If you learned upon landing that your plane’s pilots had overshot the airport by 150 miles
because they fell asleep at the controls, what would you feel?
I’d feel a mix of the above. In this
week’s latest hit to the airline industry, a Northwest flight to
Minneapolis overshot its destination and pilot
fatigue could be to blame. Of course, the pilots are saying they were in an
argument at the time and that’s the reason for the blunder (not that I’d like
to see my pilots so distracted over a “debate” that they still overshoot the
Fatigue among pilots has been a recurring theme this year, punctuated earlier this year by the
near Buffalo that was partly blamed on fatigue (that crash was blamed on
The Federal Aviation
Administration is rewriting its rules that govern flight time for pilots
and their required rest periods in order to reduce the chances of fatigue. It
will be the first update to the rules in decades and will utilize research that
wasn’t available before.
Does that make me feel better the next time I fly?
A little, maybe. Trouble is, it can be hard to legislate such rules. And sometimes fatigue over a series
of poorly slept nights can catch up to you days later. In other words, you could
have a sleep-deprived weekend, feel okay on Monday but be a zombie on Tuesday
when you’re expected to perform—and the lives of countless others are in your
I’ve written about shift
workers a lot in the past. But those who have jobs that put the lives of
many others at stake should be scrutinized to a much higher degree. If it’s
that easy to fall asleep at the controls of an airplane—without the airplane
knowing (or its numerous flight attendants!), then I say, let’s invent
something that can keep check on that. With all the gadgets we have at our
disposal today, can’t we find one that can alert the crew on a flight when its
captain has nodded off?
Just a thought. Now that would make me feel safer in
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
Click here to see Dr. Breus's list of recommended sleep products.