It is generally known that there has been an uptick in workplace violence this past year. This trend is certainly visible in the world of law enforcement, where 33 officers have died by gunfire this year. Last year there were 46 killed in the entire year. This phenomenon is also most visible in the airline industry, where “air rage” is becoming an almost daily occurrence. 

Every day it seems we have a new video of some moron who’s gone ape-crap crazy on an airplane. The scenario might just involve uncontrolled shrieking, or it could include fisticuffs between passengers or airline personnel. Either way the ending scene is almost always the same. A gaggle of uniformed officers is seen struggling to drag some raving lunatic off the plane while they scream incessantly that they have rights and have done nothing to deserve such treatment. 

It’s kind of like watching Hillary after the 2016 election.

Last week, however, the airline industry reached a new high in lows when a physical fight broke out on an aircraft. This time, it wasn’t between two passengers arguing over a critical issue such as who got the last pack of peanuts. It wasn’t a fistfight between flight attendants at 37,000 feet. No, this physical fight was between the pilots of an Iraqi Airways flight; traveling at 37,000 feet with 157 passengers on board. The altercation started over a food tray and ended when security officers onboard intervened. It is reported that equipment in the cockpit was damaged during the altercation. 

Now, it is at this point of the story that some red-blooded conservative patriots who are unapologetic for American Exceptionalism would simply snort and make a derisive comment about flying on any third world airline. But I won’t do that here (I’ll do it in my office when you’re not looking). After all, it is perfectly civilized to have your pilots break out into a full-fledged brawl requiring security personnel to storm the cockpit and break up the melee. Happens all the time here in the states. 

Well, ok, it kind of happened once when that Jet Blue pilot “went around the bend” and ended up getting locked out of the cockpit by his first officer, and he proceeded to bang on the cockpit door demanding to be let in because the terrorists were going to attack and the plane was going to crash and they were all going to die.

Good times.

By the way, that pilot sued the airline for $15 million, blaming them for not recognizing that he was unfit to fly. 

And the good times keep on coming.

Back on Iraqi Airways, it had to be some experience, sitting in your seat, minding your own business, and learning that the two guys charged with flying you safely from point A to point B were busy beating the crap out of each other. It brings a whole new meaning to the words roll, pitch and yaw. Call me old fashioned, but I would like my pilots to know that “angle of attack” is not a cockpit assault strategy. And the only flaring we want to see from the cockpit is when they are landing the damn thing. 

This would be a good time for Iraqi Airways, which had previosuly been banned from flying into the European Union for “unspecified safety concerns,” to consider a good Crew Resource Management program. That concept, also called Cockpit Resource Management, or CRM, is designed to avoid human errors in flying by improving communications and teamwork of the flight crew. Prior to the implementation of this practice, in many “flying cultures” the Captain was treated as a god-like figure, never to be questioned by his inferior underlings. This environment sometimes meant that a pilot, distracted by a burned-out bulb or an unusual sensor reading, would fly his aircraft into the ocean, or a mountain, or just run out of fuel and plummet to earth somewhere while on final approach. Investigators often found that the First Officer or others in the cockpit knew of the impending danger but were afraid to directly address the Captain for fear of retribution. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d take retribution over planting my face in the ocean at 450 mph any day. Just a little comment, like “Hey, dumbass! We’re almost out of gas! Stop screwing with the disgronificator and help me land this pig. I don’t want to be featured on Air Disasters!” should do the trick. (“Air Disasters” is a terrific series on the Smithsonian Channel that I highly recommend. Documenting investigations into major air accidents, it is an eye opener regarding the world of flight. Several episodes feature incidents that address the phenomenon I discuss here. On a related note and from real life experience, I would not recommend recording it on your iPad and viewing episodes while on a plane. It turns out the flying public has no sense of adventure.)

Airlines, the FAA and the NTSB recognized that such fatal incidents were not viewed favorably and could produce negative Yelp reviews. The CRM concept was developed to correct that cultural flaw. It appears that the idea has not yet reached the 13thcentury, since the Iraqi Airways co-pilot reported that the conflict began when “conversation with the pilot became heated because he forbade an air hostess from bringing me a meal tray.” The pilot apparently became enraged because the co-pilot “had not asked for authorization” to be served the meal. The pilot reportedly resumed the attack once the plane had safely landed. 

They have both been suspended and it is reported they “may never fly again.” That would probably be a good thing, since by all accounts they were barely flying in the first place. It seems the only things these guys will be able to let fly in the future is their fists. 

Let us all hope they stay firmly grounded in the effort.

 

 

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