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Welcome to Ask the Pilot, the blog for All Things Air Travel

Posted by Patrick Smith  February 20, 2013 08:20 PM

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Welcome to Ask the Pilot, a blog about All Things Air Travel.

Fewer things are more confounding, aggravating, and frankly, misunderstood than the experience of commercial air travel. Its mysteries are concealed behind a wall of specialized jargon, corporate reticence, and an irresponsible media that sensationalizes even the most insignificant incident. Almost everybody flies, yet much of what people think they know about flying is wrong.

In this space, I will answer your questions and address your worries and anxieties. I will also rant and rave about whatever facet of this weird and exciting business happens to be on my mind.

About me:

I grew up in the Boston area and live here still. As a kid in the late 1970s, I spent most of my weekends watching jetliners from the old 16th-floor observation deck in the control tower at Logan. I took flying lessons as a teenager, and had a commercial pilot's license by the time I was 21.

In the early 1990s, I flew regional turboprops for a Boston-based regional airline – the first of five carriers that I've worked for. I'm currently a first officer on Boeing 757 and 767s jets for a large passenger airline, assigned to both domestic and international routes.

I should tell you up front, however, that I'm unlike most airline pilots. What I love about the job goes beyond the hands-on thrill of flying itself. What excites me is the greater, grander theater of air travel in whole. As a youngster, the sight of a Piper Cub meant nothing to me; five minutes at an air show watching the Thunderbirds do barrel rolls and I was bored to tears. Instead, I'd pour over the system maps and timetables of the world's great carriers -- Pan Am, Aeroflot, Lufthansa, and British Airways -- memorizing the names of the foreign capitals they flew to.

Airplanes turned me on to geography, travel, and culture. By studying the airlines as kid, I was inspired, later in life, to visit places like Botswana, India, and Mali. For most people, whether they're bound for Kansas or Kathmandu, the airplane is a necessary evil, incidental to the journey but no longer part of it. To me, that's wrong. If I rely on a single tenet, it's appraisal of the jetliner as intrinsic to the journey.

This blog, I hope, will reflect that spirit. I want people to feel informed and more secure, but also rejuvenated about the idea of flying, crazy as that sounds in this era of endless lines, screeching babies, and overbooked cabins.

Some of you already know me. For nearly 10 years I was the author of's popular ASK THE PILOT series. Writing for Salon, I took on pretty much every conceivable air travel topic, from terrorism and security to airport architecture to analysis of accidents and crashes. You can visit the archive by clicking here.

The column was a bit eccentric and idiosyncratic, with regular diversions into global travel, politics, and even music (in the 1980s I published a short-lived punk rock fanzine). The idea was to appeal not only to those readers with a specific stake in flying, but to the generally curious as well. (As it worked out, many of my most devoted fans at Salon were people who seldom fly.)

The format was a mix of essay and FAQ. I would alternate reader-submitted questions-and-answers with stand-alone essays and stories (and, yes, the occasional rant, usually about TSA and airport security). The plan is to keep a similar format at

To help the concept get settled in a new home, the best approach is probably to begin with some reader-submitted queries. Surely there's something about flying that's been nagging you, so fire away.

In the meantime, to learn more about my work, and for examples the kind of things you’ll be reading, please visit my home page.

Best regards from Somerville,
Patrick Smith

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, air travel columnist, author, and host of In his spare time, he has visited more than 80 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives in Somerville. More »

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