U.K. Tabloids Just Took Fake (Airline) News To New Heights: Sleeping Pilot?

by John Harper

What is it about air travel that’s so conducive to botched reporting. Is it the somewhat futuristic environment on airliners? Perhaps it’s early onset hypoxia, oxygen deprivation in a pressurized cabin. If so, the latest travel story out of the U.K. just achieved record-low dissolved oxygen levels.

The cracking editorial team at three U.K. tabloids, the Daily Record, Daily Mail and Mirror, somehow manufactured news out of a United Airlines pilot taking an FAA mandated rest break.

United pilot sleeping Daily Mail Mirror, Scotland, flight, first class

This is really, really nuts.

Nine-tenths of journalism is what we call news judgment. News judgment is the process of deciding whether something that happens in a day (billions of things happen every day) is an unusual and significant story or a normal event. This is critical, as many people will call newspapers and television stations about events that are as mundane as a red sunrise.

Literally, when I was a beat reporter in southeast Louisiana, a man called me and left a voicemail at 7:30 every morning, furious that I hadn’t written about how red the sunrise was as a result of chemical trails being dispersed from aircraft.

In this case, a retired police inspector thought he was really onto something when he saw the pilot of his Newark to Glasgow flight climb into the crew rest. Of course, the purpose of an editorial staff is to exercise the news judgement that many are unable to, by comparing notes to research.

On any flight of transatlantic length, a pilot is required by law to take a rest break. On smaller jets, like the 757 operated between Newark and Glasgow, this is accomplished by reserving a seat in business class for each pilot to sit or sleep while his or her counterpart takes over.

In this case, three U.K. tabloids literally decided that something that happens on every single transatlantic flight is a news story. The Daily Mail quoted some unnamed person who supposedly worked for an airline as justification for their story choices. That “cabin crew member at a major airline” said it was unsual that the pilot took off his uniform (it sort-of was). Nothing else about this situation was unusual in any way.

This is maybe the worst thing I’ve seen in my 16 years studying and practicing journalism. Other similarly cracking headlines could follow:

Drivers Furious as Bus Pulls Over On Busy Street, Opens Door

  • The bus was traveling on a London thoroughfare when it suddenly stopped
  • Driver said he missed two green lights while the bus sat on the side of the road
  • Dozens of people got on and off the bus, while traffic piled up behind
  • Many were angry, especially as it was rush hour

Workers Stunned As Elevator Skyrockets Up 50 Floors

  • The elevator in the Empire State Building traveled over 52 stories without slowing
  • Office workers said the car rose so quickly, their ears popped
  • One man, who’d never been in an elevator before, feared for his life for about 30 seconds
  • Others on the elevator seemed either stunned or unaware that anything unusual was happening

Normally I conclude posts with an Upshot takeaway, but there’s no upshot here. This is really just a deep plunge into the murky depths of the internet, circa 2018.

h/t Live and Let’s Fly

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Photo courtesy of Alex E. Proimos - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue.jpg https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0. No changes made.
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