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The Gods Pilot Must Be Crazy

February 14th, 2004

The other night my dad told me about a news story that was, to say the least, rather outrageous. It has to do with American Airlines, an incident that occurred a week ago, on Saturday, February 7th. Imagine you’re getting on a flight to New York, you’ve sat down and the pilot comes on over the intercom. This is the man who is about to take you off the ground, and will have your life in his hands for the next several hours.

One passenger recalls, “We were just at the beginning of our flight. The pilot came on to greet everyone and give his comments for the morning, and he said he’d recently been on a mission trip, and he’d like all the Christians to please raise their hands.” The passenger said that the pilot then “invited us to look around at one another.” The pilot added, “If you are not [raising your hand], you’re crazy.”

Well, as you can imagine, there was a shocked reaction on the flight. Everyone fell silent. No one but a few nervous passengers raised their hands, and even they only raised their hands so very slightly. Everyone was doubtlessly trying to process this information, trying to figure out if they heard right. The pilot then continued, asking the non-Christians to talk to the Christians about their faith. “He said that our flight time was four and a half hours today and you can either use your time wisely on the flight or you can just sit back and watch the movie,” it was reported. (The onboard movie was Under the Tuscan Sun; the main character’s best friend is a lesbian in the film.)

A lot of people pulled out their cell phones, and a few went to use the on-board phone, so they could call their relatives; obviously a lot of people were thinking about 9/11 at that moment. And the flight attendants, of course, had to deal with most of the passengers expressing deep concern over the mental state of the captain.

“Just given the history of what’s happened on planes in this country, anything can happen at this point,” another passenger said. “There was definitely implication there that we felt that something was going to happen.” The pilot’s comments “felt like a threat,” reported a third passenger.

The flight crew was so beset by passengers they could not handle the matter themselves, so they had to contact the ground staff for the airline. The staff then contacted the pilot. Now, if the pilot had been a reasonable man, he would have gone on the intercom and apologized to the passengers, explaining himself and putting the passenger’s minds at ease.

But he didn’t. Instead, he apologized to the flight attendants, saying, “I want to apologize for my comments earlier. I think I threw the flight crew off a little bit and they’re getting a lot of flak for the things I said. So I want to apologise to my flight crew.”

It has been pointed out that if a passenger had acted that way, she or he would have been removed from the plane and held in custody while Homeland Security officials were notified. This pilot, however, was allowed to actually fly the airplane. He later denied that he called non-Christian passengers “crazy,” but his announcement was clearly recalled by several passengers on the flight.

American Airlines refused to apologize for some time, but just Friday, they did just that. Fully six days after the incident. The pilot, Rodger K. Findiesen, has been grounded while the airline looks into the matter. “Let me assure you that we take this very seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation,” an airline rep wrote the the Anti-Defamation League. Really? If so, then why did they wait six days before apologizing?

Findiesen, later interviewed about the incident, said, “I felt that God was telling me to say something [to the passengers].” Well. That would make me feel much better. He also claimed that he was calling the Christians “crazy,” and it was “in a positive, even admiring manner.” According to the airline, the pilot “said something along the line of ‘look at all these crazy people who were willing to raise their hands.’ ” Findiesen explained, “I just wanted to give Christians a chance to talk about why they’re Christians. … I obviously couldn’t go back there and address everyone directly, so I used the P.A.” He said he was inspired to do this because he saw a “sign from God.” The sign? A problem with the plane’s braking system had developed, and then it “inexplicably disappeared.” So naturally, when that happens, it means the pilot should start preaching to the passengers.

“There’s actually no regulation against doing what I did,” Findiesen protested. “I won’t do it again, if you want to make a big deal of it.”

Man. Scary. I do not at all fault the pilot for his religious beliefs or commitments, but I would seriously question his judgment, a vital element of being a good pilot. Calling on passengers to talk about God? Before taking off in a machine that people are nervous might drop from the sky or be blown up? Calling passengers crazy if they don’t believe, proselytizing from the cockpit? I mean, it’s not as if he is in a profession where he would not be aware of backwash from 9/11, he’s an airline pilot, for crying out loud. He should know better. Had I been on the plane, I might very well have demanded they take the plane back to the terminal so I could get off.

And maybe it’s time this guy be given a job on the ground.

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