More On Alaska Airlines Blogging


alaskaairlines Ask The Pilot is a regular column on Salon featuring Patrick Smith, explaining the workings of planes, airlines, a pilot’s job, and the flight industry. In this instalment, Smith addresses the experience that Jeremy Hermanns had aboard an Alaska Airlines flight in recent news (and reported on many many many blogs).

I found Hermanns’ account of the incident, which he describes as “horrific,” and “the unthinkable,” to be luridly overblown. He confuses the smell of activated oxygen canisters as that of commercial jet fuel, which he wrongly identifies as “AV-gas” or “JP4” (it is neither). Hermanns said repeatedly that he believed the fuselage hole was located at the back of the aircraft. Some news stations actually showed an MD-80 with graphics inexplicably pointing to the jet’s rear pressurization outflow valve as the purported hole — well aft, and on the opposite side, of the damage. “Ask the Pilot” obtained this photograph from an Alaska Airlines employee (who asks to remain anonymous) showing the actual puncture. As you can see, it is well forward of the wing.

When Patrick Smith attempted to convey the above in a comment posted to Hermanns blog, he was shocked to see that his comment was promptly removed.

The breach was a small one, and once the cabin pressure had escaped, it could be reasonably assumed that the plane was going to stay in one solid piece and fly just fine. Which it did.

Hermanns reminds us that he’s a private pilot, but he seems to have been just as needlessly panic-stricken as all those non-pilots around him.

Most of this was included in my post on Hermanns’ blog. He promptly deleted the entire thing. Believing it might have been a mistake, I later reposted the identical text. Again, it disappeared within minutes.

After some heated emails with Hermanns, where he supposedly called Smith a “PR Hack”, Smith came to the conclusion that this was just an attempt for some time in the spotlight. An attempt that only hurts the reputation of bloggers.

If anyone was working the P.R. angle, it was Hermanns, with his theatrically mask-strapped mug splashed on newspapers and on “Good Morning America,” describing a loss of cabin pressure as “horrific” and “the unthinkable.” And it’s craftily moderated Web pages like his that make many people scoff at the notion of bloggers as journalists.

Of course it doesn’t end there. Hermanns has responded to the piece on his blog saying that he deleted the comments because they contained links to Smith’s book and he considered them spam. He also has a very different version of the email he sent, which he posts in the comments.

Not only was Patrick beating a dead horse (I’d been chided left-and-right throughout the comments for the very same things he was saying), he was filling my message board with spam-filled messages trying to boost his own site’s traffic and pagerank. But in Patrick’s world, any refusal to help him promote his products is obviously an attempt to manipulate the publicity for my own gain (which, in case you’re wondering, is still at a whopping $0).

I understand Patrick’s bitterness–after all, last week more people read my story than read his writing ALL of last year. But now to help his own cause, he’s decided to try and make himself part of the story.

While the truth of the matter is known only now to Smith and Hermanns, it has made for some entertaining reading; a twist to a story that would have never come to light in an era without blogs enabling citizens to report the news as they see it. Jeremy Hermanns still claims to have made no money from this story.

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