Asleep in the cockpit

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I live in the hope that there will come a time when travel will be so advanced that I can go to bed in Moville and wake up in Barcelona the following morning. Or at least there will be some type of ground transport option available meaning I can get there in roughly the same time it would take to go through the horrible process of sitting on a plane. Anything to avoid the boarding of a machine which will take me mid air and leave me feeling that every time we take off, we’re all minutes from disaster.

You’d think of course, in 2013 with technology as far advanced as it is, that we’d be at the point where we were able to feel totally confident about air travel, Actually, the entire opposite is true.

This week, another snippet of scary aviation news came to light. Two pilots were suffering from “severe fatigue” when they fell asleep mid-flight on a UK-operated passenger plane, it was revealed. One of them said he’d only had five hours sleep. I have a two year old, I know what it’s like to go to work on less than five hours’ sleep. In my case, the only danger to the general public when I’m a bit tired in work is that they might suffer a typo, although generally my editor will have picked up on this before it makes it to the paper. Either way, I’m pretty sure my lack of sleep would never put the safety of hundreds of people at risk.

In the case of the story which broke this week, the pilots were said to have been completely overworked and exhausted.

The Civil Aviation Authorities incident report said the flight crew were “suffering from symptoms of severe fatigue.” It added there was “insufficient opportunity to sleep” due to longer shifts.

Another expert said the situation happens often but that it usually goes unreported.

The question that should be asked therefore is, is air travel instead of being more safe, less safe than ever.

Decades ago, flying was glamorous. The job of being a pilot or an air steward carried a hell of a lot of kudos. These days, while we have much cheaper flights, pilots are overworked and apparently underpaid while cabin crew members would probably be better off working on the ground in a city centre cafe.

Meanwhile, people like me and the millions of others are left high and dry mouthed every time we’re rocketed 30,000 feet above the earth wondering if the man or woman behind the wheel is struggling to keep their eyes open.

You can chat any day of the week about budget airlines and low prices but I’d happily pay an extra bit the one or two times a year that I fly to see a well rested, happy in their work pilot with a big ‘I’m wide awake and I won’t crash this plane and end your life’ smile on his/her face.