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By Mordechai Schmutter

One of the most important things about flying, besides getting to your destination and maybe having your luggage get there as well, preferably on the same flight, is the flight safety speech.

Great. More speeches. Talk about a captive audience.

But there are things they have to tell you that can’t wait, like, for example, that you should turn off your phone. We’ve never heard of someone’s phone taking down an airplane, but when the pilot is trying to communicate with the tower during approach, no good can come from having his conversation intercut with bursts of passengers calling their spouses, so that the tower hears 50 different people saying, “I’m landing now.” I’m landing now.” “I’m landing now.”

We should be thankful, because the speeches could be longer. For example, they could talk about the safety ramifications of being in a tiny, cramped tube with a hundred other people, and that you should maybe try not to do anything to make them nervous. Like, for example, if you have to put on tefillin, it wouldn’t hurt to let everyone know this beforehand, and to maybe explain what you’re doing.

They also might want to mention that you shouldn’t do anything to annoy the people trapped on the plane with you. (No offense.) For example, if you’re flying coach, you should be aware that reclining your seat will make the guy behind you strongly consider stowing you safely in the overhead compartment. You don’t need to recline. It’s not Pesach. Also, it only goes back 4 centimeters, so it’s not like you’re reclining for comfort. You’re reclining to announce to the rest of the plane that you’re about to start snoring. But for the guy behind you, sitting with his knees wedged up against the back of your seat, those four centimeters make it feel like you’re resting your head on his lap.

I’m not saying it’s not okay to sleep on planes. Pilots do it too. There was a story of an Air Canada pilot who fell asleep while flying from Toronto to Zurich. Sure, we all assume that you can’t fall asleep while you’re actually flying a plane, just like it’s frowned upon when you do it in a car. We tend to look at the pilot as a sleep-deprived father, and if all of you back there don’t pipe down already, he’s going to turn this thing around, and there will be no vacation for anyone! Do not make him come back there!

So we assume that the pilots are up in the cockpit with their faces pressed against the glass and grim determination on their faces, because, like all the infrequent fliers on the plane, they’re convinced that this is the time they’re going to go down. But apparently, they do pretty much what we do while driving. They space out, talk to each other, eat . . . After all, statistics say planes are safer than cars. It’s not like there are any surprises up there, like some genius pulling out in front of them without signaling. The only way something can take you by surprise is if you’ve been sleeping.

And that’s just what this pilot was doing. At some point, the copilot woke him up to tell him that there was another plane in their vicinity. No big deal. The sky is a big place. So the guy woke up, and the first thing that he saw, directly in front of him, (the seats go further back, in the cockpit) was the planet Venus, which happened to be visible in the night sky. And since he was still half-asleep, he thought that was the other plane, and he took the entire jet into a nosedive to avoid hitting it.

“Holy cow! We almost crashed into Venus! Thanks for waking me!”

The plane ended up dropping 400 feet before the copilot righted it again—although, to be fair, 400 feet is not a lot of feet when you’re that far up. The official term for what happened, according to the report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, is a “46-second pitch excursion,” which sounds like something everyone had booked months in advance. “Yeah, we’re going on a pitch excursion. It should be fun.”

When asked about the incident, the pilot complained that he hadn’t been sleeping enough at home, because he has a bunch of little kids. And I guess the benefit of his job is that he can get out of the house and get some sleep. At least on a plane, you don’t have to deal with your passengers coming in to snitch on each other (“You didn’t knock. Go back out and knock.”) because you get to close the cockpit door. I wish we could do that in a car.

I don’t know why he swerved downward, though. I don’t know if you’re a good pilot if your first instinct, when you see something coming toward you, is to aim the plane downward.

But that doesn’t actually have to be covered in the flight safety speech. If you, as a passenger, fall asleep, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t hit Venus. This would be a good speech to give the pilots, though. (“Watch out for Venus. Also Earth.”)

Another interpersonal safety thing to worry about, as far as annoying people, is that if you have to use the restroom, and someone is coming out, you should maybe wait until he sits down, instead of pouncing like a vulture as soon as the door opens. Because if you do that, you’re going to have to pass each other in the aisle, which is built to handle, side by side, approximately two-thirds of one person. And if, at the same time, the flight attendant is coming down the aisle with the beverage cart, it might actually be easier for one of you to get out on the wing and come back in. Or have one of you duck and the other one jump over him, perhaps with a running start.

And speaking of the restroom, there was a story about a Delta flight from Istanbul to JFK that had to land because someone reported a suspicious item in the bathroom, plugged into the shaving socket. Personally, I’m surprised there’s even a shaving socket in there. Don’t you need elbow room for that kind of thing? Are people running late and deciding, “Nah, I’ll shave on the plane. That won’t interfere with the equipment!” Are they getting dressed in there too? Because if you think it’s tough to shave in an airline bathroom, try changing your clothes in there. You may as well change clothes in your suitcase.

So the guy told the flight attendant, who peeked in, panicked, and asked the pilot to land the plane in Ireland. (They happened to be over Ireland at the time. It’s not like she singled it out.)

It turns out the item was actually a phone, which someone had decided, against all good judgment, to leave charging in there for the entire flight. I know it’s good to be cautious, but did they really think someone brought a bomb onto the plane—the kind that has to be charged, apparently—and decided to leave it charging in the bathroom? (“Oh man, I forgot to charge my bomb!”)

Not that the guy charging the phone is that bright either. According to the article I read, the plane landed in Dublin, where police evacuated it and sent in a squad to retrieve the phone. Then they came out and announced that it was just a phone, “at which point a passenger remembered that he’d left it in there.”

Really? He couldn’t say something before? Back when everyone was panicking? (“I wish I’d listened to the lecture! How do I put on this seatbelt?”) He could have spoken up: “Oh, that might be my phone.” I guess he thought they were saying that there was a suspicious device in there in addition to his phone, and he was silently thinking, “I hope nothing happens. My phone is in there.”

So like I said, maybe it’s better to just not bring your phone. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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Posted by on June 6, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.