by Anna Costin
Many a Hollywood movie has depicted scenes of aircraft that continue to fly on auto-pilot when their flight deck crews have been incapacitated due to an act of terrorism or aggression onboard, often leaving it to an heroic flight attendant or passenger to land the plane. Films such as ‘Airplane’ and ‘Turbulence’ spring to mind, and the recent film Flight depicts a substance abusing captain. Disaster movie, drama or comedy, the images play on our fear of flying and cause us to question “what if…” those in whom we place our faith and entrust our lives are not in control. However in such thoughts we tend to think of the incapacitation being the result of a terrorist or criminal act or technical failure. Rarely, as members of the public, do we consider whether the crew themselves are mentally stable. The industry, however, in assessing risk, must make such evaluations and monitor the health, both physical and mental, of its flight attendants and pilots.
In March 2012, an American Airlines flight attendant had to be restrained by passengers on an aircraft at Dallas Fort Worth airport. She had used the intercom to tell passengers that the plane was returning to the gate due to mechanical problems and she then started ranting that she was not going to be responsible for crashing the plane. A colleague attempted to remove her from the PA system and some of the passengers then intervened when the unidentified flight attendant, who is reported to have had 23 years experience, began kicking and screaming at her colleague. Fortunately, the flight was still on the ground and a statement by American Airlines insisted that passengers had not been in any danger.