There is a reason that I am not a pilot and the reason is this: I am afraid I would get bored, start messing around with my laptop and miss Minnesota. Unfortunately for Northwest Airlines, they don’t hire people who utilize my rigorous program of self-doubt.
The Wall Street Journal says the pilots of Northwest Flight 188 “told investigators that they were poring over their personal laptops in the cockpit while frantic air-traffic controllers were trying to establish contact.”
The in-flight distractions also included bathroom breaks (understandable) and some chit chatting with a flight attendant.
The WSJ says:
The missteps began when a female flight attendant brought meals into the cockpit and the captain ducked out for a bathroom break, according to people familiar with the details
The flight attendant stayed inside the cockpit for a brief chat, just as controllers were instructing the crew to switch to another radio frequency. The co-pilot, engaged in conversation with her, missed the instruction, and the captain didn’t return until later, according to consultant Greg Feith, a former safety board investigator.
As the plane crossed state lines, neither pilot realized the jet no longer was on the correct radio frequency and that controllers were growing worried about their failure to stay in contact.
As they flew past Minnesota, the crew started a heated discussion about a new scheduling system.
Both pilots retrieved their laptops, and the first officer demonstrated to the captain how the new scheduling system worked.
During what the safety board described as a “concentrated period of discussion,” neither pilot monitored the progress of the airplane nor air-traffic control communications. The pilots failed to notice when Northwest dispatchers sent repeated messages that popped up on the cockpit display screens.
Eventually a flight attendant asked them if they should prepare for landing and they realized they’d blown past Minnesota. That must have been one hell of an interesting scheduling system.