Airplane passengers’ worst nightmare came to life on March 27 when their captain announced over the intercom that the plane was going down. JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon told his passengers to say their prayers whilst flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet.
Three hours into the JetBlue flight headed from New York to Las Vegas, the captain had a deranged breakdown — now speculated to be a panic attack — that caused hysteria among passengers and flight attendants. He began acting erratically, flipping switches in the cockpit and yelling words like “Al Qaeda,” “Iran” and “bombs.”
However, it was a moment of quick thinking for the co-pilot who tricked the captain into leaving the cockpit to check on something in the passenger’s compartment, and then locked the door behind him and changed the security code. The captain began pacing the aisles and banging on the cockpit door, causing panic among the passengers. After the flight attendants called for help, some courageous passengers stepped forward to tackle the captain to the ground and keep him there until the plane safely landed.
This is another incident that has contributed to the public’s growing demand for greater psychological screening in the hiring process for pilots and flight attendants. However, in reality, further screening is unnecessary and likely would not have stopped this or similar occurrences from happening.
This terrifying scare was an all-American story of bravery and quick thinking. Yet it has raised many concerns among the public about what kind of psychological screening pilots undergo and whether the process is sufficient. It has been especially stressed in light of last month’s incident when a JetBlue flight attendant, who admittedly suffers from bipolar disorder, began threatening impending doom over the intercom, forcing the plane to return to the gate.
Pilots undergo some psychological testing and training when they are interviewed for a position, but to the distress of many travelers there is little to no follow up. Pilots are required to get a medical examination every six months or so, and but an evaluation of mental stability is not usually included. This increases concern among the public, who will throw phrases like “9/11” around, as though that incident occurred due to a problem with the pilot’s psychological state.
We tend to forget pilots are people too. Instead, we see them as super humans who fly 747’s through the skies with hundreds of people’s lives in their hands. But pilots, like anyone else, can suffer from unexpected panic attacks at any given time and further screening cannot predict or prevent this, so it would be a waste of time and resources.
Another concern that has been raised is the fact that some captains are allowed to carry guns in the cockpit. This privilege does come with more intense psychological screening, in addition to several weeks of boot camp that test the pilots psychologically, mentally and physically. Although the exact statistics are confidential, the percentage of pilots who carry guns is extremely small.
Having a gun in the cockpit is not actually necessary, it just acts as another layer of protection against aggressors. Security lines, bulletproof cockpit doors and armed pilots are all just deterrents to make terrorists second-guess targeting airlines, and it is effective to some extent. If it makes any paranoid travelers feel better, it would be a great deal easier for someone to set off a dirty bomb in NYC than to attack an airplane in flight — not to contribute to any other paranoia’s.
Bottom line is, despite these unusual incidents, the U.S. airline industry is enjoying one of the safest periods in its history. Last year the airlines “were down to well below one accident per million departures,” according to an article by CNN.
With this information in mind, I think airlines are doing a more than adequate job when it comes to safety regulations. There are far more important things to focus on rather than demanding additional screening for those working in aviation — such as the revoked screening requirements for the transgender candidate for the Miss Universe pageant, because seriously, what is up with that?