Salon tries to drag the Alaska saga on…

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Freelance writer Patrick Smith has written a piece for Salon about my experience onboard Alaska flight 536, in which he attempts to take me to task for my account of the experience:

I found Hermanns’ account of the incident, which he describes as “horrific,” and “the unthinkable,” to be luridly overblown. He confuses the smell of activated oxygen canisters as that of commercial jet fuel, which he wrongly identifies as “AV-gas” or “JP4” (it is neither). Hermanns said repeatedly that he believed the fuselage hole was located at the back of the aircraft. Some news stations actually showed an MD-80 with graphics inexplicably pointing to the jet’s rear pressurization outflow valve as the purported hole — well aft, and on the opposite side, of the damage.

So essentially my mistake, in Patrick Smith’s eye, is honestly describing a situation where, regardless of my pilot’s experience, I was helpless to do anything, and unclear as to what was happening, as “horrific” or “unthinkable”. Oh, and he’s also pissy with me because I referenced an erroneous news report on the location of the hole in the plane.

And you know what–if I were a journalist reporting on the story, I would have been sure to go out and get all the details. I would have called to get official statements from the airline and the people at the airport in Seattle. But that’s where I get confused–I’m missing where in any way I gave the impression that’s what I was doing.

I provided a first-hand account of MY experience onboard the flight. An account which many people found captivating, and thus, I got a TON of traffic last week.

That’s where Patrick Smith comes in. Patrick has a site of his own, and a book where he shares with the world his air travel expertise as a licensed pilot (I’m told it’s a real page-turner). Patrick came to my site, offered some critical assessments of my choice of two words (those very same two he was SO aggravated by in the Salon piece) and then proceeded to fill my site with spamtastic links to his books and site. Not only was Patrick beating a dead horse (I’d been chided left-and-right throughout the comments for the very same things he was saying), he was filling my message board with spam-filled messages trying to boost his own site’s traffic and pagerank. But in Patrick’s world, any refusal to help him promote his products is obviously an attempt to manipulate the publicity for my own gain (which, in case you’re wondering, is still at a whopping $0).

I understand Patrick’s bitterness–after all, last week more people read my story than read his writing ALL of last year. But now to help his own cause, he’s decided to try and make himself part of the story. In order to do so, he’s had to distort our encounters (can you show me the “belligerent” email, Patrick?) and completely quote me out of context; while he says “Here, consolidated for clarity, is his reply:”, he’s really saying “consolidated to manipulate his statements in order to make ME part of the story”. (I’ve posted the full body of my email in the comments of this post)

But as much as having your words blatantly distorted by a “major” publication like Salon sucks, I understand that this is the fate of anyone who publicly shares their experiences, be it online or thru any other form of media. The unique thing I’ve learned about sharing your experiences in a blog (with comments) is that the conversation can develop really fast–and plenty of opportunists, like Patrick Smith, will gladly try to co-opt it, whether or not they have anything to actually contribute to the discussion.

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14 Comments

  1. This is a personal site. I’m not a journalist and this isn’t a major media outlet or a public forum on air travel, I’m just a guy sharing HIS OWN perspective on a traumatic incident. In doing so, I’ve received numerous commendations from people who said they’re less apprehensive about airline travel, b/c I helped to paint a picture of what it’s REALLY LIKE to go through something like this.

    But then, there were people like yourself, who wanted to call out every word choice that wasn’t completely apt in my firsthand account.

    As one of my readers so astutely put it:

    Your insistence on nitpicking every last word choice in my recount, when I’d just gone through a harrowing ordeal is tantamount to hassling a car accident survivor for “being too dramatic”.

    If you want to publish an article that takes one guy to task for experiencing a scary inflight experience and sharing it “overdramatically”, I guess you will need to write an article on Salon. Because my readership has said resoundingly that they don’t want to read that.

  2. It’s almost as if he’s jealous that it didn’t happen to him. Either way, there are people who will seek out your site to see your opinion on it. I reccomend writing a letter to them – likely that they’d publish it, and in a way you’d get the final say.

  3. What all of the people writing the negative comments seem to miss, is that when you are in a plane at 30,000 feet and an incident happens, you are completely helpless and powerless and have no idea of the severity. After it is all over it is easy for someone to say, “It was only a foot long hole”, “passengers were never in any danger”. What they don’t seem to realize is that all you know at the time is the plane has lost pressure and is descending rapidly.

    As far as the baggage handlers, Union or Non-Union, the airline fired nearly 500 skilled and experienced workers with a good track record just to replace them with cheaper contracted workers. Since the changeover, the facts show that there has been a dramatic increase in lost baggage, Alaska’s on-time arrival rate has dropped, the number of baggage thefts has increased, and the number of incidents of everything from tipped baggage carts to plane impacts has increased. This trend should concern any traveler.

  4. You Are Reply to You

    Enjoy your 15 seconds of fame.

  5. Baggage crew damaged another Alaska Air plane yesterday, by pulling the plane a head three feet while people were boarding. Damage to the door and engine cowling:

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/254728_alaska06.html

  6. I have some sympathy for both sides of this argument. Jeremy described a frightening in-flight experience and his reactions to it. In the same situation–oxygen masks falling from the overhead compartments and the plane suddenly and rapidly descending–I would be in my seat terrified, clutching the armrests and making peace with God. That said, I’m grateful to Patrick’s “technical fluffery” for informing me that should I ever be in that situation I need not immediately jump to the conclusion that I am about to die. Patrick did acknowledge that the scenario Jeremy described was, in fact, disorienting and frightening. He was simply trying to mute some of the inevitable hysteria that surrounds incidents like these with a little professional perspective.

  7. Jeremy, I think you’re overreacting, and frankly by deleting some of Patrick’s comments you’ve brought a lot of this on yourself. I’ll also note that your ad hominem attacks in this entry really do not reflect well on yourself.

    One of the biggest reasons people regularly read Patrick’s articles is that they diffuse the zanyness of the press when it comes to air travel. Your story is a good one, but expect it to be dissected.

  8. Christ, Jeremy. Talk about a disproportionate response to some constructive criticism.

    Rough day at the salt mine?

  9. Good for you on deleting his spam. To me, the real news is that Salon is so indiscriminate in posting stories that they would post what amounts of a personal attack from one blogger to another. Sure, Patrick’s moves are scum, but Salon should know better.

  10. k time to get over this and get on with your life dood.

  11. Jeremy…you didn’t happen to get the reg. number of that particular A/C did you? I would be interested to know. Thanks.

  12. Sorry, but Patrick “the Pilot” is a jerk. I wrote in to him once about an in-flight experience (engine-burnout) and his reply was patronizing, and unwarranted considering I had just posed an honest question.

    This is your blog, Jeremy, you can’t write what you want. As to the people who say “enjoy your 15 minutes,” what is their deal, anyway? WHy do they give a shit? Are they jealous that the 15 minutes isn’t theirs?

    Nice work. And keep the Pilot’s spam off the board – as a reader I’m requesting you keep deleting it. I think people can find Salon if they really care.

  13. correction: “you CAN write what you want”

    Of course. 🙂

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