You can’t handle the truth


Passengers demand to know the reasons for a flight delay, especially a mechanical delay. And maybe you can handle the truth, but I know from experience I can’t always stand to listen.

I mean, if politicians had to tell the truth, would you really want to hear it? Of course not.

When it comes to mechanical delays, ignorance is bliss. Most of the time, the cockpit doesn’t know what’s wrong, only that they can or can’t go. If all pilots told you the exact truth and held nothing back, it would sound something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Bob from the cockpit. God, I love the way I sound over this passenger address system. Anyway, we have a little blinking light that’s not supposed to be blinking. We have tapped it a couple times and it still seems to be blinking. So we are going back to the gate to get a blinking light specialist to put a sticker on it stating that it’s okay to blink. None of you will make your connections, but we appreciate you flying Honest Airlines.”

“Our lead mechanic is on his lunch break and won’t be back for two hours. Since we need his signature and the mechanics are currently in contract negotiations, we will not be going anywhere for another one hour and 59 minutes.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is generally a crappy airline and today is no different from the rest…”

“We don’t know what’s wrong, but for some reason the airplane is not starting.”

“Every time we push the throttle forward, fuel gushes out of the left engine. This can’t be good, so we are having someone check it out.”

“Management didn’t plan right this month, as we don’t have anyone scheduled to fly you to your destination.”

“We are canceling this flight because we need this airplane to fly to a more lucrative destination with more booked passengers.”

“The whatchamacallit won’t fit into the doo-hickey, so we have to have a new doo-hickey flown in from Missoula, Montana, but the next flight doesn’t leave from there until tomorrow night.”

Too much information is not always a good thing. The truth can be off-putting and many times not too reassuring. I agree it is important to tell it like it is about the time expected and the general nature of the problem, but I also feel that the specifics can, and probably should, be avoided.

I got inspired to write this column after a captain, adhering to the new Passenger Bill of Rights, disclosed the information that made everyone, including myself, feel very uneasy. The only thing he was able to accomplish was to generate a consensus of doubt about his flying competency.

Next time you experience a mechanical delay, ask yourself one question: Do you really want to hear the truth?