"Relax, this is your captain speaking."
June 18, 2002 1:22 AM   Subscribe

"Relax, this is your captain speaking." (Chicago Tribune link, use metafilter/metafilter to view) A United Airlines captain made a refreshingly honest, down to earth statement, in the cabin rather than the cockpit, at the beginning of Chicago - DC flight recently. A Chicago Trib reporter transcribed the pilot's remarks, and they seem to be just the kind of no-nonsense reassurance that the flying public could use more of right about now. Would you like to hear something like this the next time you have to fly?
posted by Dreama (48 comments total)
 
Requires registration... ouch. I hate registering. No reg. required link, anybody?
posted by Bixby23 at 1:39 AM on June 18, 2002


Oh...I'm a ninny. MF/MF...nevemind... coffee, anybody?
posted by Bixby23 at 1:41 AM on June 18, 2002


Pretty inspiring, until

... Be careful what you say. When you say something that is the least bit provocative and a flight attendant hears it or a passenger hears it and it's reported to me, I will have no choice. I will have to land the airplane at the nearest suitable field, and you'll probably be handcuffed, arrested and taken off the airplane.

I know that sounds pretty heavy-handed, but I don't want anybody to be under any misconceptions as to how we will handle that kind of thing because we have to take those issues seriously ...


What issues would be those? Independent thinking? Free speech? That's not heavy handed. That's clearly excessive from any angle you look at it. There is absolutely no justification for it, as it does not compromise the security o the flight at all. If you feel threatened by the presence of suspicious-looking foreigners speaking in tongues, *you* - and not them - should be on the next plane. Words, as they say, are cheap.
posted by magullo at 2:19 AM on June 18, 2002


that sort of thing makes me realise why I do not captain aircraft. what a guy.
posted by Frasermoo at 2:25 AM on June 18, 2002


i'm sorry, but if you need this much reassurance before flying, you're a wimp.
posted by quarsan at 2:50 AM on June 18, 2002


Magullo, the impression I got from this statement was that he was referring to things like people making jokes about having a bomb in their bag. I didn't take it as meaning you couldn't be a foreigner talking with an accent.

I think it's excellent that he's taking the time to speak to the passengers and put their minds at ease. There should be more people like him. Great speech.
posted by Jubey at 2:53 AM on June 18, 2002


Magullo, I don't believe that the pilot was referring to those who were speaking in other languages, but those who might make unadvised "jokes" or comments about compromising the security of a flight.

Authorities are taking a very heavy hand about such comments, sometimes going far beyond necessity to ensure that no one ever is so reckless as to say words like "bomb" "knife" "box cutter" "hijack" "crash into/fly into (the ground/a building/a structure)" or the like in the hearing of security officers or airline employees. Many airports have signs warning that "jokes" are verboten, and will result in arrest. And you might recall that a US Airways pilot was arrested in Philadelphia for simply asking why security was taking his tweezers when he was a pilot and could easily crash the plane if he wanted to. The (supposedly) sarcastic question/comment was enough to warrant a charge of terroristic threat-making for the pilot who merely told a very obvious truth.

I'm sure that there are some people who would consider "suspicious looking foreigners speaking in tongues" to be provocative in and of itself, but the pilot addressed that with his comments about how everyone on the plane was welcome aboard, and had been thoroughly screened in the terminal, which, I believe, was meant to say "forget about ousting the swarthy-skinned folks, every race flies on my bird."
posted by Dreama at 2:55 AM on June 18, 2002


Exactly, Dreama. Thank you. I think the pilot's comments were meant to be inclusive and heartening. His caution was in reference to ill-advised attempts at humor.
posted by donkeyschlong at 3:28 AM on June 18, 2002


Here is my point: there is no justification what-so-ever from a security point of view to be heavy-handed on attempts at humor. I am actually going to call it a distraction from more urgent and important issues. Like the fact that pilots can (and maybe already have) crashed planes full of people into the ground. Or like the fact that the government agencies in charge of security have messed up big time. Or like the fact that you can indeed make jokes and even talk about hijacking action plans in many other languages.

And, no, I don't think the comments were inclusive. More like: "You've made it through airport security - but once in my plane, that's irrelevant. *Anybody* on the plane can accuse you (potentially even make a false accusation). And because we have a *zero tolerance* policy (which has proven *very* effective in so many other areas) you will be awarded some miserable time".

Not cool. Not safe. Not acceptable.
posted by magullo at 4:21 AM on June 18, 2002


i apologise if i was too blunt earlier. but, i really think that people are worrying too much. i'm more concerned with safety records, maintenance etc. these are the real danger areas.

you don't make jokes about bombs etc, if you do, you deserve what you get. usually arrested.
posted by quarsan at 4:30 AM on June 18, 2002


Whatever you do, do not mention this product in any context either on the plane or during security check. I don't care if Shania Twain does "rub it all over her lovely body."
posted by luser at 4:42 AM on June 18, 2002


ohh, we must Ban the Balm
posted by pekar wood at 5:01 AM on June 18, 2002


Login Metafilter works.

It's a cute speech, here's one good part:

"This aircraft is equipped with a safety door, a security door, it has a steel bar on the door. Down at the bottom of that door is a metal strip that runs across the floor. That's a demilitarized zone. A part of your body crosses that line, it's mine. You are not going to get it back in the same condition that it crossed that line in. If you keep all of your body parts over here, I'll keep mine up there, and we will all be good neighbors that way."
posted by Blake at 5:13 AM on June 18, 2002


I have to agree with magullo. No one on that plane is any safer because their ability to speak freely has been curtailed. Refraining people from making jokes about terrorist acts is an intellectually shallow attempt to re-assure other passengers. The assumption behind the prohibition comes comically/tragically close to hear no evil = no evil. But of course, cracking a joke doesn't mean you are more likely to be a terrorist. In fact, a real terrorist wouldn't draw attention to him/herself like that.

But again, what magullo said is spot on: it's a distraction from the more problematic issues of airport security. The airlines can easily control what you say, but their track record on actually stopping terrorists is not so stellar.

Terrorism is action, not words. Any attempt to characterize speech as a threat, a terrorist act, or a crime is completely unacceptable. I don't care if reference to a bomb (in the baby carriage) makes you uncomfortable, because we allow the freedom to speak to be discomfiting all the time.

**Stares across the street at protestors in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic**

And on the quarsan, on the contrary, when you make a statement in public, the last thing you deserve is government interference or restriction.
posted by thewittyname at 5:53 AM on June 18, 2002


Maybe I misread this, but it seems like he only gave this speech to the folks in first-class.
posted by piskycritter at 6:02 AM on June 18, 2002


I wish they would just seal the door permanently -- make it a blank steel wall that can never be opened by anyone -- and keep those guys out of the way. Then work on getting pilots out of the plane. Make the whole flight automatic, with three or four separate, redundant automatic flight systems instead of a couple of sleepy men running it.

You can't hijack a plane if you can't get into the cockpit and there are no pilots in there to coerce.
posted by pracowity at 6:10 AM on June 18, 2002


And you might recall that a US Airways pilot was arrested in Philadelphia for simply asking why security was taking his tweezers when he was a pilot and could easily crash the plane if he wanted to.

I hadn't seen that. That just may be the stupidest thing I've heard all year. Sigh.
posted by rushmc at 6:11 AM on June 18, 2002


maybe they should just show airplane! for the inflight movie? and airplane II if it's really long (in russian :)
posted by kliuless at 6:58 AM on June 18, 2002


I'm pretty sure they could have actually got to Washington by the time he was done with his prolix routine.

As far as the "no joking about bombs" thing goes, whatever you think of those rules (which I feel are justified at all times, particularly now), the pilot was just making sure that everyone knew the score, so if anyone did say something stupid, at least they had fair warning.
posted by stuporJIX at 7:14 AM on June 18, 2002


And on the quarsan, on the contrary, when you make a statement in public, the last thing you deserve is government interference or restriction.

you are correct, thewittyname, but perhaps it would be helpful if i repeated what i posted:

"you don't make jokes about bombs etc, if you do, you deserve what you get. usually arrested."
posted by quarsan at 7:16 AM on June 18, 2002


you don't make jokes about bombs etc, if you do, you deserve what you get. usually arrested

To simplify my point: No-one deserves to get arrested for making a joke.
posted by thewittyname at 7:26 AM on June 18, 2002


or "the name of the rose" :) black tongue!
posted by kliuless at 7:32 AM on June 18, 2002


No-one deserves to get arrested for making a joke

But how is saying "there's a bomb in my suitcase!" any different from yelling "fire!" in a crowded theatre? If the statement isn't true, but saying it could put people in danger, then the first amendment does not apply.

cracking a joke doesn't mean you are more likely to be a terrorist. In fact, a real terrorist wouldn't draw attention to him/herself like that.

Not necessarily. In such a stressful situation, people often tend to nervous blather, so it's not that unlikely that a real bomber might let slip an unintended remark.
posted by groundhog at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2002


seems maybe this conversation is over already, but i'll dump my two cents on the pile anyway...

i felt a warm feeling in my tummy after reading this, picturing myself on a plane hearing this would have been the single most memorable moment on a plane in my life, i'm sure. i laughed where (laughter) was written, and tho i didn't applaud in the end, i felt it. i took this report on this speech to be nothing more than one human being bonding with the other human beings in his care, due to his profession, at the time.

needless to say, i suppose, i was very shocked by the conversation that i found when clicked on that glorious comments link. tho, i suppose that's what this whole mefi thing is about anyway, getting people who probably disagree, talking.

to put in my tallies: in the interest of public safety, especially now, no joking. period. fair warning was his stance, as well as showing that he was human.

any other thoughts left out there??
posted by folktrash at 7:51 AM on June 18, 2002


how is saying "there's a bomb in my suitcase!" any different from yelling "fire!" in a crowded theatre?

ok, one is "saying" the other is "yelling." if you're sitting in a theater and you make a joke about the place catching fire or decide to talk about the Iroquois theater fire, they don't arrest you.

sure, if you yell "there's a bomb in my suitcase!" while on a plane or in an airport, that'd be different.

what happens if, while sitting in first class, you mention that you want to see that Judi Dench movie?

and really, "in the interest of public safety"? how's it making you safer?
posted by tolkhan at 8:02 AM on June 18, 2002


ok, one is "saying" the other is "yelling." if ... they don't arrest you.

right, but you also can't force the theater full of people to crash into a building killing thousands of people. i am amazed that there is disagreement over this, especially here at mefi.

again, i guess that's the point of this whole discourse, but man...
posted by folktrash at 8:08 AM on June 18, 2002


Anyone who can't refrain from making jokes about bombs or terrorists while in an airport or on a plane is someone who's an idiot at worst and ignorant at best (and this isn't new either, even before September 11th this was unacceptable behaviour, many airports have had signs warning you that you can be arrested for this for many years). It's not a matter of freedom of speech, it's a matter of being sensible, it's not unreasonable for those concerned with aviation safety to be highly suspicious of anyone making remarks about bombs and terrorists while in an airport or on a plane. I like what this pilot said.

And pracowity, I agree with you. There should be no way into the cockpit from the passenger compartment. The flight crew should have a separate door from the outside into the cockpit, and they can have prepackaged meals or something for long flights.
posted by biscotti at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2002


To simplify my point: No-one deserves to get arrested for making a joke.

I think the no joke policy is intended to cover the following scenarios:

1. Person 1 thinks of a clever bomb-joke and absolutely must tell the person next to him/her. Person 2 sitting in the row behind, overhears a few words like "bomb" and "explosion" followed by some muffled laughter and wonders, "Are these terrorists and I'm gonna die? or are these incredibly childish morons who can't wait until the taxi ride home to giggle about blowing people up?" Person 2 (after 9/11) feels compelled to tell the flight attendant and you know the rest...

2. Person 1 is conspiring with the person next to him/her to blow up the plane and are discussing the final details of strategy. Person 2 sitting in the row behind, overhears a few words like "bomb" and "explosion" followed by some muffled laughter and wonders, "Are these terrorists and I'm gonna die? or are these incredibly childish morons who can't wait until the taxi ride home to giggle about blowing people up?" Person 2 decides they're just childish morons and ignores it and you know the rest...
posted by plaino at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2002


Does anyone else wonder how a word-by-word transcript of the pilot's lengthy and eloquent speech came about? Was somebody frantically scribbling shorthand notes? Did someone have the presence of mind to start a tape recorder when the pilot cleared his throat?
posted by Tubes at 8:33 AM on June 18, 2002


Ooops... duh.... "Capt. David Miller stepped from the cockpit to speak to his passengers, who included Tribune reporter Jeff Zeleny."
posted by Tubes at 8:34 AM on June 18, 2002


plaino: Yes. Exactly.

Also, statements like "no one deserves to be arrested for making a joke" assume that, when someone makes a joke, it's always completely obvious to everyone that an attempt at humor is being made. And okay, is someone stands up and says "Knock knock" (Who's there) "Terry" (Terry who?) "Terry-ist with a bomb!," that guy's an idiot but probably shouldn't be arrested. But if someone who just got on the plane turns to his companion and says "I'm sure glad they didn't find the knife in my backpack!" -- what the hell? He may be joking and he may not -- who knows? And when the cops show up, his saying "I was joking" doesn't do anything to clarify the matter.

I'm as ardent a supporter of first amendment rights as the next guy, but insisting that passengers refrain from saying "bomb" while on a plane is no more heavy-handed than insisting that people not talk on cell phones while I'm trying to watch "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron." In both cases you are entering into a contract with an organization, a contract in which they agree to do certain things (fly you to Omaha or show me the horsey movie) and you agree to do certain things (like shut the hell up -- either entirely or just about omb-bays.)
posted by Shadowkeeper at 8:54 AM on June 18, 2002


...but insisting that passengers refrain from saying "bomb" while on a plane is no more heavy-handed than insisting that people not talk on cell phones while I'm trying to watch "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron."

No...it's not. Mentioning the word "bomb" on a plane can get you arrested, talking on your cell phone in the movie theatre, at worst, gets you kicked out of the theatre. On the plane, the government gets involved, in the theatre, it does not. Thusly, the First Amendment protections apply in the first scenario and not in the second.

Plaino, as for your two scenarios:

1) Arresting someone simply because what you are talking about makes others feel uncomfortable is a complete, total, absolute, etc... violation of First Amendment protections. If someone joked loudly about having Ebola, and someone overheard and started to think that he actually did have the disease and that they could get contaminated, tough. You cannot arrest someone for a joke whose primary purpose was amusement. If the statement happens to freak someone out, the right to make that statements always wins.

2) As for this scenario, I think this is what the airlines are hoping people think of when they hear about this policy. "It's a tough policy, but at least it might help up catch some terrorists." I say BS. Common sense and experience tells us that people who plan these attacks months in advance aren't going to expose themselves at the last moment with loose lips. You don't catch terrorists with thought police measures like this. Stopping terrorists requires REAL security measures like checking luggage, flight marshals, re-enforced cockpit doors and a dozen other things.
posted by thewittyname at 9:33 AM on June 18, 2002


WestJet airlines has been having fun for years. The stewards/esses crack jokes, the pilot comes on and razzes them, and there's a general feeling that everyone really likes their jobs. Dunno if we do silly terrorist speeches up here in Canada, but if we do, Westjet would do 'em with style.

Like the fact that pilots can (and maybe already have) crashed planes full of people into the ground.

All the stats you could want are here. Pilot suicide is a reality, scary as that is.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:42 AM on June 18, 2002


well, i was really thinking about check in, where you're asked about your luggage, packing, etc etc.........

basically if you make the terribly amusing joke "yes, i've got a bomb", then people must assume that you should be checked out. it would be unwise for security to do anything else.

this generally wastes everybody's time. it's not funny.

i do think the captain went way over the top and i defend free speech, but in very specific instances, i have no problem with these jokers having a friendly chat with the constabulary
posted by quarsan at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2002


On the plane, the government gets involved, in the theatre, it does not. Thusly, the First Amendment protections apply in the first scenario and not in the second.

I have rethought this point and now concede it. But the airline (or the representative of the airline, in the person of the captain) has every right to ground a plane if there is a perceived threat from a passenger, and jokes like the many listed above could be construed as such -- especially by those who, as in Plaino's scenario, don't catch the context. And I don't begrudge the captain for telling the passengers "When you say something that is the least bit provocative ... I will have no choice. I will have to land the airplane ... and you'll probably be handcuffed, arrested and taken off the airplane." Everything in this statement is (probably) true: he will be forced to land the plane (by the airline) and the joker will be handcuffed (by the police). He's not declaring his opinion as to what should happen, he's predicting what will happen. That doesn't cause me any concern.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 10:22 AM on June 18, 2002


Y'know, it seems like people are talking about this "don't joke about bombs" rule like it's something post-September new. But it's old, old news. I remember seeing signs in airports about this when I was a little kid, like in the late 70's maybe. Probably it's getting enforced now more than it used to, but it has long been a very stupid idea to make cracks like "I've got a bomb" when going through airport security. I'm all for free speech and the first amendment and all that, but choose your battles - this is a pretty harmless restriction on speech that makes a lot of sense.
posted by dnash at 10:31 AM on June 18, 2002


The concern I have here is what type of free speech entails no tolerance, as has been suggested earlier by Dreama. Sure, it takes a moron to mention a bomb, but what about people like Neil Godfrey, who was considered a threat simply because he was reading Edward Abbey? There's an intelligent way of protecting people and there's a paranoid manner of protecting people that entirely undermines their basic liberties.
posted by ed at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2002


just tossing this out there, but don't you have the same free speech rights when you are in an airplane as you do when you are, say, in a mall where you are technically on private property and they can keep you from doing all sorts of things that the constitution says you should be allowed to do?
posted by jessamyn at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2002


A very good point, jessamyn. And one that pounds home the argument that freedom of speech has become so increasingly privatized (e.g., Wal-Mart's refusal to stock CDs and magazines that they consider objectionable under their "family values" edict) that one can hardly express even a vaguely antiestablishment opinion without being arrested. Wartime only feeds the frenzy.
posted by ed at 10:59 AM on June 18, 2002


any other thoughts left out there??

i for one would have been proud, indeed honoured, to have called him my captain :) O capitan!
posted by kliuless at 11:15 AM on June 18, 2002


It is clear from the context of the speech itself
I did have a first-class passenger look at me and say, 'You have 13 kids?' His wife had to explain it to him.
that this pilot has given it many times before, possibly on every flight. Listening to some guy's boilerplate warmup speech is not going to be highlight of my anything.

Although it's mostly corporate folksiness, one passage towards the end
As I am looking back through the aircraft, I don't see any empty seats. First class is full...
suggests to me that Cap'n's real purpose in standing and delivering this little homily is so he (or the purser) can scan the passenger cabin himself with everybody seated. I'll bet that if he sees someone or something he doesn't like, the plane doesn't fly.
posted by anser at 11:19 AM on June 18, 2002


But... but... what if they were showing "Glitter" as the in-flight movie??? That's just not fair.
posted by teradome at 12:34 PM on June 18, 2002


Tubes: Does anyone else wonder how a word-by-word transcript of the pilot's lengthy and eloquent speech came about?

Yeah, I was wondering that. While the article/speech obviously provided a warm & fuzzy "i-want-to-fly-yaaay" feeling, my cynicism was making me question whether it was a genuine experience, or merely the ramification of an orchestrated public relations stunt.
posted by Hankins at 2:38 PM on June 18, 2002


Geez, people really are cynical and whiny. First of all, as stuporJIX meekly pointed out and no one really acknowledged, the policy is not the pilot's. It's United Airlines'. With this speech, he is preemptively letting passengers know that however stupid they think it is, he will act according to his employer's policy, as he should. As for those who would resent "listening to some guy's boilerplate warmup speech," I'm of the school of thought that says come up with one good speech and use it for the rest of your life. This is a good, amusing, friendly speech; it's hardly fair to criticize the guy for not having improvised it on the spot. Not every pilot does this, and despite it being "corporate folksiness," it's a valuable gesture, and not like we have any power, but I'd hate to see people's blind cynicism dissuade others from making similarly friendly gestures in their own capacity.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 4:59 PM on June 18, 2002


ed:e.g., Wal-Mart's refusal to stock CDs and magazines that they consider objectionable under their "family values" edict)

Are you saying that Wal-Mart has an obligation to stock CDs that conflict with management/owner values? Or am I just misunderstanding?

And re: joking about bombs, etc. In the wake of 9/11, there were several instances of passengers going medieval on fellow passengers who stormed the cockpit, tried to light their shoe on fire, etc. In light of that, if I was the captain, I would certainly tell everyone not to joke around about safety, for their OWN personal safety. Think about it: if the guy across the aisle from you is getting boisterous, and starts talking about the bomb he smuggled aboard--whether he's joking or not, many passengers will "shoot first" (pin him down, restraints, etc) and ask questions later. In a case like that, most people would rather err on the side of caution by restraining/punching someone who tried to cause a ruckus or otherwise frighten or intimidate fellow passengers & crew.
posted by davidmsc at 6:15 PM on June 18, 2002


I love this Metafilter place. "Shouldn't be arrested for making jokes about bombs on an airplane." What a hoot! Although maybe that's right ... you don't deserve to be arrested. You deserve to have your ass kicked by the other 250 passengers.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:54 PM on June 18, 2002


You deserve to have your ass kicked by the other 250 passengers.

Thanks pardonyou?, this discussion was getting boring :-)
posted by Juicylicious at 8:54 PM on June 18, 2002


I think Ed's link pretty much proves my point. You let some moron decide, you're going to end up wasting everyone's time. Like cops going through a Harry Potter book for 20 minutes before deciding it is harmless ...
posted by magullo at 5:54 AM on June 19, 2002


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