How to democratically fly a plane

In this World obsessed with the democratic process and public consultation there are still some pockets of authoritarianism. One of them is flying planes. This post outlines two ideas on how to fix this disturbing situation and restore full democracy in air travel.

The first option is to allow all passengers to vote on what manoeuvre the plane should undertake. By raising a left hand passengers would call for a left turn and those preferring a right turn would raise their right hand. The flight attendants would then do a quick count and communicate the result to the pilot. The passengers would also be able to gesture their preferences for the throttle, trim, landing gear etc. The votes on how to fly the airplane could even be done using the in-flight entertainment systems, with various options presented on the LCD screens. This way the democratic process would be strictly followed and any decisions would reflect a majority view.

If you think the above is a bit over the top we could opt for a somewhat less democratic option of electing the pilot. In the departure lounge the passengers would vote on who is going to be sitting in the cockpit. Those willing to have a go would come up with slogans like “I will get you to the destination faster than others” or “Vote for me is a vote for a comfortable flight” and the passengers would pick one based on their preferences. The elected pilot would then get behind the rudder. Sometimes they would have the relevant expertise and sometimes not – this would depend on the result of the popular vote. In this scenario the passengers do not get to actually decide how to fly the plane but only elect someone who does. Although less democratic than the first option, this would still give the passengers a degree of control over what goes on.

Compared to my two proposals the way the air travel is currently arranged is autocratic and bordering on dictatorial. The pilot is not elected by the passengers but rather nominated by the greedy capitalists running the airline. The passengers do not have a say in what happens to the plane at any stage of the flight. Actually, the doors to the cockpit are armoured and locked to stop anyone from going in with helpful suggestions on what the pilot should or should not do. After 9/11 there were even plain-clothed armed guards on board to thwart any attempts made by passengers to control the plane. Honestly, things do not get more un-democratic than this.

You may say that democracy is not the way to fly a plane. If this is what you think – would you not agree that governing a country is even more complex and demanding than flying a plane?


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