong click! go wrong . . .”

While I’ve have never had to deal with trying to calm down hundreds of panicked passengers inflight, there is definitely an acquired art to the making of a passenger PA.  Typically, flight attendants must read their briefings verbatim, but the pilots up front have much freer reign.  Oh, sure we’re required to grovel a bit to you and say, “Thank you for flying Very Fast airways.  Buckle in, there is no need to panic,”* etc.  But how we say it is largely left to us.  While I’m always tempted to simply say, “Welcome aboard, sit down, shut up, behave,” and be done with it, that particular PA only works to cut the tension on the annual simulator check ride.  At least for me...

Rule # 1:  the traveling public wants to be reassured.   They want their Captain to have a deep, gruff, authoritative but soothing fatherly voice, like George Clooney with a Texas drawl.  Unfortunately, my voice has been going through puberty for the past 35 years; I sound more like Cap'n Doogie Howser.  Once, during a particularly early morning departure when my vocal chords were at their most relaxed, I thought I’d made the most manly PA of my life.  But that fantasy was quickly shattered when two college kids poked their heads into the cockpit after the flight and said, “We just wanted to see who was flying, ‘cause you sounded like you were 18!”  Since then, I’ve been resigned to my fate.

Rule #2:  Humor is allowed over the PA, but you’d damn well better be good at it.  If not, refer to Rule #1.  While my buddy Captain Tony can keep his cabin in stitches for hours,** I found out a long time ago I’m in the “Not” category.  Once, on April Fool’s Day, I diligently kept our passengers informed of our imminent arrival into RNO . . . during our flight to LAX.  From the first announcement on, the flight attendants plagued the cockpit with pleas to correct the destination . . . the passengers were on the verge of mutiny!  It was then that I learned:  the Captain’s voice over the PA is the Voice of God.

Barney Fife's Cap'n voice?  EPIC FAIL!

The strength of the turbulence is directly
proportional to the temperature of your coffee.
— Gunter's Second Law of Air Travel 
The age old turbulence/seat belt sign bit is an art unto itself as well.  It boils down to this:  one man’s gentle rocking, nappy-time turbulence is another’s “my God, my God we’re all going to die!” . . . it’s simply a matter of opinion.  And the forecast of turbulence is just that: a prediction.  Personally, I use the SWAG method:  the “Scientific, Wild-A** Guess.”  Oh, sure, we can guesstimate by reading the clouds, listening to other aircraft’s reports, etc.  But in reality, there’s no telling just what Mommy Nature has up her sleeve.  In fact, it’s so random, that we call the Seat Belt switch the Turbulence button:  turn it off, get instant bumps.  Bottom Line, we err on the side of caution.  In the end, really, the seat belt sign is nothing more than a Liability Switch:  if it’s on, get up at your own peril.

There is also an art to revealing just what’s going on without giving away TMI.  While I can’t exactly jump on the PA and say, “Folks, pay no attention to the burning wing,” I also must avoid describing ad nauseum exactly what the mechanics onboard are fixing.  For example, I can't launch into a five minute dissertation of just why our our IAE V-2533-A5 Engine Number 2‘s ECU (Engine Control Unit) on the FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control) is triggering spurious warnings from the SDAC (System Data Acquisition Concentrator) to the EWC (Engine/Warning Display) without sounding alarmist.  And I certainly can’t say, “The doohicky on the whatchamajig is causing quite a nasty ruckus with that gizmo thingy.”  But I can say, “Our ace mechanics are onboard resetting one of our black boxes.  We should be under way in a few minutes.”***

Bottom line:  Trust us.  It’s OUR butts in the plane, too, and we ain’t gonna risk it, PERIOD!

Cap'n Aux in the midst of another one of his stellar—if not very funny—PA's.
…but he STILL sounds (and looks a bit) like Cap'n Doogie.
Note:  Special thanks to Getjets for "volunteering" her awesome classic pic at the top of this post!  I stole it from her "MissTWA" blog--see below for link!

*For inspiration, I always look to this Monty Python sketch as the quintessential pilot PA:
** Example of classic Tony PA:  “Attention K-Mart shoppers, we have a blue light special on aisle . . . oh, sorry, that’s my day job.  Ahem!  (deep, gruff George Clooney voice with a tinge of Texas drawl) This is your Captain speaking . . .”

*** See previous  blog post!
Related links:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hey Getjets would like to hear your comment!
    As you know, I shamelessly stole the top photo for this blog from your site--PERFECT, LOL!!!

  3. Hey there Capt'n..........!!
    Funny Funny......material here!!!!!!!!!!!

    will have to go through couple times......for proper come-backs....if you don't mind.....

    And.....thats just Great......Sorry..
    I 'delete' my first "Dumbass comment".......
    but can't DELETE.......the fact that I "DELETED"!!!!!!eshhhhhhh

    I feel like "redundant hydraulics"
    I commented and put the link to the very Same Monty Python 'Ace' team.....caught you have the video here hit the 'delete' comment thingie.....Sorry,
    we must think along the same 'Funny wavelink'.
    may check in later......

    Safe Travels Capt'n

  4. 'effin thief'.........KIDDING!!!!!!

    you are more than Welcome to anything...on my blog.......!!!!
    Serious........Good to share.....these pics don't belong to me.....I pass them on......and they get new life.....Isn't that Cool!!!!

    give this vid a whirl.....IT'S FUNNY...!!!
    Peter Seller's....TWA commercial.......WATCH IT....and judge for yourself......
    You can Thank me later............LOL

  5. Anyone who likes Monty Python is okay in my books. :)

    Another great post, Captain. Made me laugh!

    For me? I like when pilots come off as human when they make announcements. I KNOW that the pilots are professionals. Robotic sounding PAs don't impress me more than any others.

    And it must be hard for female pilots to have that "fatherly" voice...

  6. Lol, good point, Giulia! Guess I needn't fret over not sounding "manly!" And I actually do try to sound human, like I'm talking to you and not "announcing." ;)

    1. PS--Flying now with one of my favorite FO's, and one of the best sticks I've ever flown with…she's a fine aeronautical representative of the female persuasion!

    2. What a really nice compliment to her abilities...especially since you've been flying for so many years. I hope you've told her that. :)

      Safe travels, Captain.

  7. Hey Capn,

    It's funny how you feel you can't do the funnies like Tony yet your blog is so full of humour!

    I feel for you, I like to think I can be occasionally humourous when commenting but when I attempt to crack a funny realtime.......nothing but tumbleweed!

    All the best and thanks for another great (and humourous) post

    Dave from the UK

    1. Ya Dave, it's funny. I can be occasionally quick-witted in a conversation, but am most comfy writing it all down, so I get it juuust right! Been writing all my life, so it comes more naturally than off the tongue.

      I've actually done some acting bits with Tony (in some vid shorts I wrote,) and when he ad libs, he really shines! SOO wish I could do that, lol!

      Glad you're likin' the humor!!

  8. Loved it! Keep writing!

  9. Great blog! The best story ever was telling your passengers that you were going to a different destination! Happy April Fools Day! Patricia Rock

  10. LOL, thanks, Patricia! I was an FO at the time, and after the FA's kept complaining, the Captain kept telling me, "Don't tell 'em the truth, lol!"

    I DID however give the passengers a hint: "If you think something's amiss, check the date on your watch!"

  11. Hey Captain!

    Great read! I laughed about the airbus joke haha, never heard that one before! On most of the flights I've been I noticed about half of the cabin not being interested in the PA's from the flight deck but I love the details!

    On my last KLM flight to Frankfurt the FO did the PA in three languages (fluently) but also told something about rotation speed, burned fuel (He said something about how many cars you could power for how long with the amount of Jet-A being burned already)...loved the funny facts. I was invited to the flight deck before the flight and he told me many things about the E-190 flight deck which as epic.

    Do you get many people asking for a peek in the cockpit or have visitors regularly?

    Have a great week!

    P.S. If you have on of those smartphones you could download an app which converts a recorded track (Let's say your PA) into a different voice. That'll scare the heck out of the pax lol! Right....

  12. Addition:

    You might not want to try that last suggestion :P My butchery colleague and I once did that over the supermarket's PA (High pitch voice over the intercom) announcing someone had to come to the office.

    They still haven't found out it was us but they din't like it haha.

    1. Glad you liked it, Bas!
      Maybe 1 outta 5 flights someone will come up front, usually a mom or dad with their kids. I delight in anyone coming up front, give them the royal treatment, let them sit in my seat and get a pic, etc. But I think most people are either intimidated or not interested!

      Funny facts r a good idea, if you have a few quirky ones. But, one shouldn't overdo it. Voices over the PA quickly become annoying, so again, refer to Rule #1 lol!

      Speaking of which, does that app come with a George Clooney with a Southern drawl voice? ;-)

  13. Captain Eric..............I recall once on a Southwest flight............we had started our roll down the runway........and ever so quietly one of the F/A....whispered............"Pedal Faster" was so hilarious!!!!......
    it was brilliant humor!!!!
    I would suggest to your followers and friends here to visit the Monty Python "From the Freaking flight deck" you were kind enough to post here...........I think it could have easly been over looked.........and like you off the the "effin Funny scale".....!!!..course my opinion........
    When I fly to Ottawa on the 23 this month............maybe after 2 $50.00 bloody Marys'.. drinks..........perhaps, I will have the nerve to poke my head in .........and "BEG".......for a pic.....I fly through think if I'm selling girl scout cookie's..........
    Captain............anybody but George Clooney...........Please!!!!.......and I just love your playfull ness.............and without losing the seriousness of business of flying............maybe the passengers.......should have their own moment to get on the "PA".......and say ...........HEY................... “Welcome aboard......."CAPTAIN"...... sit down,DAMMIT...., HUSH UP, AND BEHAVE YOURSELF........,” ...AFTERALL OUR BUTTS ARE ON THE PLANE..........AND WE AIN'T TAKING NO CHANCES...........KIDDING OF COURSE...........

    DOG GONE IT.......I MAY HAVE MISSED MY CALLING...............

    YOU CAPTAIN....I THINK DID NOT.............KEEP UP THE GREAT JOB..........!!!
    MissTWA.......FO SHOOOO.........

  14. SWA is great for funny PA's like that! I love their demo sung to "Gilligan's Island," lol!

    And ya that Monty Python sketch is hysterical--OK, viewers, GET ON IT!!!

    Actually I've let a few speak on the PA, esp. little kids, to get them to say, "This is your Captain speaking"--too cute! (And of course makes me sound MANLY, lol!!)

    My favorite funny that I used to pull was always when flying with my two kids on board, when they were little. I'd say, "…and a special welcome aboard to my lovely wife Tawni and kids, Desi and Timmy. You two behave your mother back there. Don't make me stop this airplane!"
    E :-)

    1. LOL!
      "Don't make me pull over..."
      I remember hearing THAT very frequently!! Yes, that would have been a funny PA to hear, Cap'n. :)

    2. "This is an emergency announcement,"
      the female voice declared.........

      An "ANNOUNCEMENT" apposed to a "Garden Variety Announcement???

      or would it be classified as a "NON"announcement........??

      hows about this is "An Effin emergency....grab your ass with both hands.....???

      just asking.....?????

      and how Lovely.....a "female voice" we're going down with nice shoes......

      Great Day Capt'n.......just

  15. Hey there Capt'n........"Dont' make me stop this airplane"............FUNNNNNY!!!!....

    "SWA"......singing "Gilligan's Island"......I've never heard that one....gotta look it up..........
    I may have to "Rent" a 4 year old........
    to get an advantage to see the cockpit....this month, when I fly to
    later Capt'n

  16. Buddhists typically bow to rid themselves of attachment to ego and vanity, this binds one to samsara. zen houston


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