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Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks; 4.1.2013 edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402280912
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402280917
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (192 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Brilliant...A book to be savored and passed to friends."
-- William Langewiesche, Vanity Fair

“Nobody covers the airline experience like Patrick Smith. He brings balance and clarity to a subject all too often over-hyped. And, he's a damned good writer.”
-- Clive Irving, Conde Nast Traveler

“I wish I could fold up Patrick Smith and put him in my suitcase.  He seems to know everything worth knowing about flying.”
-- Stephen Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics

“Patrick Smith is extraordinarily knowledgeable about modern aviation, and communicates beautifully in English, not in pilot-ese. Th ideal seatmate, companion, writer and explainer.”
-- Alex Beam, Boston Globe

“A brilliant writer, Patrick Smith provides a laugh-a-page tour of a misunderstood industry -- a journey into the world of aviation, stripped of the mumbo-jumbo and filled with humor and insight.”
-- Christine Negroni, aviation correspondent and author of Flying Lessons

"Patrick Smith doesn’t just know everything about air travel, he possesses a rare knack for explaining it in lucid and witty prose."
-- Barbara Peterson, Condé Nast Traveler

“Patrick Smith is one of the best writers around, period, which certainly makes him by far the best writer ever to have earned a commercial pilot's license. A soaring accomplishment, indispensable for anyone who travels by air, which means everyone.
-- James Kaplan

-- Rudy Maxa

“Patrick Smith manages to demystify the experience and remind us of the magic of aviation. Also he has a great sense of humor – which is critical when you are wedged into seat 14D on a regional jet.”
-- Chris Bohjalian

“Brilliantly down to earth and reassuring”
-- Cath Urquhart, The Times (London)

 "What a pleasure it is reading Patrick Smith's surprisingly elegant explanations and commentary.  The world needs somebody writing E.B. White simple and sensible about a topic everyone has a question about."   
-- Berke Breathed

“Patrick Smith doesn’t just know everything about air travel, he possesses a rare knack for explaining it in lucid and witty prose.”
-- Barbara Peterson,

Condé Nast Travele"Cockpit Confidential is the document that belongs in the seat-back pocket in front of you."   
-- David Pogue, New York Times correspondent and PBS television host

About the Author

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot and the creator of the popular Web site His Ask the Pilot column ran regularly on from 2002 until 2012. He has appeared frequently on television and radio, including on PBS, the Discovery Channel, CNN, the BBC, and National Public Radio.

David Drummond has made his living as an actor for over twenty-five years, and he received an AudioFile Earphones Award for his first audiobook, Love 'Em or Lose 'Em.
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

More About the Author

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, author and air travel blogger.

For ten years his "Ask the Pilot" column was a fixture in the magazine Salon. Today he hosts the popular online site WWW.ASKTHEPILOT.COM, which covers all aspects of air travel, from terrorism and security to airline customer service. Patrick has appeared on over 200 radio and television outlets, and his work has been cited in numerous publications worldwide.

Patrick's writing incorporates a wide range of knowledge and experience from both inside and outside of aviation, incorporating personal stories and insights into geography and culture from his life and travels abroad. (His self-published punk rock fanzines and poetry journals of the 1980s and 1990s are considered among the more peculiar works of literature ever produced by a native of Revere, Massachusetts.)

An avid traveler, Patrick has visited more than eighty countries around the globe.

He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

I recommend this book for anyone who flies, or wants to.
Gary Mohr
The book is well written, easy to engage with and the author has some interesting stories to tell.
Ann M.
Read in one sitting, I found this book informative as well as entertaining.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 11, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Expecting an update of Patrick Smith's earlier book, Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, I was surprised to see a completely different book. Yes, he still answers questions that passengers are curious about, such as how dangerous is turbulence, and what is in the air supply in the cabin, but he goes into many other topics that are of interest to people who enjoy flying. He discusses airline logos and liveries (the paint jobs on the planes) and airline names.

Smith is often pedantic and always opinionated, and it all makes for an entertaining book. He has some definite thoughts about the service on airlines, which is a little surprising, since he is a pilot for a major U.S. airline (but he doesn't say which one), and he also has some comments about passengers, which are usually less strident, such as his puzzlement over why sudoku is so popular. Just don't get him started on airport security.

One important reason Smith's book may appeal to more people than a straightforward question and answer book would, is that Smith is not only an industry professional, but he's often a passenger, traveling for fun, so he knows what it's like to sit in coach. This dual point of view, which is apparently not very common among airline employees, many of whom don't care to travel on their own time or dime, gives Smith more perspective, so he's not just the lecturer here, he knows your travelin' pain.

Not only does he travel, he enjoys airports, flying, and seeing new places. He intersperses his question and answer sections with musings on travel.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Robinson on January 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
I'm appalled at some of the negative comments strewn across the lower-star end of these reviews. One person complains that this book has done nothing to alleviate her fear of flying. Well, d'oh, the subhead below the title is NOT "How to Overcome Your Fear of Flying."

And for those who complained that this book contained "stuff anyone could Google" -- well, I can Google the words "rat king" yet not particularly want to read a book about it.

What people don't seem to realize is that Smith -- he TOTALLY underplays his standings as an airline pilot, by the way -- is not someone who flies short-haul pleasure craft for a living, but someone who pilots hundreds of passengers around in Boeing 757s and 777s: massive planes that are the state-of-the-art in aviation technology.

Of course, he could pen an entire tome about how the flight deck is laid out, why you need to use the NAV button sometimes and what you do when you don't get "three green," or discuss the redundant hydraulic systems or precisely how the pilots balance the fuel weights between the various tanks, or just what the checklist consists of on a long-haul flight to Shanghai. After all, this is not a retired pilot recalling his "glory years" but an active pilot who may well have YOU on board your next flight, as his passenger.

And he steps down from this lofty perch -- or rather, what COULD be a lofty perch -- and humanizes flying in such a way that says "You see? We're not Mystery Men with Salt and Pepper Hair who say "Vector, Victor," and "Roger, Roger." We don't have wild parties at the hotels with the "stews" or get slam-drunk before flights.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 14, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Are you a nervous flyer? Are you someone who'd rather drive than fly? Are you someone who doesn't get excited looking at the lights of planes as they line up in the night sky outside a busy airport, coming in for a landing, one after the other? On the other hand, do you know what the terms "OAG", "triple 7", and "Runway Two-niner" refer to? If you're the latter and not the former, you'll enjoy Patrick Smith's new book, "Cockpit Confidential".

Patrick Smith - the name "Smith" is a nom-de-plume - is an airline pilot and blogger, who operates out of Boston. He used to blog for SALON magazine but I'm not sure he still writes for them. In any case, he has his own website,, and this new book. His previous one, "Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Flying", was published in 2004. Smith has been been a pilot and in love with all forms of air travel since, as a child living in Boston, he'd sit on the Revere beach and watch in awe as planes landed at nearby Logan Airport. He grew up to make a living as first a pilot for a commuter carrier - flying up and down the Atlantic seaboard and all around New England - and then he "graduated" to flying cargo jets for a freight airline. Finally, he's now flying for an international passenger airline. (I think it might be Delta, from what I've been able to glean from his writing. Or, if not, American.) He has been subjected to layoffs during his career and is quite honest about how he - and other pilots - struggle with the on-going airline politics and economic ups-and-down that make a pilot's career somewhat haphazard.

Okay, Patrick Smith and I are airline fanatics. And, probably so are most people reading this review. Most of us fly a lot - Smith is lucky that he gets paid to do so - and we like to see new places.
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