Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections

By Patrick Smith

(Sourcebooks, $14.99, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

So who is Patrick Smith, anyway? We know he is a commercial airline pilot, air travel columnist and author, but we aren’t sure that is his real name or which airline he flies for. We know he wrote the “Ask the Pilot” column on from 2002 until 2012 and that he still writes a blog called askthepilot,com. We know he grew up in Revere, Mass., and still lives near Boston, has appeared many times on radio and TV and is often quoted in the media. He began flying as a copilot on 15-seat turboprops and went on to fly cargo and passenger jets. For sure, we know that he knows a whole lot more than we know about flying and airports and the entire airline industry.

What is this book about?

Here is what Smith says about why he wrote this book:

“More than ever, air travel is a focus of curiosity, intrigue, anxiety and anger.  In these pages I do my best to inform and entertain.  I provide answers for the curious, reassurance for the anxious and unexpected facts for the deceived. 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 of bad information, and the extent to which different myths, fallacies, wives’ tales 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.

“Which isn’t surprising.  Air travel is a complicated, inconvenient, and often scary affair for millions of people, while at the same time cloaked in secrecy.  Its mysteries are concealed behind a wall of specialized jargon, corporate reticence and an irresponsible media.  Airlines, it hardly needs saying, aren’t the most forthcoming of entities, while journalists and broadcasters like to keep it simple and sensational.”

So Smith has written a book to demystify the many aspects of air travel. It may not make your trips any smoother – in the airport or in the sky – but having read it, you will have a better understanding of why things go the way they do.

Why you’ll like it:

Whether you are frightened more by the idea of being in a metal box up in the sky or by the endless potential for hassles at the airport, this book can help. Smith offers a powerful combination of insider knowledge and experience, leavened with a great sense of humor, something that always comes in handy when you need to travel by air. He’s good at explaining otherwise incomprehensible rules and regulations and the features of planes and airports. Reading his book is like having a conversation with a very knowledgeable friend. And remember, knowledge is power.

What others are saying:

“Patrick Smith is extraordinarily knowledgeable about modern aviation and communicates beautifully in English, not in pilot-ese. The ideal seatmate, a companion, writer, and explorer,” says Alex Beam in the Boston Globe.

“I wish I could fold Patrick Smith and put him in my suitcase,” says Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “If you’re a white-knuckle flyer, this informative, comprehensive book on air travel is for you. Smith, an airplane pilot and travel writer, takes the mystery out of commercial aviation by giving the reader the basic elements of flight, explaining how these large planes stay airborne; the dangers of takeoffs and landings; and the dreaded presence of wind shear and turbulence. Casual in tone though detailed, Smith’s narrative does not skirt the safety issues of lightning and bird strikes on the aircraft, and one of the most dangerous problems— ice build-up. Whether he’s writing about the confined legroom of the “puddle jumper regional jets” or the rigid training of pilots, he never gets caught in industry jargon or talking down to the reader. The regular air passenger will be intrigued by his expert take on the hazards of the modern airport, with overbooking, delays, and lapses in customer service, while the nervy one might gain a measure of relief—or not. Along with the inside scoop on collisions, crashes, and terrorism in air history, Smith paints an unflinching portrait of modern air travel with several fresh and unexpected insights.”

“Cockpit Confidential”… was eminently readable from the first page. Much of the book is presented in a question and answer format. Almost any question you have ever had about any aspect of commercial flying is addressed. Smith is extraordinarily comprehensive and just as extraordinarily lucid in his explanations.

The many anecdotes give the book a very personal touch, too. Since Smith has been fascinated by aircraft since childhood, since he’s been an airline pilot since 1990, he certainly has the qualifications to write this book. Luckily for readers, he’s also a gifted writer, unafraid to tackle controversial subjects like airport security, flight delays, and airline customer service (or the lack thereof). He’s a talented researcher, giving a brief history of airline disasters. He discusses the people who fly the planes, who make up the crew, and how they are trained. The book is very thorough,” says the blog called The Spotted Tail.

When is it available?

It’s waiting for takeoff at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight Branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

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