Thursday, July 12, 2007

Meet The Cockpit

If you're the forward FA, you are separated from the pilots by a door impenetrable by anything but sound, so you're privy to a lot of things that normal people never hear. One of these things is the Cockpit Voice. He lives in the cockpit, and he may well be the offspring of Mother from Alien and HAL from 2001. When the pilots crank the plane in the morning, he runs through everything he knows how to say. "Jetpipe... overheat," is one thing. "Fuel bay... overheat," is another. He'll also warn you when the door is open by cleverly exclaiming, "Door. Door." There is a communication system completely separate from radio that the pilots use, and he pipes up, "Cell call... cell call," when they get a message. Sometimes pilots that amuse themselves amuse themselves by telling a new flight attendant that he's detected a passenger with a cell phone still on and would you please go find them.
Most of the things he says are not that important. You can tell if the fuel bay has overheated because the plane will have exploded. But there are a few things he says that do mean something. "Terrain! Terrain!" is one of these things. If you hear that one, it's usually the last thing you hear. Another one is "Traffic! Traffic!" He says this when the Traffic Collision Avoidance System has tapped him on the virtual shoulder and told him that we're pointed at a place that another plane is pointed at. TCAS is very far-sighted, and so you usually don't have to do anything; planes miles away can set each other off. But now and again you'll hear "Traffic!" and then get plastered to the seat as the plane suddenly swerves to port.
I make it a point never to ask the pilots what happened when that happens.


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