Northwest Airlines brought another “distracted driving” issue to the forefront recently, when one of its flights’ two pilots missed their destination by 150 miles because they were busy with their laptops. It seems they became so engrossed in researching a newly designed work schedule system, they failed to hear the air traffic controllers frantically trying to restore contact with them. Delta Airlines, which recently purchased Northwest Airlines, stated “using laptops or engaging in acts unrelated to command of aircraft during flight is strictly against the airlines flight deck policies.” One former pilot noted that it is not unusual for one pilot to possibly use a laptop during flight, but it is highly unusual for two persons to use laptops at the same time. This led to two of the biggest safety violations in commercial aviation: pilot complacency and lax cockpit disciplines. Many airlines, such as Southwest, prohibit electronic devices, i.e. laptops, cell phones, PDA’s, unless they are approved by FAA and, in the case of Southwest, supplied by Southwest Airlines.
In the past, we have talked about distracted drivers being deadly drivers. There has been an abundance of articles about persons in charge of trains, buses or cars causing many deaths, all because they were texting on their cell phones! It seems the 144 persons onboard the flight mentioned above landed safely, along with the crew, but it does bring this issue to the forefront: we must not let all those sophisticated “toys” distract us from the job at hand. Pilots of planes, bus drivers, train engineers, and all other persons who have command of vehicles should give their full attention to the safety of passengers.
It’s a sure bet that the FAA and other government officials will be looking at this incident. It may not be the first time something like this has happened, but let’s hope it will be the last! Regardless of working an 8-hour shift or 12-hour shift, our employer is paying us for doing our job. We don’t get paid to sleep, play games, or use personal electronic equipment on the job. It’s too bad that being on long flights are boring for some pilots; but considering the pay they receive, and the lives that are in their hands, giving full attention to performing their job safely is a small thing to ask.