At the Airport

Southwest Airlines has lost a pilot. There is a perfectly good airplane sitting at the gate with a full compliment of passengers and crew, but not enough pilots.

Delays like this are unfortunate, but there is nothing for me to do about it, unless I join in the hunt for the missing pilot. Where to look? Passed out in a bathroom stall? Asleep in a lounge? The one thing that will be true is that the pilot will be at the last location searched.

Thinking about transportation, much of the terminology seems to come from ships on the water. We board trains, we board planes, but we don’t board autos. We get in autos. And why do we insist on calling them airplanes? Are there groundplanes?

Pilot is a nautical word, and captain is a nautical title. But in announcements on the plane they refer to the left side or the right side, instead of port and starboard.

In case you are confused there is a nifty trick to help remember the difference. Port has the same number of letters as left. And starboard has more letters and right has more letters. I know that starboard has a lot more letters but you get the point.

Going further into the source of the words might help as well. The port side of the vessel always came closest to the dock. The reason is that the starboard side had the steering board lashed to the side, so if they came into port on that side it would crush their rudder. It took a few centuries to place the rudder at the very end of the ship.

Another piece of trivia, the rudder steers the ship in the desired direction. It is thought that rudder comes from “rutter”, the written directions for navigation, passed from captain to captain.

George Carlin has a great monologue about the terminology of airports. He wonders about “getting on board”. He doesn’t want to get on the plane, he wants to get in the plane. He has a fear that he might have to hang on to the wing like gremlins.

Another interesting word gremlin. It comes out of the early years of flight, when pilots had difficulties with random problems on the aircraft. Gremlins were thought to be the source. The famous Twilight Zone television program’s episode of a young man seeing Gremlins fly out of the storm clouds to land on the wing, then start tearing the flaps apart is a perfect example of the belief. Oh, the young man was none other than William Shatner, who later as the Star Trek captain had a variety of gremlins attack his spacecraft.

A complete aside…. Why in the world world would American Motors name one of their models the “Gremlin”? That is as bad as when Chevrolet named their model “Nova”, which in Spanish was “no go”.

A new captain drove in from San Francisco, so everything is okay. I still wonder where is the missing pilot? Gremlins?