This Italian cruise ship accident is giving me a much greater appreciation for commercial airline pilots. The revelations this week that Captain Francesco Schettino was one of the first people to abandon ship after the liner struck a reef and started listing--and the audio recordings of Schettino literally begging the Italian Coast Guard not to make him go back on the ship are the greatest examples of cowardice and negligence that we have seen in some time.
Can you imagine the pilot of an airliner announcing an on-board emergency and then walking through the cabin with a parachute on his back--popping open one of the exit hatches and jumping out? And then the co-pilot and the flight attendants following him out the door--leaving all of the panicked passengers to fend for themselves? (Side note here--as an experienced skydiver, I wouldn't mind having on-board parachutes for passengers who think they might have a better chance of surviving a jump from high altitude than an emergency landing. The same goes for offices in high rise buildings in case of fire or suicide terrorist attack again.)
There is a reason there aren't ejection seats and parachutes on commercial planes: Those hired by the airlines, and entrusted by the passengers, are expected to do all that is humanly possible to save the lives of everyone on board. Unfortunately, the cut-rate business model for commerical aviation has really eroded the public's perception of pilots and flight attendants to the point where we consider them nothing more than cabbies and waitresses in the sky. Stewards aren't paid to pass out peanuts and soda--they are paid to make sure you get your fat butt out of one of the emergency exits in case all hell breaks loose. And pilots are paid to handle the "situations" you never even notice back in coach--instead of just three takeoffs and landings every day.
I am vehemently against taking a cruise for a vacation. I've had friends tell me how "wonderful" it is to just unpack once for the entire trip--not to have to pay for your food and drinks all week--and there is "so much to do on-board". But it is stories like the Costa Concordia and the disappearance of people at sea and the crime rates reported on-board (often involving ship staff) that cement my stance that you won't catch me dead on a cruise ship.
I'm not sure which comedian said it first--but they were absolutely correct when they said "Being on a boat is like being in prison--with an increased risk of drowning."