Closed Off Cockpits

Q. You wrote: “Some of the ideas bandied about in the wake of September 11th would be humorous, if only people weren’t taking them so seriously.” Your list includes, “sealing off cockpits from the rest of the airplane” I don’t understand why the idea of an isolated cockpit is so crazy. Military pilots will sometimes fly for many hours without the benefit of even a restroom.

Permanently separating the passenger compartment from the flight deck would, for all intents and purposes, eliminate the chance of a cockpit intrusion. But as we’ve hashed and rehashed here over the months, how likely a threat is this to begin with, now that the skyjack template is shattered? Such a measure does little or nothing to preclude suicide bombings or other scenarios of in-cabin destruction. Flight decks are presently fortified to the extent they need to be. The threat has been met and the door to another September 11th is, in more ways than one, closed. The shock-and-awe theatrics put to use on September 11th were dastardly and effective, for sure. It worked for about an hour. Even the passengers on flight 93 caught on pretty quickly.

On the practical side, quarantining the flight crew would be a hugely expensive endeavor snarled in a host of logistical complications: toilet visits; access to food; emergency egress; crew swap and rest during long-hauls. Pilots peeing into tubes or chemical toilets is something I hope we never see. While I’m proud that our servicemen and women are willing to forego the luxuries of a lavatory, the less a civil airliner is to a military plane, the better.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.