American Institutions #7 : The FAA

‘Welcome aboard Southwest Flight 666 to Hell and Below. To operate your seatbelt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seatbelt, and if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised. In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are travelling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.’

Whilst Americans are now totally aware of the many factors which can cause an


airplane to crash – e.g. Afghans OR Taliban OR Iranians OR Iraqis OR Cubans OR Communists OR Domestic Terrorists OR Africans

OR pilot error
OR computer failure
OR operator error
OR Air Traffic Control error / overload / meltdown (anywhere in the world)

... and those of you on the right of the aircraft, please look left!

OR weather balloons (military, civil, Mythbusters)
OR flocks of birds / skeins of geese
OR volcano ash
OR The Day After Tomorrow

What they might not know is that, all that aside, the ONLY thing stopping them from a fiery exothermic explosion

Isaac Newton produces a reaction

10 times worse than Napalm-with-fairy-liquid-extra-from-a-great-height type of death, is  an uneasy coalition of semi-proven British and Italian Science, to wit a “Law” of Newton and a “Principle” of  Bernoulli (you can tell which is which as Italians don’t have laws and the English don’t have principles)

The Law of Newton’s at work here (his third, for those of you who are sufficiently relaxed to count – or care), is what provides the forward thrust. It involves lots and lots of barely controlled exploding unstable chemicals, loosely directed towards the rear or the aircraft, which provide the action to which the forward thrust of the plane is the opposite (and equal, give or take), reaction. These explosions are courtesy of aviation “fuel” which is stored in those slightly curved longish structures left and right which are the only thing between you and an abject lesson in terminal velocity (remember the one with the cannonball  and the feather? – substitute fiery ball of molten metal and your head).


Of course, with all those pesky uneven surfaces between one place and another (rivers, mountains, freeways, cities etc.), some elevation is required. This is where the Italians come in. Those curved longish fuel tanks (a.k.a. “wings”),  are curved for a reason. The distance from the front of the wing to back is longer on the top (the curved bit) than the bottom, and if one thing travels a further distance than another in the same time, it follows that the first thing must be travelling at a faster speed. In this case, the first thing is the air above the wing, and the second is the air below it.

This causes a lower pressure region above the wing and a higher pressure below, which, in turn,  produces lift. There are other factors, but basically that’s it.

As scary as that may sound, the good news is that the science seems to hold good most of the time, and the laws of physics are more resilient than most laws you’ll fall foul of during the course of your day.

So there it is:  on the average flight all you’ll have to worry about are the drunken, bored, sensory+sleep deprived morons (the passengers), the fascist waitresses (‘Dinner’ – ‘What are my choices?’ ‘Yes or No’) excuse me hostesses excuse me “flight attendants”, the failed window-dressers who “like to pack” and the altogether too relaxed pilot  (‘Folks, we have reached our cruising altitude now, so I am going to switch the seat belt sign off. Feel free to move about as you wish, but please stay inside the plane till we land.’) …




.. and provided that none of the (vital) parts are non-genuine “economy” parts fitted by Big Mel in Manilla (or Seoul, or Mexico City or Toronto or …)

… and the navigation system wasn’t really designed by Microsoft …

… then

‘Thank you for flying Delta Business Express. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride and the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of us.’ .

I'm sure you'll be fine



  1. #1 by Mona mind on 24/10/2010 - 12:38 am

    This is a funny story I heard – don’t know if true or not
    An award should go to the United Airlines gate agent in Denver for being smart and funny, and making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly as cargo.

    During the final days at Denver’s old Stapleton airport, a crowded United flight was canceled.

    A single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket down on the counter and said, “I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS.”

    The agent replied, “I’m sorry sir. I’ll be happy to try to help you, but I’ve got to help these folks first, and I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out.”

    The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

    Without hesitating, the gate agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone.

    “May I have your attention please?” she began, her voice bellowing throughout the terminal. “We have a passenger here at the gate WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.”

    With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the United agent, gritted his teeth and swore “Fuck you.”

    Without flinching, she smiled and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to stand in line for that, too.”

    The man retreated as the people in the terminal applauded loudly. Although the flight was canceled and people were late, they were no longer angry at United. 

  1. blog news … « Fairies of New York

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