Pilot’s New Book Argues ‘Everything You Know About Air Travel is Wrong’

From white-knuckled first-time flyers to seasoned business travelers, anyone looking for a behind-the-scenes look at air travel should pick up pilot and travel columnist Patrick Smith’s new book. To compose “Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections,” Smith pulled (and updated) content from his former Salon column and AskThePilot.com to give a comprehensive look at the often misunderstood airline industry.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

More than ever, air travel is a focus of curiosity, intrigue, anxiety, and anger. In the chapters that follow I will do my best to provide answers for the curious, reassurance for the anxious, and unexpected facts for the deceived.

It won’t be easy, and I begin with a simple premise: everything you think you know about flying is wrong. That’s an exaggeration, I hope, but not an outrageous starting point in light of what I’m up against. Commercial aviation is a breeding ground for bad information, and the extent to which different myths, fallacies, and conspiracy theories have become embedded in the prevailing wisdom is startling. Even the savviest frequent flyers are prone to misconstruing much of what actually goes on.

Anyone familiar with Smith’s writing knows the opinionated pilot has an entertaining tone that strips out all the pilot-ese (similar to our own Kent Wein, who pens Gadling’s Cockpit Chronicles). In “Cockpit Confidential,” Smith covers everything from airline logos and cabin air misconceptions to the science behind keeping a plane afloat and explaining security issues. Watch the video above for more background, or pick up a copy over at Amazon.com to read on your next journey.

Ask The Pilot

Ok, so we missed it the first time around, when it was published, back in 2004. But it’s made its way to paperback and is now at Hudson News (at a lot of airports, so it’s easy to pick up while traveling). It’s Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot.

Based on his salon.com “column” of the same name, it’s really a series of questions and answers about air travel related issues, by a straight-talking writer, who happens to be a commercial passenger jet pilot.

The tag line says that the book is ‘for anyone who’s the least bit afraid to fly,’ but this book has enough in it to inform and amuse even the more “seasoned” flier.

He answers questions like, “what happens if a bird flies into an engine during take-off?” “What’s that smoke that trails from the wings?” “Will turbulence crash a plane?” “What’s a commercial pilot’s life like?” “What were the 10 worst airplane crashes?”

The one question he didn’t tackle: why is airline food so bad?