It’s no surprise that viral news or videos are often the subject of a great deal of alarmism. Better still, the more frightening something appears, the more viral it becomes. Such is the case of a particular Delta Airlines flight landing in turbulent conditions in a crosswind. While it’s not the worst such landing I’ve seen, it was certainly rough! Apparently it was sufficiently unusual that several news outlets have taken to reporting it as a terrifying experience for the passengers on board that aircraft. Clearly, something must be done about this infraction on basic rights! (Aside: In an age of the nanny state, I’m actually surprised no one has suggested as much.)
Let’s be serious for a moment. I have no doubt it was uncomfortable for the passengers, but the plane landed, the people survived, and (presumably) the aircraft took off again shortly thereafter.
Oh, one more thing. I’d also recommend against reading the Youtube comments. It’ll rot your brain. I suspect you already know this.
To continue: I’m no aviation specialist nor am I an expert on such matters, but I don’t think you need to be an expert in order to make observations that should (hopefully) be apparent to the casual observer. First, while the landing was rough, it did not cause the tires to burst. In nearly every circumstance where an aircraft has landed with sufficient force to damage the airframe, the tires on the main gear invariably rupture. Or, in particularly forceful landings, the gear detaches entirely (Asiana Flight 214 and British Airways Flight 38 come to mind). The fact the tires and the gear remained intact indicates that the landing was probably well within the aircraft’s design limits. Second, unlike far more hazardous landings, no other part of the aircraft came into contact with the runway. But hey, we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.
For a moment, let’s appreciate an old-fashioned activity and revisit some facts for a moment. You might have imagined that unwarranted contact with the runway surface in an aircraft is a Bad Thing that pilots try to avoid. It is–so much so that it has been a contributing factor to a number of accidents including the one that caused JAL Flight 123 to break up in midair. Tail strikes, wing strikes, and so forth can all damage the aircraft sufficiently to render it unsafe, and any landing that avoids such circumstance is a good one.
Of course, the old pilot’s proverb any landing you can walk away from is a good one probably applies here, but it’s considerably better if the aircraft is reusable. They are rather expensive.
In the case of our viral subject, I originally saw it linked in a tweet Monday from TheBlaze. I guess it was a slow news day. Still, regardless of the motivation for posting it, suggesting that the landing itself was some sort of on-the-brink near-death experience is laughable. Crosswind landings in heavy turbulence are indeed hazardous, but don’t embellish so much! Not that I’m overly surprised–kneejerk, alarmist headlines drive traffic.
I’d suggest it’s bad journalism, but the consideration here is that reporting of this sort is so common that we cannot simply consider this an isolated incident. It’s endemic to the entire industry. Viral alarmism is bad enough, because it spreads with enough momentum to frighten a large population in a short amount of time. But journalistic alarmism is substantially worse, because–rightly or wrongly–people place a great deal of trust in the machine of journalism, treating it as if were infallible and perfect.
On the other hand, I’m not quite sure at what point skepticism was considered unhealthy. These days, skepticism is sanctioned only in limited amounts and directed only toward allowed industries or subjects. Yet up through the time when I graduated high school, I recall the phrase “critical thinking” as one so oft-repeated as to make a mockery of what was intended. Critical thinking, then, has essentially all but disappeared from our educational system, and I won’t pretend for a minute to believe that open skepticism of established truths is well-tolerated. Questioning authority and establishment was once a cornerstone of science (and even journalism, to a smaller degree) but now barely tolerated. It’s no wonder that alarmist stories can be reported and repeated across the wire while no one bothers to fact-check or at least consider that there might not be much need for alarmism in the first place.
Let’s hope journalists never find out they can do a Youtube search for “crosswind landings.” They’ll never fly on a plane again.