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Book Review: Ask the Pilot

Title: Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel (Paperback)
Author: Patrick Smith: Airline pilot and Salon.com’s air travel columnist

This didn't seem like a book for me when I originally saw it in Barnes & Noble. I expected to find "which airline has the best food" and "Can I bring my triple blade turbo charged razor on board", etc. I was pleasantly surprised to find my assumption to be quite wrong.

The book is made up of questions that have been put to the author, and airline pilot by trade who cut his teeth hauling cargo, by his readers of a column he writes for Salon.com.While the daily flyer or the first time scaredy-pants passenger could certainly benefit from a few of the many reassuring facts about the safety of commercial aviation, even the aviation enthusiast (me, probably you) will find this to be a hard book to put down. Being one of those suckers for the romance of aviation, I was struck early on in the book as Smith proclaims he has a "limited fascination with the sky", and the the "sight of a piper Cub does nothing for me". To me this borders on sacrilege, but the author continues that his fascination since childhood has always lay with the inner workings of the airlines, from the mechanics to the paint scheme on the planes themselves, and the author does obviously have some appreciation for the "magic" of flight. He disagrees with those who complain about cramped seats, crappy air, and worse food, stating "Okay, flying sucks, but if you can’t value the idea of zipping to Hong Kong in twelve hours in a million-pound machine, there’s a problem."

Well said.

While there were a couple of questions and answers I skipped, they were all things I learned in ground school. (How a wing works, what the numbers on the runways indicate.) However, these basics are in small number, and mixed with much more fascinating questions. Maybe an airline pilot wouldn't take much from the book, but as a Private Pilots License holder, there was plenty in here to keep me interested. From Smith's personal tales from the airways to the ongoing Boeing vs. Airbus debate, from what the in cabin chimes mean to how much regional pilots can expect to make. (I feel for you guys.) Smith's approach is direct and to the point. He pulls no punches in his discussions of airline accidents, the causes of them and the likelihood it will happen again. He tackles airport security in a refreshing manner, opposed to the usual doomsday approach of the FAA. He covers proposed airline safety measures including gun-carrying pilots and a system that refuses to allow the plane into certain airspace, and all of it with an eye for detail and a biting wit.

I think Publishers Weekly summed this one up well. "Smith has both aviation expertise and the ability to write with sassy intelligence, which turns out to be a winning combination for this book on the weird and fascinating world of commercial flying".

You can buy it here.

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