14 May 2009

Continental, Please Clarify

Dear Continental Airlines:

Please release a statement, change a policy, and implement some rules. Please call CNN, create a twitter account, and start a grassroots PR campaign. Please, please, PLEASE Continental, tell me you train and test your pilots. Assure me you also train and test the pilots of the carriers you use. Tell me you do more than look at paper applications. Do not let my impression be shaped by the NTSB investigation of Flight 3407. Yes, the flight was operated by Colgan Air, but I see your logo in the video of the wreckage. So, dear Continental, I put it on you to fix this growing image problem you seem to be ignoring.

I really like your airline. I recently told the world all the things I enjoy, and why (despite the abundance of discount carriers) I think your flights are worth the money. My parents were impressed and told their friends. But all the quinoa, vegan cookies, and solid customer service in the world does not compensate for a pilot who may not be trained. Marvin Renslow failed three pilot proficiency tests, yet the FAA let him keep trying. He failed several "check rides," yet Colgan let him keep flying. He improved and did pass nine other inspections and tests a year or so before dying in that crash. But he didn't know how to use the emergency system on the plane he was flying. He was a slow learner and I have to say there are instances when allowances can not be made. A pilot with a learning disability and a co-pilot who knows she can't handle icy weather should not be flying together - especially not into Buffalo. Who thought that was a good idea? The onus falls on you Continental. It may not seem fair, but you should know it's all about perception.
"I hate U.S. Airways but Sully was obviously prepared." - Kate.
My good friend Kate also prefers Continental. She also has to take commuter connection flights when she visits her family. She is not okay with the idea that a poor pilot could be flying her plane. I am not okay with it either. Yes, flying is safe. And true, no one cares when planes land around the world without incident every few seconds. But inexperience can literally kill. When people pay to fly Continental Airlines, they pay you to get them safely to their destinations. They pay you to control everything they can't. That means plane maintenance, cabin pressure, luggage, and pilot capability. If I book Continental, Continental is responsible. I'm sure your contract with Colgan says differently, but again, it's the perception. Kate is scared other inexperienced pilots have made their way into your ranks. I'm nervous myself. I need you, Continental, to tell me it's okay, and to show me why.

It's not fair to single out your airline. The individuals at FAA and Colgan who allowed a "can do" attitude to overshadow "can't do" evidence have plenty to regret. And there are probably poor pilots at every airline. It's for the FAA to change. The agency needs a little discretion. Wanting to be a pilot should not be enough. Colgan says Renslow only disclosed one failure, not three. Colgan's HR department should learn not to take applicants at their word. My job called my references and I'm not responsible for any lives. For you though, it all goes back to that picture of the wreckage. Everything is burned. Nothing is identifiable. And there leans a tail fin emblazoned with your logo. I am asking you to restore my perception. Kate means a lot to me. Please and thank you.