When I'm traveling on a commercial aircraft, I'd like to think that the folks in the cockpit are focusing their attention exclusively on getting me safely to my destination. Unfortunately for the flying public, there are a number of pilots these days who seem more concerned with performing a job they're not trained to do: law enforcement.
Even as our government recruits and trains a force of professional air marshals -- whose job is to protect passengers and crew from hijackers and anyone else who might pose a danger to flight safety -- there is a vocal minority of cowboy pilots demanding the right to carry pistols in the cockpit. They justify their desire to pack heat by pointing out that air marshals are unlikely to be present on every aircraft.
It speaks volumes about the pilots' motives that they would rather take the law into their own hands than pressure the government to increase the number of professional law enforcement personnel on commercial flights. Indeed, it is the height of macho arrogance for pilots to suggest that they are better qualified than professional law enforcement officers to protect the flying public from the threat of criminal activity aboard an aircraft.
As we all witnessed on 9-11, the flight crews of the four planes hijacked that day were remarkably unprepared for what happened. They certainly proved willing to fight courageously to protect their passengers and the public at large, but they were never trained in how to deal with every possible scenario involving a criminal threat. Nor were they ever trained in how to engage in physical combat with armed terrorist assailants while simultaneously flying a 300- passenger jumbo jet in a safe and stable manner.
There is no assurance that if the pilots of those doomed aircraft had been carrying firearms that they would've prevented the horrific events that followed. Conversely, law enforcement professionals spend their entire careers preparing for such situations. They amass countless hours honing their proficiency with firearms, studying threat assessments and preparing for scenarios we all hope will never happen. But if they do, an air marshal will be far better equipped to deal with them than any pilot, who is supposed to be consumed with the mission of bringing that plane down safely , preferably on time.
Airline pilots have every right to be concerned about maintaining the safety of an aircraft cabin, and to argue otherwise would be foolish. But pilots are in no way the best-qualified people to provide specialized law enforcement services. Pilots can best contribute to air safety by concentrating on the job they were trained to do -- and leaving law enforcement to the professionals.
Jeff Berry has half-a-million unused frequent-flier miles.