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Ask the Pilot

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  369 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
Though we routinely take to the air, for many of us flying remains a mystery. Few of us understand the how and why of jetting from New York to London in six hours. How does a plane stay in the air? Can turbulence bring it down? What is windshear? How good are the security checks? Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author of's popular column, "Ask the Pilot," unr ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Riverhead Books
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Aug 13, 2008 Trisha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you have had the same, irrational fear of flying as I have, then this is the book for you. Take courage and read it: it WILL help you. I have been haunted by this deep fear since childhood, which is ironic considering that my job regularly requires me to fly to other continents, and not on the safest of airlines. (Duct tape on the wing, anyone? I've seen it.) The writer, Patrick Smith, also writes an excellent column on all things aviation at, and is a professional, commercial pilot ...more
Nov 23, 2012 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book but I wouldn't recommend it for the general audience. It's good for aviation enthusiasts or people who have anxiety about flying. I am definitely in the latter category.

The author is educated and has an eloquent way of writing, although I felt it sometimes veered into self-indulgence. Each chapter starts with an essay from Mr. Smith about some aspect of the airline industry, then a series of randomly assembled Q&A taken from his website.

The Q&A was the most helpful p
Dec 04, 2007 Keishi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: 9th-grade
Ask the Pilot describes many facts about airplanes, including how they fly, the history of the airplane, how airports work and a lot more. Unlike many other non-fiction books, each chapter is very short and the stories are not connected.
One of my favorite chapters describes new airplanes that will be in service in the future. For example, the Airbus 380, which just started flying in November, is the biggest passenger plane. I was surprised when I found out that it was much larger than the Boein
Mar 24, 2011 Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
This is a compilation of Smith's Salon column and it's well written, well organized and actually helpful. There's much industry info that's not addressed since it occurred after the book's original publication, but Smith effectively addresses main traveler concerns about air travel. If you're a nervous flyer, as I am, this is a worthwhile read. As a frequent flyer, I downloaded the eBook version and refer to the specific chapters during a flight (mainly during rough air) and it has helped remind ...more
Jan 29, 2008 Hobie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, I used to not be fond of flying. I actully have a perscription of a sedative that I used to take when stepping onto a plan....this was prior to this book.

If there is anybody out there who has reservations about flying this is the book to read. After I read this book and understood (in layman's terms) an airplane and it's ability I instantly became confident and comfortable with flying.

This book goes over all of the flying myths/fears and explains all of modern flying safety redundencies th
Jason Gunnink
Jul 12, 2007 Jason Gunnink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who flies
This is a marvelous insider's view of the airline industry and I found it fascinating. Historically turbulence has unnerved me but the author's no-nonsense approach to explaining all thing aviation in laymen's term really set me ease. And I read it on a plane!
Sep 09, 2007 Lacey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who is scared of flying
Answers to all those questions about airplanes and flying. This is a must read for anyone who is scared to fly. Your mind will be put to ease after reading this.
Oct 04, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great writing from Patrick Smith, a professional pilot, providing all sorts of insight into the world of aviation.
Jan 05, 2008 Paul is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
"good book"
I am afraid of flying, and this booked helped some.
Aug 19, 2012 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing, 2012
Interesting stuff from airline travel. Although unfortunately the details of this category age quite fast; this book is from 2004, and already I know a few updates have occurred (and not just A380).
If you've got a lot of questions about random subjects regarding air travel, this is for you. Like which planes are the safest? Do pilots really save gas by using less oxygen for the plane's interior? Why do sometimes some planes fly nearly empty, or some huge planes fly short, national routes? Which
Ask the Pilot is an interesting read. I learned some things I found useful: the daily grind of a pilot, crew, and plane; how airlines operate networks; what flight attendants look at and notice when they deal with passengers; "cross check" over the PA actually does mean that the flight attendants are checking each other's work as they go through the cabin prior to takeoff and landing, while "1L, 2R" means which doors need to be opened after landing; being a pilot is very unglamorous unless you'r ...more
Apr 21, 2015 PoligirlReads rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am a nervous flier. As such, I don't typically let facts get in the way of my irrational fear. Yet, with his calm and reassuring demeanor, and his conversational writing style, Patrick Smith has convinced me that maybe, just maybe, flying is safe.

Culled from his column, this book is a collection of frequently asked questions regarding the airline industry. Glib, without being dismissive, he addresses a lot of common fears and provides useful information about how planes actually fly (and abou
Feb 21, 2008 Turi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection (or distillation) of essays about flying, from the point of view of a pilot. Now, I tend to think of myself as a pretty level-headed flier. I don't freak out unnecessarily, and I figure that pilots and flight crews know what they're doing 95% of the time (can't say the same for security screeners.) This book is well written for me, as well as for someone who is freaked out about flying. Basically: Airlines in the US are extremely regulated; if you sense anything wr ...more
Jan 24, 2011 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is in a Q and A format of all the common questions on commercialaviation. "Can a plane land without engine power?", "Can I open the door at 35,000 ft?", "What's the point of putting the life jacket on when we are going to die?","Why can't I use cell phones and electronics during flight", 'What are those tiny upturned wings at the wingtips do (winglets)?" and so on. It provides a lot of explanations and a couple of stories on Smith's experience as a pilot...(what happens if you dump dry ...more
Mar 17, 2014 Flora rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A pick-a-chapter-as-it-follows-your-interest kind of book. Plane models? Not so much. History of interesting crashes? Yes, please.

Smith was a longtime columnist for Salon. He writes cleanly, but has never lured me into becoming a regular reader. His anecdotal quality is mixed. He's also just a bit sore about the post-9/11 security impracticalities.

This book was good enough to finish even after I'd told my husband I was returning it, and it might be worth keeping as a reference, but overall it w
This is an "okay" book. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this novel. The book is layed out as Q&A format, for example : " Which Is the Busiest Airports " and " What is a turboprop " ? The author then answers the questions. Where does he gets the questions, I'm not sure ? A lot of the questions posed to him are rather mundane and quite honestly, mostly stupid. At first, I read about 1/3 of the novel and started to just read " parts " of it that I thought were interesting questions and a ...more
J. Niimi
Jan 26, 2009 J. Niimi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Patrick Smith is the titular columnist of Salon's "Ask the Pilot," and his observations about aviation culture are consistently fascinating and droll. This book collects some of his past columns, and it's pretty excellent. He's a great storyteller and explicator, with a warm, off-handed style that makes you feel like you're having an animated conversation in an airport lounge. Funny, educational, and occasionally hair-raising -- though, to his credit, not nearly as much as it could be in less ad ...more
Jan 24, 2010 Carl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting inside look at airplanes and airlines. The funniest story is the exploding toilet, and the most haunting story is Saudi 163 in 1980, in which the airplane returns to the airfield and lands safely but doesn't evacuate for reasons that will never be known, and everyone dies. The online transcript of the cockpit voice recorder has a page missing, and the curious phrase "They are the first people." Possibly I read too much Tim Powers.
Mar 25, 2009 Chewtastic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was fun and fast. Didn't delve nearly as far into the minutiae that make his column super interesting, but it's a good introduction to his style if you haven't read his Salon column and would probably be a good read for those friends who are reasonably rational but dislike flying. The story about the dry ice and the toilet is worth the effort. They ought to sell these at airport bookstores instead of the shit tabloids.
Jun 17, 2010 Ris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I learned a thing or two about air travel from this little book, but I'd only recommend it if you are interested in the mechanics of flight. Smith's tone is a little too didactic and fuddy-duddy for my taste, and he brings up all kinds of wacko fun topics only to back away from the details that he knows everyone wants to hear about (pilots flying naked?! Why wouldn't I want to hear about that?!). It's a bit of a tease.
Mar 25, 2007 stephanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend this to anyone who has every had even the slightest fear of flying, or has just wondered what turbulence is. Full of aviation that fun facts that teach you the science of commercial air flight and the culture of pilots and the FAA. I credit this book to successfully bringing my nervous pre-flight ritual of two Benadryls and two glasses of wine to an end!
Tracy Young
As a nervous flier, I was hoping for reassurance about the safety of flying, yet that wasn't the case with this book. If you're interested in some trivia about airport codes, longest routes, most profitable airlines, best and worst airports (in terms of decor), and some other peripheral airline data then this is a book for you.
Aug 20, 2012 Aiden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book in my opinion was very informative and has a lot of good answers to many of the biggest questions surrounding commercial airline travel. The questions are answered clearly with examples and explanations to give a complete answer. This book is great for nervous airline travelers and people who are curious about the world of airline travel beyond the main cabin.
Michael Morris
Jul 11, 2009 Michael Morris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful book for those who want to understand how airlines operate and how jets fly. It is reassuring for those who tremble at the notion of boarding a jet.

Patrick Smith is broad minded in his point of view, which is refreshing given the redneck pilots I have met. He's very witty too.

Enjoyable read.

Dec 16, 2015 Xanthi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book very slowly, in parts, on work breaks and waiting for appointments. It was that kind of book that you could easily dip into. I don't think I would have been able to read it in solid chunks, as it got a bit too dry at times with technical knowledge. There is some humour in the book, but it is very dry as well.
Don Tom
Jan 03, 2012 Don Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in commercial passenger aviation
Recommended to Don Tom by: My mother-in-law
Shelves: flight
Ask the Pilot is a great book if you would like to stimulate you interest in commercial passenger aviation. Patrick's book is a smorgasbord of stories, explanations, and trivia about the good, bad, and interesting pieces of aviation. Unfortunately it is getting just a little dated, I really wish he would come out with Ask the Pilot 2.0!
Jun 22, 2015 Pete rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Smith is a pilot and blogger who answers all the questions a traveler may have about airlines and their industry. He intersperses his FAQ's, mostly rehashed from his blog posts, with stores from his life and career as a pilot. It is entertaining and informative, and I recommended it for anyone interested in pilots and planes.
Laure "Voop"
Hmm, it was surprisingly interesting. There was some information about how planes take off which I didn't know.

There is also a part where the author, a very masculine, straight pilot, talks about how he dealt with gay flight attendants.

Not a great book, but more readable than I thought it would be.
Apr 06, 2009 Pawel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
describes many facts about airplanes, including how they fly, the history of the airplane, and how airports work. The descriptions are in great detail and help show all aspects of all kinds of planes and airports all over the world.
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