Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Someone is Terrified of This

Continuing the topic of being proactive about telling aircraft passengers what to expect, a South African airline called Kulula Air has painted labels and explanations on the exterior of the aircraft. They've even answered one of my pet peeves by labelling the right cockpit occupant "co-captain - the other pilot on the pa system" to alleviate the fears of all those who believe that "co-pilot" is some sort of apprenticeship for someone who can't fly the airplane yet but nevertheless is the passengers' only hope should anything happen to the captain. I wonder if the "sun roof" label was originally concocted for the older B737 models with the eyebrow window, a feature finally discontinued about fifty years after pilots stopped needing an upward-facing window to take sightings with their sextants.

Despite the humour and the bright friendliness of this paint scheme, I wouldn't have voted for it, for a passenger airline. I think it will subconsciously frighten some people. A student of mine was once greatly discomfited by seeing a training aircraft from which the rear bulkhead had been removed. I showed it to the student so that she could see the cables that ran back to the tail, conveying her control movements to the rudder, elevator and trim. The simplicity of it startled her. She wanted there to be unseen magic holding the airplane aloft, not ordinary cables. I think a lot of airline passengers don't want to be reminded that their safety depends on the sum of a lot of nameable parts and people. They want the smooth shiny paint (and passengers will base their assessment of your aircraft safety entirely on the quality of the paint) to assure them that everything inside is there. It's the same reason you put pilots in white shirts and ties, and jackets with lots of stripes on them.


rw2 said...

Well, you can either join the industry in a race to the bottom with everything being the same from one airline to the next or shake things up like Virgin, Southwest and now the clever plane painters are doing.

I remember when southwest first started becoming well known that people made similar comments about pax wanting to be comforted by professional crews, not entertained.

I, for one, would love to see the stripes and uniforms mostly go away. They look dated and clumsy now that we're 40 years past the upsurge in designer clothes and 20 years past the aggressive swing toward more casual dress. I suppose I don't mind a dress code for an airline, but maybe it's time for one that wouldn't also be usable in the 1960's.

Joanna said...

I wish the smaller writing was readable (or maybe I just have really bad eyes).

I was also comforted, rather than worried, when learning about the many many backups in fly-by-wire setups.

Also, a book I read ages ago said the pilot and copilot even eat different meals from different sources, so food poisoning is less of an issue. And various other cool facts like that. I should really find that book again.

Jim said...

A technicality: kulula is a South African airline.

Agreed on the paint jobs - they are a hoot.

Joanna - the book might be Airport, by Arthur Hailey. That "rule" (if it ever existed) was spawned by one of those 1950/1960 airplane movies where both pilots ate common food, got food poisoning, and a passenger gets hauled out of the seats to save the day. If that rule existed, we can assume that the FAA, who never met an opportunity to create a new rule that they didn't like......

Aviatrix said...

Thanks, Jim. Fixed. I thought it was an odd name for a British company.

Joanna, I've never seen such a rule. In the places I've worked, both pilots were eating snacks out of their own and each other's flight bags, meals one of them had run into Tim Horton's to procure, or simply flew grouchy and hungry. Long-time readers will recall an incident where I used gestures to beg inflight snacks from the passengers, to feed myself and the co-pilot.

Maybe in the exalted echelons of Big Red there are separately prepared crew meals.

Rob said...

When I first started working towards my pilots licence I wanted to know exactly how everything worked, was connected... and stayed together.

The simpler the better, I found this reassuring.

dpierce said...

In the 90's, there was regional out of Texas called "Lone Star Airlines" that flew Metros. In the seatback pockets were laminated cards that explained "the various noises you might hear during your flight". I more or less remember two examples given ...

"SWISH -- The captain has landed the plane"

"BANG-BUMP-BANG -- The first officer has landed the plane"

Wayne Farmer said...

rw2, don't be so quick to disparage the clothing styles of the 1960's. Pacific Southwest Airlines had some very cute stewardesses flying on their "grinningbirds" in the late 60's. Maybe that's the kind of uniform you'd like to see return?

Sarah said...

I think it's ugly - hadn't occurred to me that some pax may be frightened by the labels. Maybe.

The funniest part to me is the name of the website you're pointing to.... how honest.

"News:lite It barely qualifies as news"

Sounds like most TV news.

zb said...

black box (which is actually organge)...


This: I call great humour.

Sarah said...


You're right. I withdraw my plink. It's awesome!

( The clincher for me was "(oh) captain my captain" underneath the lhs. Close second, "jump seat (for wannabe pilots )"

Here is a better picture of the lettering. Heck, just google ZS ZWP

zb said...


well, I could see how people might get disturbed by the lettering. On the other hand, I am not too much a fan of extreme political correctness and I do enjoy the type of dark humour that has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Most airlines probably would like to do everything to avoid having their passengers think a black box is on board at all because it might be a reminder that planes do crash from time to time.

As for myself, I'd even watch airplane catastrophe movies on the IFE if they were available.

Also I like the "best view in the world" thing below the windows. I hate being told to close the window shutters on long haul flights.

All in all, I'd say it's a mix of honesty and slightly non-pc but friendly fun and this has become rare, sadly.

Joanna said...

Oh hey, I can ask you guys all the aeroplane questions I have:

1. Why do you have to have windows open at takeoff and landing?
2. Why do they make you close the blinds on long-haul flights, even if it's a day flight?
3. Have both the pilot and copilot gotten sick on a flight before, simultaneously, and what happened?

Jim said...


1. The only reason I have heard for opening the blinds is so there is visibility in/out of the aircraft in the event of a crash - in particular, to be able to check for flames on the other side.

2. On a long-haul flight you are going to end up in a very different timezone (unless it is a fundamentally a north-south flight). Some passengers came from timezones even further away. Having the blinds down means it is easier for passengers to sleep -- or to amuse themselves with watching the movie.

3. To my knowledge, there has never been a case in a two-pilot commercial operation where both pilots were incapacitated. It has happened in Hollywood many times, but all sorts of unreal stuff happens in Hollywood.

Aviatrix said...

1. So that in the event of an emergency evacuation it's easy to see out and identify whether fire or debris renders certain emergency exits unsafe.
2. So that your fellow passengers can see the movies, which helps to pacify them and make them less likely to roam around the cabin, press the call buttons or ponder their mortality.
3. I don't know of both pilots getting sick, but there was a Fed Ex hijacking where both the captain and co-pilot were beaten almost to death, and there are plenty of instances where pilots become ill while working alone. In such a case the crew does the best they can under the circumstances. In the Fed Ex case the beaten crew had enough working limbs and eyes between the two of them to land the airplane. One can still fly an airplane while puking, feverish and suffering abdominal cramps.

dpierce said...

The "dimmable" windows in the 787 should be great for those longhaul flights. People with claustrophobia and airsickness can still look out and see the horizon while still keeping most of the sunlight from shining through.

SwL_Wildcat said...

I like their idea of a sunroof better than Aloha's idea. There are plenty of examples of what happens when both crew members are incapacitated. It's almost always the same end result; a large crater.

Elizabeth McClung said...

sWL-wildcat: Aloha flight, okay, I went on that exact same airport, same company, the works recently - and I am VERY glad that while I knew of this incident, I did not know that I was, er, going into the same airspace (I know the odds of it happening twice are so low but oddly people don't like going by places where disasters happen, much less relive them up to the point where the canopy rips off). Makes perfect sense, but thankfully ignorance was bliss- thanks for the info, I had a 'holy Sh*T moment when I saw Hilo Airport and the plane though).

Michael5000 said...

Perhaps I'm being a bit detail-oriented, but the "Captain, My Captain" line -- quoting Walt Whitman's eulogy to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln -- strikes an odd note.

Otherwise, I'm all for creative plane-painting.