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Cockpit Confidential: The New Book is Here

Posted by Patrick Smith  June 18, 2013 04:09 PM

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Patrick Smith (that's me) and Sourcebooks are proud to announce publication of Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. Questions, Answers, and Reflections.

"A book to be savored and passed to friends." -- William Langeweische, Vanity Fair

Pitching one's own book is a little awkward, but I like to think of Cockpit Confidential as a wry, thoughtful, at times provocative look into the confounding world of commercial air travel: the ideal take-along for frequent flyers, nervous passengers, world travelers, and anybody yearning for a behind-the-scenes look at the strange and misunderstood business of commercial aviation.

More than just a book about flying, its subject is everything and everything about the grand theater of air travel (as I like to call it), from airport architecture to terrorism to the colors and cultures of the world's airlines.

"Patrick Smith has been called the thinking man's pilot, writing with a wit and style perhaps not normally associated with the ranks of commercial aviators. For the better part of a decade, his 'Ask the Pilot' column at was a singular and remarkable sensation: an aviation column, for heaven's sake, that could offer up trenchant analysis of an air disaster one day, then the next day stride fearlessly into politics, culture, or even rock music, and somehow tie it all together. Cockpit Confidential features the best of that material, refreshed and adapted into a seven-chapter volume of FAQs, essays and personal memoir. Whether it's the nuts and bolts of cockpit operation or a hilarious critique of airline logos and color schemes, Patrick Smith can riff with surprising levels of humor, insight and eloquence. Cockpit Confidential is smart, funny, and brimming with useful information."

Whether you're a skittish first-time flyer or a jaded million-miler, few books could provide more apropos in-flight reading. The seven chapter format blends questions and answers with informational essays and memoir. A partial rundown of topics includes:

-- How planes fly, and a revealing look at the men and women who fly them
-- Straight talk on turbulence, pilot training, and safety
-- The real story on congestion, delays, and the dysfunction of the modern airport
-- Terrorism in perspective and a candid look at security
--  Airfares, seating woes, and the pitfalls of airline customer service
-- The colors and cultures of the airlines we love to hate
-- The yin and yang of global travel
-- Gratuitous references to 80s-era indie rock bands

Cockpit Confidential is everything my first book, Ask the Pilot (2004), should have been, but was not. It retains the same outline and chapter sequence, but virtually all of the content has been updated and revised in some way. Close to 70 percent of the material is all-new, including new essays, sidebars, a glossary, and substantially expanded questions-and-answers sections. 

Print, e-book, and audiobook versions are available at booksellers everywhere, including, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.


Autographed copies can be purchased at an outrageous markup through the merchandise page of my website.


[Above photo taken at Porter Square Books, Cambridge]

Now, as for the title....

I know, it's cheap and derivative -- a blatant poach of Anthony Bourdain's famous Kitchen Confidential. But it wasn't my idea.

Okay, fine, it was my idea. Or, more specifically, it was a collaborative decision between me, my agent and the publisher. It's a touch misleading, as the book isn't the least bit scandalous or sensational, but I like the sound of it -- the alliterative quality. As one person put it: "There isn't a better or a worse title for your book."

I can feel better knowing that I have Bourdain's blessings, sort of. He was a passenger on one of my flights a year or so ago, flying from Dublin to New York. I introduced myself and told him about the title. He laughed.

The big challenge in the meantime is getting the title some exposure at airports. As was the case with Ask the Pilot nine years ago, getting airport retailers to stock the book has been difficult. I long ago lost count of the number of people who, when I was working on the manuscript, said to me, “What a great idea; this will be for sale at every airport in the country.” As it happens, the book can be found only in only limited number of terminals. My gratitude to Hudson News and BookLink for carrying it, but other companies have been uncooperative. HMS Host, for example, which operates in over a hundred terminals worldwide under a variety of names ("Simply Books" is one of them), has shown no interest whatsoever.

If that strikes you as a poor business decision, I couldn't agree more, as would most reasonable people. This was a book written primarily for frequent flyers, and if there’s a more opportune selling point than the airport, for heck’s sake, I’d like to hear it. Talk about a captive audience. Is it just me, or could there not be a more ideal airport impulse buy?

I’ve gone into several outlets and spoke to the managers. In almost all of these stores, the on-site staff have virtually no control over which titles are stocked. It all comes from the corporate level, and getting your book onto their shortlist of approved titles is very difficult (unless your publisher is willing to spend lavishly on a promotion). That your book is for and about the airport makes no difference to them.

Meanwhile, you get your pick of the latest sports biographies, Suze Orman, and the usual assortment of thrillers. The other day at the airport in Detroit, I stopped by a store that was hawking the autobiography of Mike Piazza and, get ready now, the new "Mother-Daughter Love Story" by Carol Burnett.

I can't get Cockpit Confidential in the store, but there are plenty of big heavy hardcovers from a retired ballplayer and an 80 year-old comedian.

Airport retailing is weird across a number of fronts, not just books. To cut-and-paste from chapter three:

It appears the evolution of airport design will not be complete until the terminal and shopping mall become indistinguishable. I can understand the proliferation of Starbucks and souvenir kiosks, but it’s the saturation of high-end boutiques that confounds me. Apparently there isn’t a traveler alive who isn’t in dying need of a hundred-dollar Mont Blanc pen, a remote-control helicopter or a thousand-dollar massage chair.

And what’s with all the luggage stores? Who the hell buys a suitcase afterhe or she gets to the airport? I can't think of a more useless item to sell there, yet there isn't a terminal in the world without a Tumi outlet or a store selling roll-aboard bags.

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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