The Book is Here


Patrick Smith and Sourcebooks are proud to announce publication of Cockpit Confidential:
Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. Questions, Answers, and Reflections

Now a New York Times bestseller!

“Brilliant is the word that applies. A book to be savored and passed to friends.”
— William Langeweische, Vanity Fair

A wry, thoughtful, and at times provocative look into the confounding world of commercial air travel, this is the ideal take-along for frequent flyers, nervous passengers, world travelers, and anybody yearning for an enlightened, behind-the-scenes look at the strange and misunderstood business of commercial aviation. More than just a book about flying, its subject is everything and everything about the grand theater of air travel, from airport architecture to terrorism to the colors and cultures of the world’s airlines.

Patrick Smith has been called the thinking man’s pilot. For the better part of a decade, his Ask the Pilot column at was a singular and remarkable sensation: an aviation column, for heaven’s sake, that could offer up trenchant analysis of an air disaster one day, then the next day stride fearlessly into politics, culture, or even rock music, and somehow tie it all together. Cockpit Confidential features the best of that material, refreshed and adapted into a seven-chapter volume of FAQs, essays and personal memoir. Whether it’s the nuts and bolts of cockpit operation or a hilarious critique of airline logos and color schemes, Cockpit Confidential is smart, funny, and brimming with useful information.

“Nobody covers the airline experience like Patrick Smith. And, he’’s a damned good writer.”
— Clive Irving, Condé Nast Traveler

• How planes fly, and a revealing look at the men and women who fly them
• Straight talk on turbulence, pilot training, and safety
• The real story on congestion, delays, and the dysfunction of the modern airport
• The myths and misconceptions of cabin air and cockpit automation
• Terrorism in perspective and a candid look at security
• Airfares, seating woes, and the pitfalls of airline customer service
• The colors and cultures of the airlines we love to hate
• The yin and yang of global travel
• Gratuitous references to 80s-era indie rock bands

“Cockpit Confidential is the document that belongs in the seat pocket in front of you.”
— David Pogue, New York Times correspondent and television host.

Available at booksellers everywhere…












Now, as for that title, Cockpit Confidential….

Okay, okay, it’s cheap and derivative. But it wasn’t my idea.

All right, fine, it was my idea. Or, more specifically, it was a collaborative decision between me, my agent and the publisher. It’s a touch misleading, as the book isn’t the least bit scandalous, but I like the sound of it — the alliterative quality.

I can feel better knowing that I have Anthony Bourdain’s blessings, sort of, having ripped off his famous Kitchen Confidential. He was a passenger on one of my flights a year or so ago. I introduced myself and told him about my plans for a title. He laughed.

Barnes & Noble. I hope Jonathan Franzen isn’t embarrassed.

Richard Branson and me at Hudson Booksellers, Boston-Logan

Now this is just wrong, on multiple levels.




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63 Responses to “The Book is Here”
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  1. If only United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz had a copy of your book, Cockpit Confidential. Enjoyed the book.

  2. John Bosco Nsanga says:

    I love the book cockpit confidential and the subject ‘plane that flies itself’maybe the humanity will be saved from accidents caused by manual pilots. Thanks

  3. […] the subject of what happens to an aircraft during an episode of turbulence, Patrick Smith, an active airline pilot and author said: ‘During turbulence, the pilots are not fighting the […]

  4. […] first person with the correct response wins his or her choice of an autographed copy of my book, or, if preferred, this Emirates first class stationery kit. This is the same writing kit found […]

  5. David says:

    How about an electronic version that can be bought with PayPal. I live in Kenya and ordering from the places you list is far less than ideal.

  6. Robin says:

    am loving your book! So what do you think of that Air Canada jet that just suffered severe turbulence and injured 21 people on a flight from Shanghai to Toronto (Jan. 1st I believe)

  7. Jo says:

    Very good read indeed, not only for those nervous flyers mentioned oh so many times in the book, but also for those interested in the commercial aviation side of the industry.

    Heck if you’re like me (and probably the author) who’s tired of how people have these various, nonsensical believes of the airline industry, slap this book on their faces!

    Just one gripe: I’m from Indonesia and the section where you wrote about the EU blacklist kinda struck a nerve on me, in particular: Garuda. Yes, Garuda WAS blacklisted (alon with every other Airlines in Indonesia), but the ban was lifted for Garuda in 2009 for a reason (along with some others whom met the safety requirements. There’s a reason why Garuda passed and Lion Air didn’t). They’ve come a very long way and I just have this feeling that the way you’ve written it in the book kinda implied they were the same old, s*** airline many Westerners still believes, the worst of Garuda from one decade ago.

  8. Thanks for the valuable article on bird strike. I’ve given a detailed seminar (220 slides) on bird strike in United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), Colorado.
    It included some ten sections including methods for controling bird strike both on ground and air, survey of different accidents and incidents in USA, Europe, Middle East and Russia. Annual costs of bird strikes, bird migrations and its roots, critical areas on both airframe and engines.
    I’ll include several details in my second edition of my book:
    Aircraft propulsion and gas turbine engines
    Taylor & Francis, 2008
    Kindly please visit my website:

  9. piyush says:

    Nice book…Very informative.

  10. mehwish says:

    Great info. I’ve watched a lot of crash investigation shows.

  11. Outstanding book….lot of good stuff..!

  12. Jeannie Clorite says:

    I read the article you posted on yahoo. I liked the part where you discussed the degree of turn. How people feel like they are turning sharper than they really are. I remember attending a safety talk given by the FAA. They had people sit in a chair. They blindfolded them, they gave them a stick with a handle on it. They spun the chair and told the person to move the stick in the direction they THOUGHT they were turning. Before the end of the test all were pointing in the wrong direction. The discussion was on the importance of trusting your instrument panel when flying. If people had followed the movement they thought they were moving they would have crashed. I look forward to reading your book.

  13. Greg says:

    Hey Patrick, just wanted to let you know that the bookseller at MDW has a HUGE display of your new book – half of one of their display windows just past Security. Congrats!

  14. […] the host of from which this story is reprinted.  He is the author of the book Cockpit Confidential.  He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can read more about him here in his […]

  15. Gerry says:

    Ordered! Can’t wait

  16. […] scenarios). Depressurizations by themselves are perfectly manageable and almost never fatal (see chapter two of my book for a story about the time it happened to me), and something that all airline crews […]

  17. James F. Zeiss says:

    I wanted to buy a book about air travel when I was in Barnes and Noble last week and BAAAM!!; I turn my head this book magically appears. I’m already halfway through it and I hope it never ends. It’s a very humorous look at the whole industry (outside any misfortunes) and whether you’re an experienced flyer or not- its a great insight!!

  18. […] 15 Things No Airport Should Be Without Terminal Madness: What Is Airport Security? Air Travel Glossary: How To Speak Airline […]

  19. […] (Canadian, Australian, and UK purchase options are here) […]

  20. Finished the book on a Jet Airways (Airbus A330) flight from Toronto to Mumbai two weeks ago. Excellent book! Thanks for writing it.

    One of my relatives in Kerala, India wants to be a pilot – he’s currently in Grade 10. Ordered both this book and Heather Poole’s ‘Cruising Attitude’ for him today from Amazon India.

  21. Joao says:

    I just read this new book, and I agree that it contains *a lot* new material not present in the previous one. It is also very well written and I found it very enjoyable and entertaining. It has been a faithful companion while commuting to work for a few weeks.
    Patrick has the talent to explain some obscure concepts and make them very understandable. I found his book more complete than other texts, such as The Flying Book. If uncertain, spend your money on this one!

  22. Morris says:


    I am not a pilot nor a frequent flyer, but I came
    across your book and I found it to be
    very interesting. Great Book!

  23. Tom Vasiloff says:

    A truly informative and entertaining book that I highly recommend! As an infrequent flyer, my mind has been put at ease over what I now know to be unfounded fears.
    Smith’s writing is witty, incisive and logical. I am glad I bought his book and will read it again and again. Thank you!

  24. David B says:

    Ordered via iBook store. Looking forward to reading.

  25. Bruce Curtis says:

    As a retired airline pilot and senior flight instructor, I’d say that Smith’s blog in today’s Parade could be called technically correct in places, overall I see it as misleading, even deceptive.

    Let’s start with steep bank angles: Unlike private pilots who fly slowly at shallow bank angles, airliners are fast aircraft that are operated according to instrument flight rules that demand we turn the aircraft at standardized rates. Bank angles must steepen with greater speed; even maneuvering at lower altitudes, our speeds exceed 250 mph, and that requires bank angles of at least 30-degrees. At cruise speeds we bank even more steeply, but only to a certain point based on federal regulations and passenger comfort.

    Second, it is true pilots are necessary to operate cockpit automation but aviation manufacturers and researchers are planning the day when a single pilot, or for freighters, no pilot, is the norm. Today, automation makes it more difficult for many airline pilots to maintain proficient hand-flying skills. What Smith skips over is the fact that pilots for long haul carriers may not get get more than five minutes of “stick time” during a 12-hour flight transoceanic flight. Lack of hand-flying experience is suspected to be a causal factor in the recent crash of an Asiana airlines widebody plane.

    Finally, Smith says ticket prices have beaten inflation, but that’s only true if you’re really good at gaming the reservation system. Deeply discounted round-trip transcontinental fares used to be as low as $200 in the 1970’s. Today normal fares are closer to $1,100, while $870 would be the 1970’s rate, adjusted for inflation.

    There’s more; your ticket today won’t pay for a meal, a 2nd checked bag, 34″ legroom and personal assistance from the extra flight attendants planes used to carry when all those were included. If the author was truly candid, he would also point out that airfares have climbed in recent years; about 11% higher since 2004, according to The Atlantic. If you add in the “unbundled extras” that used to be included in your base fare, the increase would be much higher.

    And nowhere does Smith mention that airline travel is much slower than it used to be, and not just because fuel prices have forced carriers to fly more slowly. The reason is that your coast to coast flight is no longer non-stop; most likely you’ll go through one or more hubs, each stop adding risk of lost baggage and missed connections. In 1973, a coast to coast flight took about five hours; today, travel time via our modern hub and spoke system is upwards of eight hours. That’s roughly as long as if you’d flown a vintage Lockheed Constellation in 1950. If you have to fly a regional airliner and connect through 2 hubs, your New York to Los Angeles travel time could run 12 hours or more; comparable to a 1930’s DC 3.

    Ultimately, Smith’s lack of candor gets to the heart about why Americans are fed up with the airlines: a lack of honest transparency and basic respect that happens when passengers are regarded as human beings, rather than self-loading-baggage.

    Bruce Curtis

    • Patrick says:

      “…Let’s start with steep bank angles: Unlike private pilots who fly slowly at shallow bank angles, airliners are fast aircraft that are operated according to instrument flight rules that demand we turn the aircraft at standardized rates. Bank angles must steepen with greater speed; even maneuvering at lower altitudes, our speeds exceed 250 mph, and that requires bank angles of at least 30-degrees…”

      This isn’t so. Yes, bank angles must be steeper at higher speeds to maintain a “standard rate” turn, but the fact remains that jetliners almost never bank more than 30 degrees — and usually it’s less.

      “…Second, it is true pilots are necessary to operate cockpit automation but aviation manufacturers and researchers are planning the day when a single pilot, or for freighters, no pilot, is the norm. Today, automation makes it more difficult for many airline pilots to maintain proficient hand-flying skills. What Smith skips over is the fact that pilots for long haul carriers may not get get more than five minutes of “stick time” during a 12-hour flight transoceanic flight.”

      I did not “skip over” this. The problem here is that a vast majority of people don’t understand the basics of cockpit automation in the first place: what it can and cannot do, and how pilots interact with that automation. They seem to believe that the plane flies itself while the pilot essentially sit there doing nothing. In reality, the automation is not flying the plane; the pilots are flying the plane * through the automation, * and the workload levels can still be quite high. It’s critical for people to understand this * first, * or else their understanding of terms like “hand-flying” and “stick time” will be similarly flawed. Yes, pilots have come to rely on a somewhat different still set than in decades past (though not to the extent that people are told — after all, autopilots, FMS and autothrottles have been around for over 30 years now), and in certain circumstances this can have safety implications. But that’s not what I was talking about.

      “…Finally, Smith says ticket prices have beaten inflation, but that’s only true if you’re really good at gaming the reservation system. If the author was truly candid, he would also point out that airfares have climbed in recent years; about 11% higher since 2004…”

      I * have * pointed this out. Fares have spiked recently. However, they are still about 15 less than they were in 2000, and fifty percent lower than they were in 1978! This includes factoring in unbundling fees.

      “…And nowhere does Smith mention that airline travel is much slower than it used to be, and not just because fuel prices have forced carriers to fly more slowly.”

      This is simply untrue. Planes themselves might fly * slightly * slower these days, but there are many more flights between many more cities than there used to be, both through and around major hubs. Passengers almost always have multiple options between city A and city B, both domestically and internationally. As to the latter, many secondary U.S. cities now have direct flights even to Europe and Asia. New York to Los Angeles via * two hubs *? Are you kidding? Maybe a handful of travelers are unlucky enough to face sucha routing, but there must be 25 nonstops, split among five different carriers, including low-fare airlines like Virgin America and JetBlue, operating every day between New York and L.A.

      “…Ultimately, Smith’s lack of candor gets to the heart about why Americans are fed up with the airlines…”

      MY lack of candor? Really. I’ve worked very hard over the past decade trying to give people an honest and frank account of what really goes on in this mad and mysterious business. Who else is out there doing what I do? And while I’m obviously an air travel advocate, I think I’ve been pretty open and fair. If you’re at all familiar with my work over the years, you’d know that I have never been afraid to emphasize the negative aspects of flying, from TSA security and delays, to substandard onboard service, to the sad state of our airports. And you’re saying that * I’M * the reason people are fed up with airlines? This one ticks me off.

      • Lee says:

        Isn’t human nature funny, Patrick? If I say the sky is blue, someone, somewhere, is going to disagree, and Mr. Curtis was in quite a disagreeable mood when he wrote about you. Making things even stranger is the fact that his credentials seem impeccable so you’d think he could agree on something basic like bank angles.

        I do OK with the new air travel environment except for one thing that I mentioned in a previous comment – the airlines no longer take responsibility for me in the event of a delay or cancellation. That’s fine if you’re wealthy enough for access to a priority lounge or an expensive airport-area hotel but if you’re an average shnook on a budget, it’s just plain miserable.

        For those who follow former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s blog, he flew to Salt Lake City for a regional connection to visit his son and family for the holidays – the regional was cancelled for no given reason, the agent was annoyed to have to tell Reich that the only alternative was a 7 hour drive in a rental car. When he got home he couldn’t get a refund because each airline said it was the other’s responsibility.

  26. Guy Cocoa says:

    I just downloaded a sample of your book from the Amazon Kindle store and read the introduction. I couldn’t agree more that wonder of airplane travel is what it is all about. Last week we came home from a family vacation to Washington, DC. We thought about driving, but the numbers showed that it would be cheaper to fly, and we would gain four days in DC instead of being on the road ($158 round trip from FLL to DCA on JetBlue). As we were departing DCA on our way home the pilot announced that ATC was holding all flights due to storms south of the airport. Within a few minutes he told the crew to prepare for departure. From the time I could hear engines spool up until we were rotating it seemed like it was only 15 – 20 seconds. I’ve never felt an aircraft accelerate so quickly. It was quite a kick in the back to feel the A320 get up and go. I didn’t watch the TV or listen to music. I just wanted to experience the feeling of flight. As we were climbing out we experienced some turbulence, and there were massive thunderheads all around us, but the pilots got us through with hardly a disruption. Three hours later we were taking the suitcases into our house. I was born in 1958, the year the Boeing 707 went into service. I literally grew up in the jet age, but I still find it wonderous and remarkable that within just a few hours I can be transported in comfort and safety from one part of the world to another. It is something that will never get old or mundane for me. I have purchased the complete Kindle version of your book.

  27. Diane says:

    I was about to buy the Nook book but I see comments that the font can’t be enlarged. Has this been fixed?

  28. Richard F Jones says:

    Can I get my e-book autographed?

    Will you be visiting Asia in the near-ish future? You always have an open invite to address a lunch at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

  29. Stéphane says:

    Just received my signed copy. (Yessss !)

    I’m looking forward to read it.

  30. Ken Lawrence says:

    Disappointed. 70% new??? I think not.

    • Patrick says:

      Except that it is. The format and outline of the book are the same, including many of the Q&A headers. But the information within is vastly different. Most of the essays are new, and all of sidebars are new, as is the glossary. That alone is close to 20 percent of the book. The essays that aren’t new, such as the security essay and the “En Route Angst” story, were rewritten. The security essay, for instance, is completely different from, and much longer than the original.

      A quarter or so of the original Q&As were removed and replaced with new ones (in some chapters it’s close to half of them). Of the remaining Q&As, virtually all of them were rewritten, many of them entirely (the turbulence Q&A is a good example).

      Beyond that, the book was edited far more carefully and extensively than the first one. There were five full go-arounds with the manuscript. The organization, and the writing itself, are world’s better.


  31. Buck Knauer says:

    My wife bought the ebook as part of our 5 yr wed annv! Yes, she is awesome. I’m happy to hear you finally got to publish again, many congrats! I look forward to reading your book. Any fan of Zen Arcade is a fan of mine. Usually.

  32. Joe Burlas says:

    I bought the book sir and was wondering if I would be able to send it to you and have it signed? It would mean a lot to me. Please send me an email if that would be alright. Thanks!

  33. BraselC5048 says:

    Yay, a second book! After reading some of your articles about your publishing misadventures, I though it would never happen. (I take it the old publisher still holds the copyright to the old title?)

    Already on the way through amazon.

    I think I’m actually one of the few people who saw your old book – in the aviation section of a bookstore, where I would go. I didn’t buy it, though.

  34. Curt H says:

    Hi Patrick,
    Enjoyed COCKPIT CONFIDENTIAL. How can you not enjoy a book where the author calls the Northern Lights “God’s laundry flapping in the night sky.” Not quite Antoine de Saint-Exupery…but close! It reminds me of flying over fireworks on a commuter flight on July 4 between ABE and MDT or looking down at heat lightening between DFW and CLE.
    You seem pretty green in your comments. As a long-time writer for RECYCLING TODAY, I can tell you that the amount of aluminum cans, plastic, etc. recycled has little to do with the individual airline and more to do with the destination airport. If the airport recycles, all those aluminum empty beer cans (that cost fliers $168 a 24-can case for Bud Lite) get recycled. If the destination does not recycle, they get trashed. Good news is more airports do recycle.
    And you might not be in love with Frontier’s animal-themed tails, but I’ll bet you one of those overpriced beers that a good half the passengers check to see whether they are flying the rabbit, the lynx or (as I did earlier this week) Cliff the Mountain Goat.
    I’ll add my two-cents worth on TSA: Looking for terrorists is like finding a needle in a haystack. When you need to do that, you don’t painstakingly examine every stem of hay. You ignore they hay look for bright shiny things. I totally agree that profiling is a must. If I had a dime for every hour wasted as a result of “security,” I could buy any airline you mentioned in your book!

  35. JamesP says:

    Got the iBook – love it!

  36. Rich Seliga says:

    Just ordered in Kindle format. Thank you Patrick. Found your former column ( by accident ) on Salon years ago. Loved your stories so much almost hated you for being a Pilot instead of a writer.

  37. Steve says:

    Got it . . read it . . loved it!

  38. Mike says:

    Picked up a copy heading out of HOU. Even though some of the content is familiar to loyal readers it’s worth grabbing. Can’t imagine better in-flight reading material. Thanks again for keeping us pax less dumb, Pat.

  39. John says:

    Read it, in hospital, in three days. Excellent, most enjoyable, most informative, entertaining, well written, should be on sale in every airport.

  40. Greg says:

    Bought the original when it first came out. And despite Patrick’s kvetching, really enjoyed the fact that questions were answered in a non-dismissive way. Just the right amount of smart-assedness. Just ordered a signed copy.

  41. Marco says:

    Damn, I just bought the old one (Ask the Pilot) a few months ago!

  42. KevinT says:

    My signed copy arrived today. Thanks ever so much Patrick!

  43. Simon says:

    Couldn’t find it at the iTunes store.

  44. JuliaZ says:

    Delivered ahead of the print date (to my Kindle) and I couldn’t save it for my flight on Sunday… I’ve read the whole book already. Delicious. Thanks, Patrick!!

  45. John Patterson says:

    Hi Patrick,

    I just ordered the book from Amazon. I’ve always liked your colum and look forward to your new book. Also a shout out of support to your publisher for not letting you use the title you wanted.


  46. Chad H says:

    Here’s hoping that your new publisher is more… Accomodating than the last one. It sounds like you’re on the right foot so far.

  47. Carlton says:

    The original Ask The Pilot Book is the best book I have ever read and I have read it over and over again. I can’t wait for the new book!

  48. Pablo says:

    That’s good news. Just a question though, why do the paperback and Kindle edition have the same price? Surely e-books are cheaper to produce and distribute?

  49. KevinT says:

    Travolta for the audio book? Nonononononono… you want Bruce Dickinson!

  50. Andy says:

    Does this mean you will be launching as well? 🙂

    I ordered the book yesterday – can’t wait for it to arrive!

  51. Vinny the censored says:

    Haven’t read it just yet. Still working on and on and on on Heart of Darkness. Sorry.

  52. Rod says:

    Got mine too. Beautiful cover, but is that 747 flying away from us or toward us?
    The title is fine, by the way — you need something snappy for a book, and alliteration is always appealing. In fact, maybe you should rename your blog/column (though at this point that might be like turning around an aircraft carrier).

  53. Chris says:

    Got mine a couple days ago (threw some money at the effort last year for an early signed copy) and have been enjoying it. Definitely recommended!

  54. JuliaZ says:

    Preordered for my Kindle! Can’t wait to read it, but I bet I’ll finish it before I get on the flight to DC National May 12th. 🙂

    Waiting to hear what you know about the Benghazi crash. The video is truly alarming stuff.

  55. Jeremy Miles says: