The cockpit of a modern airliner is a pretty cramped place. 32000 feet above Ireland Captain Jason Wirth and First Officer Barbara Lopez sat surrounded by controls and instrument panels as they occupied, respectively, the left and right hand seats. In their crisp white shirts and aviator shades they appeared model professionals monitoring progress while the flight computers took their Boeing 777 from Heathrow to Chicago. Behind them, separated by the obligatory post 9/11 secure door, nearly 300 passengers and crew had settled in over the hour or so that had passed since take off.
Looking through his side window Wirth remarked “Irish coast coming up. It’s about time”. Lopez peered at the weather radar on one of the glass screens before her, its scanner searching the skies for up to 100 miles ahead. She pointed to a brightly coloured patch on the screen. “That looks rough”. Pressing the transmit button she spoke again, her voice calm and clear; “Oceanic control, Amair 492”.
“Amair 492, Oceanic control. Pass message” came the crisp response.
“Amair 492, with you abeam Shannon westbound at flight level 32, anyone reporting chop at this level?” Lopez asked.
“Stand by” then, after a short break “Amair 492, Delta 194 is about 20 minutes ahead of you reporting light to medium chop at level 36. I have no-one at your level”
“Is that what we have on the radar?” asked Wirth. “Sure is” responded Lopez. “OK, ask for change of course and height” nodded Wirth.
Pressing her transmit button again, Lopez spoke “Oceanic, Amair 492. Thanks for the update. Requesting flight level 36 and course change 277”.
“Amair 492, Oceanic. Cleared to climb, flight level 36 and 277”
“Amair 492, three six and two seven seven. Good day.” replied Lopez. She reached across and entered the new data into the flight computer. As the messages passed through the giant aircraft’s systems the GE turbines and ailerons responded, the Boeing’s nose rising and moving slightly right at their command.
“How long? asked Wirth. “17 minutes” replied Lopez.
This time it was Wirth who pressed the transmit button. Back in the cabin Purser Elaine Dickenson picked the phone off the wall as the tone sounded. She spoke a single word “Purser”. “Captain speaking” Wirth told her, “expect light chop in 17 minutes; you’re cleared to serve the meals”