Distracted Flying

Distracted Flying

The pilots of Northwest flight 188 told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were so engrossed in their personal laptop computers they lost track of time and overshot Minneapolis airport. A flight attendant on the Airbus A320 finally got their attention an hour later.

Work can be so boring sometimes you’ve just gotta surf the Web.

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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11 Responses to “Distracted Flying”

  1. Jonathan Melcaf Says:

    ATC communication channels may be annoying. The cockpit needs a big red button ‘Mute ATC channels’ to help pilots from being distracted while practicing to master landing simulation.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Jonathan Melcaf wrote: The cockpit needs a big red button ‘Mute ATC channels

    The Flight 188 pilots seem to have muted everything except the crew intercom.

  3. Bob Talbot Says:

    I don’t understand how a person could miss an airport by 150 miles

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    Bob Talbot wrote: I don’t understand how a person could miss an airport by 150 miles.

    It took TWO people, licensed (for the moment) pilots.

  5. andrea rouda Says:

    How gullible are people? Has anyone thought maybe these guys were engaged in another activity that had nothing at all to do with their laptops, but just their laps?

  6. Noble Goose Says:

    Great illustration Mike!

    Though I don’t think that was what was on their laptop screens.

  7. Vyper3000 Says:

    It’s VERY easy to miss something by 150 miles when you’re travelling at over 400mph… provided you are distracted for over 20 minutes.

    You can’t fool me: they were on World of Warcraft (LOL).

  8. J. Thomas Duffy Says:


    Nice graphic …

    Thanks for the comment

    The Garlic

  9. Annie Says:

    I’m waiting to hear what those flight recorders turn up.

    [Probably just muttering and videogame sounds blasting over real radio and instrument noises. ml]

  10. Bill Good-Pilot Says:

    They dozed off. First one pilot falls asleep, then it gets quiet so the second one dozes off. Even though its harder to do in the day, they are locked in, and there are no distractions, it can happen. It happened to me, a co-pilot and a passenger in a small plane one night on autopilot. It happened to Charles Lindbergh, so it can happen to anyone. It happens to people all the time while driving. But all other times, in my 40 years of flying, I always look forward to my destination. If I’m awake and just bored, want to get my approach and landing clearance and get on the ground as quick as possible.

  11. Big Al Says:

    Discussion and comments have run the gamut, to include both institutional and systemic problems with airlines; pilots aren’t paid enough, passengers don’t pay enough,….etc.
    Generally the 150 mile overflight “was no big deal” since it was only about 20 minutes at 8/mpm. The bigger issue is the 77 plus minutes of nordo…amounting to over 600 miles of flying where the only thing in control of the plane was the auto pilot. They should have expected clearance for altitude and/or course changes about 100 mies before getting to MSP…but no one was home! …so onward they flew.
    The “laptop story” as a reason for the pilot’s lapse is not credible, not plausible, didn’t happen. To cling to it effectively says they (both) deliberately and willfully neglected their responsibilities. So what was it, actually, that took them out of the loop? The only thing that fits the circumstances is sleep. Not especially uncommon, even for 2 pilots droning along with automation as their guide. They may have saved themselves a lot of grief if thay simply said that is what happened. As it is, I suspect they’ll be in non-flying duties for a lot longer time with the laptop excuse.

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