March 23, 2009, 4:37 PM UTC

pilotWhen is enough of a good thing way too much? When you’re flying American (AMR). Somewhere along the line somebody must have done a focus group or something, because it’s apparent that the airline believes that fulsome, frank communications with passengers is of fabulous benefit to everybody. The effort is obviously well-intentioned. But the outcome is perhaps not.

I first noticed this a few years ago, when I would be sitting and waiting for a mysterious amount of time on the tarmac and then Chuck Yeager would come on the public address system with something like, “First of all, I’d like to thank you all for your patience…” This immediately drained whatever patience I was trying to cultivate. I hate being thanked for my patience. “… but there’s an amber light here in the cockpit that we’re checking out.”

That was bad. There are a lot of reasons for amber lights, none of them particularly encouraging. Did I need to know about the amber light? Maybe. Did I want to fly in a plane that sported one, even briefly? Again, not too sure. I did know that the announcement did very little to help my frame of mind, but I guess they were just trying to be responsible and blah blah blah.

The trend has continued to develop, with ever-increasing levels of frankness being employed to win our admiration and regard. Which is fine. Unless, you know, it freaks us out entirely.

It’s my perception, which may be completely off base (but I don’t think so) that American Airlines hasn’t put a new plane into domestic service in quite some time.  A little while back, they fooled me for a while with some new seating arrangements, but then I realized the snazzy new electric chairs had been installed into the same old Boeings. What American does instead, and it is very much to its credit, is to swarm over every airplane before it is permitted to leave the ground, fixing, checking, making sure that it is truly airworthy. This means a lot of late departures and safe arrivals. Still, I sometimes think they should post all take-off and landing times with a big fat asterisk.

Anyhow, yesterday I was scheduled to depart at 1:50 from San Francisco. The plane was slow to board. It is my belief, based on years of experience, that even the most infinitesimal delay at any point in the chain usually results in hours and hours of snafus and fubars, very often ending in the scrubbing of the flight and total decomposition of my day/week.  So my hair-trigger gut was telling me a) we had a problem and b) there was, therefore, a 68.4% chance that we would never take off at all, when Chuck Yeager came on the intercom.

“Well,” he said, “we were all ready to go, but it appears that the brakes on the left side of the plane need to be replaced.” He then went on about how that was really not a very big deal at all and that it might take less than half an hour and so on and so forth, but I didn’t hear a thing, all I could get into my mind was the image of a plane landing at Kennedy Airport in New York and careening into Jamaica Bay when its brakes gave out.

“This is too much information for me,” I said to the dead-heading flight attendant in the next seat.

“Well,” he said, “I guess they’re just trying to be honest.”

I get that. Honesty is a virtue. In this case, however, something seems out of whack. Next time I would suggest something like, “There’s a bit of weather in New York, and we’re going to make sure that we have clear skies for your landing there. Kick back and have a free drink on us.”

I like that much better. Not that such obfuscation is always called for. How different the world would look now if some honest broker had announced, “Well, we were doing fine until about a month ago, when it became obvious that our insurance was underwritten by a host of bad mortgage loans…”