Stuck Mic Follies
The stuck mic is an occupational hazard unique to aviation. Even the baristas at Starbucks are miked up these days, but at least their foibles aren't broadcast to an entire universe of fellow professionals and recorded for the entire world to hear, as was that Southwest skipper's adolescent rant that hit the mainstream media this week. If there's a definition of a cringe-worthy moment, that certainly qualifies. (It was bad enough that several pilots made a point of denying ownership of the comments.)
I'm sure everyone has their own embarrassing stuck mic story to tell. Mine involves broadcasting two minutes worth of pre-takeoff instruction to a student on the Unicom frequency for the entire pattern to hear. Fortunately, it was early in the morning and only a couple of airplanes heard it. But my fellow pilots showed no restraint in suggesting how I might improve my instructional patter. It was embarrassing, but not mortifying.
But the Southwest incident was really something else. While it might be reasonable to assume that what's said in the cockpit off mic should stay in the cockpit, there are two reasons it might not. One is the ever-vigilant cockpit voice recorder, the other is that aircraft transmissions have always been in the open and are recorded by the facilities that receive them. And with much of this traffic live streamed and recorded by liveatc.net, anyone can hear it, like it or not, including the daily media. The CVR tape isn't much of a risk, since it won't surface unless there's an incident or an accident. But still, who would want to have a rant like that as your last words? Or, worse, have an investigator play it back for you while probing what your state of mind was when you landed gear up or committed some other survivable sin.
But all of that is really minor stuff. What occurred to me when listening to the tape was that this pilot's salty soliloquy was intended for an audience of one: the pilot in the other seat. My first thought was for that poor guy, who couldn't escape because it's his job to be there. Any airline pilot will tell you that another occupational hazard is occasionally being paired with someone with the social skills of a eight-year-old. That can turn a routine trip into a teeth-gnashing ordeal, but part of the professional pilot skill set is to cope with such things and still carry on professionally even if the other guy isn't.
One can only hope that none of this escapes into public earshot, although it certainly did here.