Top Ten Comments You Don't Want to Hear a Pilot Say

It’s not nice to eavesdrop because eavesdroppers sometimes hear things that are not so nice.

“The Idiots in Coach”

Like that time some United Airlines passengers were listening in on the “cockpit channel” – something the pilot turns on or off for passengers, as he chooses – only to hear a flight attendant refer to “the idiots in coach”.

Anyway, I have heard things from pilots I didn’t want to hear: cringe-worthy, scary and sometimes funny stuff. And now I share them with you.

Top Ten Things You Don’t Want to Hear from a Pilot

1. “Folks, we just lost one of our engines, but everything’s going to be OK.”

This was overheard by somebody’s mother and believe me, Mom was not happy.

Why do they say these things if everything is going to be “okay”? Well, I know the Department of Transportation is asking the airlines to provide “more transparency” for passengers, but I sincerely doubt this is what they had in mind.

2. “Whoa, big fella! WHOA!”

My editor swears this happened: a pilot yelled “Whoa, big fella! WHOA!!!” over the intercom, just as her jetliner touched down at LAX earlier this year.

“Everyone was laughing,” she said, and added “I know you’ll think I made this up, or stole it from an urban legend site, but I really did hear it.” Once she told me the airline, I had no doubts – Southwest.

3. “We’re 22nd in line for take-off…”

I was sitting on a plane at LaGuardia, when the pilot gave us the happy news – I say happy because he sure sounded upbeat about it. Were we supposed to be pleased that we weren’t 40th in line for take-off?

The pilot told us the delay would only be 45 minutes. Riiight. Calculators were whipped out all around me as fellow business travelers tried to figure the real delay; they decided it would be an hour and a half, and they were right on the money.

Could have been worse – could have been longer, and under the new 3-hour airline rule, that would have meant a trip back to the gate – and more delays.

4. “No charge, folks, that roller coaster ride was on the house”

This is what one airline pilot claims he says every now and again after a particularly nasty bout of turbulence. And I’m sure that just as soon as his passengers can scrape themselves off the plane’s ceiling, they’ll all share a hearty laugh. Or not.

5. “[sound of wind whistling through a hole in the plane]”

This was a surreal incident: a couple of years ago, during a US Airways flight, the pilot’s gun went off accidentally, blasting a hole through the plane.

The gun was legal – the pilot was a member of the Federal Flight Deck Officers program – but putting holes in your plane is frowned upon, and the pilot was fired (but later rehired – turned out he was the victim of a “flawed holster”). He can’t pack on planes anymore, though.

6. “Please move, we need to balance the jet”

This reminds me a bit of all the “too fat to fly” stories we’ve heard recently: A cargo door on a Thomas Cook vacation flight got stuck last year, and they had to load all the baggage up front – which made the plane “nose heavy”. The pilot directed those on board to move to the back of the plane to “balance things out”.

I’ve heard of this sometimes being necessary on private planes, but not on big aircraft that can seat almost 200 people. In any event, there weren’t that many aboard when the plane finally did take off, because 70 passengers decided not to fly – or act as ballast.

7.  “Hey, I didn’t know they had Cheeseheads in Minneapolis.”

Well, I suppose Cheeseheads can crop up anywhere but mostly we associate them with the Packers over in Green Bay – or perhaps with all those fine cows in Wisconsin. Which may have been some of the sights seen by those two Northwest pilots as they overshot their destination – Minneapolis – by over 150 miles last year (some say it was a lot closer to 200 miles).

They missed their “exit” because they were too busy working on their laptops to fly right. Hey, at least they weren’t partying, which brings us to number eight.

8. “Yesh, Imma pilot, siddown”

Love this story about angry passengers in Moscow who said “heck no, we won’t go” when confronted with a pilot they strongly suspected of drinking. Aeroflot executives insisted the pilot was fine, and then presented the bizarre reasoning that, even if he had been drinking – so what? After all, they explained, the plane “practically flies itself!” Not reassured, the passengers left in a huff.

9. “It’s ‘volunteer taxi time’ at JFK”

The Delta pilot said, “Due to the traffic problems here at JFK, they’ve instituted a volunteer taxi time program, and we’ve volunteered for the 8pm spot.” Which was an hour later than the scheduled departure.

My spy on the plane wondered why he didn’t “volunteer” for an earlier slot. None of the passengers groaned, but if looks could kill …

Just once wouldn’t you love to hear a pilot say, “We’ll take off when they let us – and we have no idea when that will be!”

10.  “Feel free to move about the cabin, but stay in the plane. It’s cold out there.”

I couldn’t resist this one, even though it’s probably not true. But if it is, you know it came from a Southwest pilot.

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Published: June 16, 2010