Author Interviews


Millions of Americans are preparing for that string of discomforts that accompany summer air travel. So we turn to Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and columnist who talks straight about air travel in his new book "Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know about Air Travel: Questions, Answers and Reflection." He joins us from member station WBUR in Boston. Thanks for being with us.

PATRICK SMITH: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: I got to ask: are regional jets, smaller planes any less safe than the big ones?

SMITH: I would never say to people be wary of regional jets, especially now that regional flying accounts for an astonishing, I think, it's 53 percent of all the domestic flying. This is an industry that 20, 30 years ago represented maybe somewhere in the single digits.

SIMON: Why can't people keep their cell phones on?

SMITH: There's a lot that's just not known about how phones interfere. It's unlikely that there would be interference, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence out there and there are at least two cases - one in Switzerland and the other one was in New Zealand - where accidents were possibly, probably traceable back to cell phones.

SIMON: In this book, you outline what you see as - I think it's safe to say - drawbacks in airport security, particularly following September 11th.

SMITH: You know, one of the big ironies here is that the success of the 9/11 attacks really didn't have much to do with airport security in the first place. They weren't taking advantage of a loophole in airport security, they were taking advantage of a loophole in our thinking. And that is what our understanding and expectations of a hijacking were based on a long precedence of hijackings in years prior.

SIMON: Well, you point out in the 1980s, because the object of those hijackings weren't to run an airplane into a building but to have the airplane stay in one piece and fly people to some other location.

SMITH: Exactly. And that was our thinking, still, on 9/11. It all changed very quickly.

SIMON: Anything you'd like to grab us flyers by the collar and tell us?

SMITH: Well, just, you know, I wish people could step back and maybe change their perspective a little bit and try to re-appreciate the act of air travel. It's not as horrible as everybody thinks it is.

SIMON: That's quite an endorsement. I don't think you'll see that in any ads: fly our airline; it's not as horrible as you think it is.

SMITH: It's not as awful as you think it is.


SIMON: Yeah. Patrick Smith. His new book: "Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know about Air Travel: Questions, Answers and Reflections." Speaking with us from WBUR in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us. Good flying to you, sir.

SMITH: Thanks for having me.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

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