Want an Aurally Pristine Environment While Flying? Try the Cockpit

October 27, 2009 at 7:31 am | Posted in Attention Management | Leave a comment

Do you want an aurally pristine environment while flying on your next trip?  One where you can press a few buttons and silence all distractions from the outside world so you can focus on your laptop in uninterrupted peace?  No, it’s not first class.  It’s the cockpit.

Some attention management analysis seems to be needed in cockpits these days. I wrote previously about the danger of distracted driving, as demonstrated in a series of articles in the New York Times.  But how could I overlook the dangers of distracted flying?

The Wall St. Journal reports today “Laptops Cited for Pilot Inattention“. The Journal reports “they were poring over their personal laptops in the cockpit while frantic air-traffic controllers were trying to establish contact.”  Furthermore “according to some pilots, members of other crews have even been known to play DVDs on laptops in the cockpit to pass the time on particularly long overwater and international flights.”

Personally, I have mixed results working on my laptop on flights.  And even if I have headphones on, I’m constantly distracted by various dinging and overly loud announcements on the speakers.  But now I’m being told that pilots work in an aurally pristine environment?  It must be nice, far from the roaring engines, no cart bashing their elbows, no crying babies, no smelly sandwiches being opened nearby, no seatbacks in their face, the only snoring coming from your co-pilot (actually, I’m in favor of controlled napping to shift alertness to critical maneuvering times).  I’m rather jealous.  And surprised that critical alerts and audio from all sources can seemingly be shut off with a volume knob or taking off their headsets.

My enterprise attention management conceptual architecture describes the concept of channel switching in positive terms – that rules and routing can be used to redirect messages from the channel their sender intended to better fit the needs of the recipient.  But it also seems that channel switching was part of the flight 188 mishap.  The pilots were distracted right as a message was sent to switch the communication channel.  After missing it, presumably they weren’t hearing traffic control.  I’m amazed that a message is sent that communication will now switch to another channel and, without receiving confirmation from the listener, all communication now switches.  Perhaps waiting for a “roger that” is not part of the protocol for flight control messages such as “everything I now say to you for the rest of the flight will now be on another channel.  I hope you were listening to that. Bye.”

Obviously there’s a lot I don’t know about flying, and the situation here.  In fact, there’s a lot the authorities can’t tell about this situation either.  But as someone who puts on a lot of flight miles and studies attention management and interruption science, the things I’m hearing don’t give me a lot of confidence.


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