Flight tur­bu­lence demystified, what you can carry on and more

Afraid of fly­ing? Air­line pilot Pa­trick Smith shares ev­ery­thing you need to know about fly­ing and more in his book, Cock pit con­fi­den­tial. Here are our favourite flight-fright les­sons from the best­selling tell-all.

Canadian Living - - Contents - TEXT SARA CATION


Newer mod­els mean bet­ter ameni­ties but not fewer ac­ci­dents. “Com­mer­cial air­craft are built to last more or less in­def­i­nitely,” writes Smith, not­ing that jets can re­main in ser­vice for more than 30 years. “The older a plane gets, the more and bet­ter care it needs, and in­spec­tion cri­te­ria grow in­creas­ingly strict.” Aged and more well-used planes are more rig­or­ously checked for cor­ro­sion and metal fa­tigue, and thanks to these safety stan­dards, in the air, age is noth­ing to fear.


Smith gives us the lowdown: “In­her­ently, take­off is the more crit­i­cal point than land­ing. Here, the air­plane is mak­ing the tran­si­tion from ground to flight, and its grip on the lat­ter is much more ten­ta­tiv e than it is when coming down. It’s land­ings that fear­ful flyers hate, but in def­er­ence to the prin­ci­ples of lift, grav­ity, and mo­men­tum, this anx­i­ety is mis­placed. Not that you should be, but if you in­sist on be­ing ner­vous, take­off is your time—from just prior to liftoff through the first twenty sec­onds or so of flight.”


“Tur­bu­lence: spiller of cof­fee, jostler of lug­gage, filler of barf bags, rat­tler of nerves.” It’s an apt de­scrip­tion from Smith, who’s quick to add that, while tur­bu­lence is the num­ber-one con­cern of fear­ful flyers, it’s not so dan­ger­ous. “From a pilot’s per­spec­tive,” he writes, “it is or­di­nar­ily seen as a con­ve­nience is­sue, not a safety is­sue.” Com­mon causes in­clude cot­ton-candy cu­mu­lus clouds as well as moun­tain ranges, warm and cold fronts and jet streams. There’s no way to avoid tur­bu­lence, but you can sit strate­gi­cally. “The smoothest place to sit is over the wings, near­est to the plane’s cen­ters of lift and grav­ity,” writes Smith, adding that the rough­est spot is usu­ally “in the rear­most rows, clos­est to the tail, [where] the knock­ing and sway­ing is more pro­nounced.”

For more fly­ing facts, pick up a copy of Cock­pit Con­fi­den­tial (Source­books) by Pa­trick Smith, $23, or visit ask­thep­i­lot.com.


Can di­verted flights run out of fuel? It’s highly un­likely. “A 747 tops off its tanks at just over forty-five thou­sand to­tal gal­lons,” writes Smith, ex­plain­ing that fuel is stored in the wings, the cen­tre fuse­lage and the tail. “Flights rarely depart with full tanks, how­ever, as lug­ging around ex­cess ton­nage is ex­pen­sive, im­prac­ti­cal and lim­its the amount of cargo or pas­sen­gers you can carry. Fig­ur­ing out how much needs to be aboard is a some­what sci­en­tific un­der­tak­ing, with some hard-and­fast rules.” He of­fers the U.S. do­mes­tic rule as an ex­am­ple of how con­ser­va­tive the cri­te­ria are: “There must al­ways be enough to carry a plane to its in­tended des­ti­na­tion, then to its des­ig­nated al­ter­nate air­port(s), and then for at least an­other forty-five min­utes. The re­sult­ing min­i­mum is non­nego­tiable.”


Your furry friend will be safely stowed in a com­fort­ably warm spot—“the un­der­floor holds are al­ways pres­sur­ized and heated,” writes Smith—but that’s the ex­tent of what the staff can do. “The flight crew is al­ways told when an­i­mals are aboard. Pas­sen­gers are known to send hand­writ­ten notes to the cock­pit ask­ing that we take spe­cial care, but this isn’t re­ally nec­es­sary, and in any case, there’s not a lot we can do,” writes Smith. “There’s no ac­cess be­tween the main deck and the lower holds, so we can’t carry treats to your friend below.”

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