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Off-duty airline pilot allegedly caught texting during takeoff

Technically Incorrect: A passenger films someone apparently texting on an American Airlines flight during takeoff. It turns out to be a pilot from another airline.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Texting or making calls on a plane during takeoff is a no-no, but some people can't help themselves. Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis

Do airline rules about using phones during flights truly make scientific sense?

This seems at best unclear.

Airlines, though, are very keen for passengers to follow whatever rules are currently set. So we know that when the cabin doors close, we're supposed to turn our phones to airplane mode or switch them off.

What goes on in the cockpit? Do pilots, in fact, stick to these rules? Or do they secretly giggle as the fools behind them (us) obey orders?

A clue was offered by events on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, on August 14. As the Charlotte Observer reported Thursday, Chad Tillman, a patent lawyer, espied the man in front of him texting during takeoff.

He did what any modern (and legally minded) human might do. He filmed him. Then he wrote to Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines.

His letter read, in part: "I am sure he is a good pilot, but even a small lapse in judgment in his profession can get people killed, and it bothers me that he can so casually disregard FAA regulations in the public view. I fear what he may be doing in the cockpit that could jeopardize passenger safety."

You can see his point. Is this simply what pilots think is normal and acceptable? Are they usually texting and sending selfies to their current loved ones, as they're pulling back the joystick and sending their flights heavenward?

An American Airlines spokeswoman told me that this pilot worked for another airline. "The other airline's pilot is our passenger, so I cannot give out passenger information, because it would be a violation of our privacy policy," she said.

She told the Charlotte Observer, "I do know the other airline addressed the issue with the pilot."

How might this mysterious other airline have addressed this issue with this unnamed pilot? Perhaps with, "Look, we all know the FAA rules are bunkum. But they're not supposed to know that."

Tillman told the Charlotte Observer, "I started thinking, 'They've got these rules in place for a reason. The pilots, more than anyone, should know those rules and obey them.'"

The fact that some apparently don't might suggest that the rules are a touch arbitrary. It might also suggest that the pilot had a pressing issue.

Which do you believe?

Updated, 7:34 a.m. PT: Added comment from American Airlines.