Saturday, March 21, 2009

Air Emergency and You

     There are roughly 540 commercial airports in the United States, and I would guess that at least 419 of them have televisions somewhere in the public area.  I get about 74 channels on my basic cable package, one of which is the National Geographic Channel.  One of the shows on the National Geographic Channel is called "Air Emergency", it's the show I am watching right now.  If you pour over the figures above you will come up with the conclusion that there is a chance that right now, someone in one of those airports is watching the same episode as I am, an episode that is currently talking about how a mechanical defect in the Boeing 737, one of the most popular and safe airplanes in history, that was unable to be found during routine inspection caused three massive unsurvivable crashes.  That person is probably about to get on a Boeing 737.  How wrong is that?
      Now, before you nervous flyers freak out let us just say this: Flying is amazingly safe.  Everybody knows the statistics about that is less safe than flying: Driving in a car, SCUBA diving, cooking lunch, going outside, living in Gary, Indiana.  Really, the airline industry suffers from a terrible situation.  They spend untold amounts of money to build planes, inspect planes, and maintain planes.  Unfortunately, the media never talks about that.  And no one ever covers the literally millions of successful takeoffs and landings that are performed in the United States alone every year.  We take all those for granted.  The only time the airline industry gets mentioned is when there is a mistake or a catastrophic failure.  So keep in mind that it's one of the safest ways to travel.  Okay?  Also, we have become very good at learning from our aviation mistakes.  The boys and girls at the NTSB almost always figure out what went wrong and this usually leads to sweeping maintenance and change to make things safer and better.  So don't go cancel those tickets for your big vacation to Sioux City, okay?  You have a better chance of not making it if you take the trusty 1993 Ford Escort.
     That being said, how much would it suck to be that guy sitting in the airport watching this show?  Wouldn't you be a little unnerved?  How would you respond?  Would you get on the plane?  Would you chug as many gin and tonics as your could before your departure time?  As I started forming the idea to write this post, I wasn't quite sure what I would do.  But the more I watch and the more I think about it I have sort of come to a very easy decision.  I just wouldn't watch it.  If I came along to a channel while channel surfing at an airport and I saw shaky pictures of two pilots in a cockpit shouting at one another, I wouldn't stop on that channel.  I would go watch Animal Planet or something.  Maybe ESPN.  I certainly wouldn't watch a show called "Air Emergency."  Not on my life.  Sitting here in the Worldwide Headquarters and not planning on going anywhere anytime soon it's fine.  But if I were sitting at George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and this was showing?  No way, no how. 
     The biggest problem with my little plan is that usually one doesn't have the option of changing the channel in most airports.  I hear you muttering that to yourself under your breath.  Don't worry, I've thought about that little wrinkle.  See, you or I or that sweaty guy reading Sports Illustrated might not be able to control the nearest TV but somebody can.  And if it's not the person at the ticket counter I would bet they know who does.  And if you told them that the TV was showing a program called "Air Emergency" that was all about plane crashes, I would guess that they would change it so fast it would make your head spin. Don't you think?  I mean, we laugh at the idea.  In the hilarious movie Airplane they openly mock the idea by having the passengers on the stricken airliner watching an in-flight movie featuring a plane landing out of control with a big fireball behind it.  And we giggle.  Because it is so absurd that an airline would let business happen.  So trust me, if it was on and you asked, they'd change it.  I would bet Peg-a-saurus Rex's entire paycheck on it.
     So...what happens if they won't?  Like, what if the airport worker is related to the guy who worked as a key grip on that show and they are intent on watching it?  Well, the good thing about most airports is that you have plenty of options.  Kansas City International is like a big doughnut, so you can walk around to a different part and keep tabs on your flight on the departure screens.  At Minneapolis/St. Paul you can take a tram to another part of the airport.  At Chicago O'Hare they actually have separate terminal buildings for international or little puddle jumper flights.  Go there since you have four hours to wait around for your connection.  You also have your iPod so put that on and read the trashy romance novel in your backpack.  Or just go on down to the food court and hang out there.  They don't even have a TV at P.F. Chang's.
     The good thing for us, however, is that we are never going to run into this situation.  TVs in airports don't show National Geographic Channel.  They show ESPN or Headline News, which is now called simply HN for some unexplainable reason.  But it is that kind of stuff that shows at airports.  Maybe CBS if there are a lot of old people flying that day.  Whatever.  And CBS doesn't show stuff like that.  ESPN doesn't show stuff like that.  HN does but only if there has just been a plane crash, in which case we are dealing with a whole different animal not covered by this post.  So don't worry, you won't have to worry about this.  But it might be a good job to have a Plan B or a universal remote just in case.

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