Tag Archives: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Robot voices made me laugh in emergency landing

“Computer voices that countdown to destruction are curiously calm. Wouldn’t want to panic just before the end of the world.” I was agreeing with that tweet from celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson while recently assuming the crash position during an emergency landing on a Boeing 757. I didn’t experience anything close to Armageddon and the voices counting us down were not computers, although they were barely human. This potentially catastrophic event made me laugh, as I rationalized that my coping mechanism of finding humor was as unnatural as the deliberate, calm performance of the flight crew.

A half-hour prior to our scheduled landing into Minneapolis, MN, a silky smooth voice alerted passengers about a small problem, “From the flight deck, our on-time arrival will be a little delayed so we can take a few minutes to resolve a minor mechanical situation. We should have you on the ground shortly.”

Five minutes later, a new voice was more restrained than the previous smooth jazz host, “Due to a problem with our wing flaps, we will be preparing for an emergency landing.” That’s all we get? I’m hearing Apple’s Siri with a dying battery and Amazon’s Alexa on Quaaludes. I want Samuel L. Jackson in “Snakes On A Plane”  screaming, “Everybody strap in. I’m about to open some (expletive deleted) windows!”  or Lloyd Bridges in “Airplane”, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop using amphetamines.”

Do all pilots and flight attendants go to the same voice school or is there a robot translation machine? Our next announcement was slower and more contrived, “If there are any firefighters or police officers on board, can you please move to the emergency exits in the event of an evacuation?” To me, this sounded somewhat urgent, but the energy of their delivery was falling faster than our altitude.

I found absurdity in the deadpan delivery and imagined Siri and Alexa delivering doomsday messages:

  • From the flight deck, there is no need to use the lavatory. It is satisfactory to remain seated and evacuate your bowels and bladder. Many of you have already completed this task.”
  • “There is positive and not so positive news. You will no longer be required to endure political posts on Facebook, but it is unresolved who will remove your profile from this social media service.”
  • “It has been three hours since you heard the word “robust”. That is no longer the case. Delta Airlines’ robust training procedures will now be utilized.”

When the flight crew took over, it was obvious that they also graduated from The Calm Voice School of Broadcasting, “We will be making an emergency landing in five minutes and we will practice bracing against the seat in front of you.” This was my chance to stand-up for all the victims who have been squished by rude, reclining passengers. I expected some panic, but it was eerily quiet while flight attendants made final preparations, “Two minutes until touchdown, brace for impact.” We assumed our positions and due to the malfunctioning flap, we approached the ground at a rate way above normal landing speed. (I’m no expert but it looked really fast as I peeked out the window to record video) Anticipating a heavy thump, there was only a soft ripple. The rear wheels lightly kissed the runway, the nose lowered gently and we met the ground with fire trucks greeting us. The crew slammed the brakes and we rolled to a smooth stop, a nearly perfect landing. More than 200 passengers agreed, erupting in into applause.

Through the clapping I exchanged texts with my wife and daughters. We said that we loved each other and they jokingly asked if I was disruptive and forced the landing, or if Jack Bauer from the TV Show “24” was on board.

After getting off the plane, my friend and colleague, Alaine Johnson Westra and I took a sigh of relief selfie.  Next, I needed to make one more call.  Siri, “What are the odds of crashing in an airplane?” Before I reviewed her response, I briefly reflected and truly appreciated the professionalism of the Delta crew and admired how they prevented panic with their curiously calm performance, and then when I listened to Siri’s monotone answer, I felt even better, thinking this was probably my first and last emergency landing.