Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stuck Mic

A couple of weeks ago news broke about two pilots who were talking with a stuck mic. You probably remember. They were discussing the sexual orientation of their male flight attendants and the apparent ugliness of their female flight attendants. If you want to hear it, you can click here, but I don't recommend it. It's pretty disgusting. 

Anyway, their conversation went out over the airwaves and was recorded by FAA recorders and somehow it made its way into the news media. How does this happen?

Unintended radio transmissions can go out via a “stuck mic.” (“Mic” is short for microphone and is pronounced like “mike.”) Transmit buttons can get sticky. Dirt accumulates in them. Spilled liquid can short them. Or they just get too worn to function properly and they remain depressed after you release your thumb or finger after transmitting. The problem arises when you don't realize that the button is stuck in the transmit position. 

So after you have made your call to the tower, radar center or whatever, your mic remains “hot” and you don't know it. You turn to the other pilot and begin to chat. Everyone on the frequency hears it. Furthermore, because reception is inhibited during transmission, no one can call you to tell you that you have a stuck mic. It just stays stuck until you figure it out, usually by realizing that no one is calling you.

Thus the question begs, what do airline pilots talk about in the cockpit when the workload permits small talk? (This question will shed most readers now, but I'll go on.)

Ask a hundred pilots and you'll get a hundred differed answers, but I submit that the subject of the conversation is basically whatever the captain wants to talk about. He/she sets the tone. If he talks trash, then the conversation becomes trashy, or one-sided. If he is mostly silent, the first officer will probably clam up too.

Stuck mics happen every day, many times, but those guys picked a bad day to talk smack. The whole nation heard them fiercely disparage, with highly vulgar language, flight attendants, gays and women. The captain's (I presume) sex life was laid bare for all to hear.

In my experience I attest that the stuff you heard, if you
linked to that conversation, is extremely rare. Most of the gab I have heard, as both a working pilot and a jump-seater, is about ordinary stuff. Here's a rough hierarchy of common topics:

Politics are a sticky subject―rarely broached unless you can guess with a good degree of confidence which way the other guy leans. Got to remember, we're couped up with each other for three or four days and we don't need heated debates. That would erode crew coordination. So, if you determine he leans your way you can opine on political subjects, but otherwise, it's best to leave it alone.

There you have it. That duffus who let loose his foul opinions for all to hear is among the few.

Now tell me, if you had a stuck mic in your office, workplace, or home what would the world hear?

It's a big ocean. Follow that guy.