Captain Steve Answers Your Airline Questions
A while back, we began soliciting reader questions for Captain Steve, a captain with a major U.S. airline. He made his debut here, with his rather spirited take on the state of the modern pilot, and now is back with his first round of answers to reader questions. Thanks to him, and to you — and please leave new questions for Captain Steve in the comments section below.
Seriously, how does my keeping my iPod on affect flights taking off? It’s so annoying when they ask me to turn my iPod off; I’ve had it on (secretly, of course) and the flight has never really had a problem taking off. — Schmetterling
These rules are derived to the lowest common denominator. The F.A.A. can’t seem to screen every piece of hardware, so they go to the lowest, safest level: off.
How safe is it to fly regional jets compared to larger planes? How experienced (in general) are the pilots of the regional jets? Do pilots today begin their careers with regional airlines or other types of flying such as cargo planes, military, etc? — Alissa Murphy
See my previous post of a few weeks ago. I have very strong opinions about that.
I have been on too many flights to count where our flight path and altitude has the plane flying through clouds for many minutes at a time. I wonder why this happens, and wonder what is involved with a pilot getting permission to alter his/her path or altitude so that this annoyance can be avoided. Or is this such a minor thing to a pilot that he or she just doesn’t care? I’ve always been a fan of crew members who give updates from the cockpit as to why certain things are happening (turbulence, turning, circling, etc.) and wonder how you, Steve the pilot, feel about whether this is useful or not. — Doug Schoemer
I too like it smooth. My philosophy has been that if I do my job right, you never feel the airplane. But that is too simplistic. We avoid some clouds if we are able, but some are more rough than others. It is not a minor thing to us pilots. Turbulence is not enjoyed. It can upset folks and in some cases people get hurt. We never want that.
I remember hearing that landings are completely controlled by auto-pilot. Is this true? How much actual flying do pilots do? — Jeff
Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of landings are made with the pilots at the controls all the way until the wheels touch the ground. Rarely do we ever do automatic landings. Yes, the technology exists, but it is impractical in everyday airspace congestion.
How is it possible that a roundtrip ticket for the route DEN->PDX->EUG is cheaper than the roundtrip ticket for DEN->PDX? Same flights, planes, airline, and schedule. — H
Because the airlines like to fill the seats. Everyone wants a non-stop flight if they can get one. Filling seats into and out of a hub is easier. Getting the seats filled on the connecting flights is the goal.
During weather delays, do airlines serving their hub get preference in takeoff and landing order? If I’m going through Chicago, should I always fly United? — Sam Carter
No they don’t get preference, even if it seems that way. There is sequencing done in Washington Air Traffic Control Headquarters based on many variables.
Malcolm Gladwell once made the point that all aspects of travel, including ground transportation, airports, hotel/lodging, are all profitable businesses except for the air carrier business itself that feeds those businesses. David Einhorn wrote his senior thesis on how airline profitability is cyclical and inversely correlated with the level of regulation (when carriers become profitable, the government steps in and regulates the profitability away, when they see that this bankrupts them, they lower regulation, and the cycle continues). What are some ways traditional carriers can emerge from chronic unprofitability? Lower regulation? Lower pension benefits? — vimspot
You might get me into another of my pet peeves. Contrary to the regulation, the airline business has never really been able or allowed to operate under a truly free market environment. The government continues to meddle in the business. It doesn’t let airlines go out of business as a rule, even though several of the current airlines should have been allowed to die. Trust the market. Even if there were only a few airlines, the market, not the government, would set the fair price of air travel. But we shall never know what true free markets would allow to stabilize the cycles for all of us.