Cockpit tours off-limits, unless if you're the pope

  • Passengers have not been allowed to visit the cockpits of commercial airliners since right after Sept. 11, 2001.

    Passengers have not been allowed to visit the cockpits of commercial airliners since right after Sept. 11, 2001. Bloomberg file photo

  • Pope Francis looks out the window the papal plane at Philadelphia International Airport.

    Pope Francis looks out the window the papal plane at Philadelphia International Airport. Associated Press

 
 
Posted10/2/2015 6:00 AM

Did you hear that Pope Francis got upgraded on his chartered American Airlines flight from New York to Philadelphia last week? Not just upgraded, but all the way to the cockpit. Talk about a religious experience!

No passengers have been allowed in the cockpit since right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Before 9/11, pilots often invited passengers to the cockpit for a quick look. Children even got to don the captain's hat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Today, the doors are locked and reinforced with steel. When a pilot exits the cockpit to walk through the aircraft or use the lavatory, a flight attendant blocks the area with a beverage cart. And nobody is allowed to loiter near the cockpit during the flight. Except perhaps the Pope. But I digress.

The heads of the Roman Catholic Church have a long history flying our commercial airlines. It started in 1965 when Paul VI flew from Rome to New York on TWA flight 707. The Vatican chartered the plane as well as the pilots, flight attendants and ground crew. Many of us volunteered. We would have paid to work the flight. The ones who got picked felt like they had won the lottery. And they had.

Apparently the flight was a success because for more than 30 years, TWA was considered the pope's official airline.

So much so that, several years ago, on a flight heading from Rome a passenger asked me to solve an argument she was having with her seatmate. She asked if it was true that TWA was the official airline of the pope.

I told her, yes, it was true. The plane was named, "The Good Shepherd" and the Vatican leased it for papal visits.

She triumphantly turned to her friend and said, "See, that's why they want to know how many Catholics are on board."

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I looked confused. So she pulled out a pendant on a chain around her neck and said, "You make an announcement before every take off and arrival to see which ones of us are wearing these crosses."

She was crushed when I told her the phrase, "Prepare the doors for arrival and CROSS-CHECK," had everything to do with safety and nothing to do with religion.

The announcement simply reminds the flight attendants to check the doors to ensure the evacuation slides will not open in an agent's face on arrival. And to ensure the slides will deploy in an emergency.

On this trip, Pope Francis flew from Rome to Washington, D.C., on an Alitalia aircraft. But he flew on an American Airlines Boeing 777 within the United States. And even though the government lifted some of the rules for him, I doubt anybody considered Pope Francis a threat to our national security while he visited the cockpit.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at gailtodd@aol.com.

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