Southwest Pilot Learns He Should Stick To Words Like “Descending” And Not “We’re Going Down”

When I think about pilots learning to fly, I imagine a big chalkboard with the words PILOTING 101 front and center on Day 1. After “Keep the plane in the air when it’s supposed to be there and put it down safely when it’s supposed to be on the ground” I picture something along the lines of, “Don’t use the words ‘we’re going down’ when you really mean ‘We’re descending like how we’re supposed to and nothing is wrong.’ ” Even when you think the PA isn’t on. 

Oh hey, Southwest pilot. Seems you missed that lesson. Reportedly.

CNN says passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa, Fla. to Raleigh, N.C. were shocked to hear unusual language from their pilot over the loudspeaker — specifically, “we’re going down.”

“At first it sounded like someone was coming over the PA to talk. Then it sounded like shots through the cabin, twice, back to back,” one passenger told CNN, adding that flight attendants began securing the bins. “Seconds later, the panicked captain said, ‘We’re in trouble; we’re going down.'”

A scary thing to hear, obviously, as she says her mind had to adjust to the apparent impending doom.

“I’m sure everybody went through their private moments,” she said. “My moment was, ‘OK, so this is how I’m going to die,’ and ‘At least it will be quick.'”

Another passenger says the pilot made that comment as the plane went into a nosedive near the Raleigh-Durham airport.

“He said, ‘We’re going down.’ And everyone is looking around like, ‘Is this a joke? Is he serious?’ And then you felt the nosedive.”

Shortly after however, the Boeing 737 leveled out and made an emergency landing at the airport. Southwest says there’s a perfectly respectable explanation for this, and that no one was ever in danger.

“Our pilot said he was descending to 10,000 feet. The report was not accurate from this customer. We landed safely,” a spokeswoman told CNN.

It turns out that on the approach to Raleigh the pilot noticed a loss of cabin pressure and thus decided to descend earlier than he normally would’ve.

“As the checklist mandates when there is a pressurization issue, our captain did communicate with flight attendants over the PA that he was initiating a descent to a lower altitude,” the spokeswoman said. “The issue resolved itself, which is also not uncommon, and the aircraft landed normally at Raleigh-Durham.”

However in an email the first passenger cited above received, Southwest explained a little bit more about what could have happened.

“As the captain was communicating his plan with the flight attendants, he inadvertently activated the PA system in the cabin,” the e-mail said. “We sincerely regret any confusion caused by the relay of the information.”

As our observant reader R.G. pointed out along with the tip for this story, Gary Larson, you nailed it before it even happened.

Southwest Airlines pilot apparently tells passengers ‘We’re going down’ [CNN]

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  1. mongo says:

    Southwest Airlines only flies Boeing 737s, not 747s.

    I’m sure the rest of the story reflects the same level of accuracy.

  2. Airwave says:

    Word choice is so important on a flight. Once I was taking a TWA (gone but definitely not forgotten) from London to NYC and the plane had to return to the airport soon after take off. The flight attendants were going through the cabin advising the passengers of this. One flight attendant looked especially nervous. When one woman innocently asked her why, she snapped ‘because the pilot said so!’. Wow! Another example of how NOT to talk to passengers. Airline personnel must learn to keep their cool, even in non-emergency situations.

  3. PhillyDom says:

    The report was not accurate from this customer.

    Sure, I’m going to believe Southwest, which has an incentive to lie, over the passenger, who does not.

    Yeah, right.