Bouncing cheques or a bouncy landing? All in a day's work for the expert pilot

Sure, you can program an autopilot but will you be defeated by a Dell?


On Call Some users are less than bright, and some are just slightly dim. But few are quite as dim as this high-flying employee of the world's formerly favourite airline. Welcome to On Call.

Today's story of tribulation by telephone comes from "James" (for that is not his name). It takes us back 10 years or so, when James was making a nice enough living as a self-employed computer repair person. Got a busted bit of kit? He was the local man to see.

"I had replaced a screen in a Dell laptop for a new customer who lived in a nice area, with a rather large house," he told us.

A price for the work had been agreed but, probably after watching a bit too much reality TV, the well-heeled customer attempted to negotiate a discount. James was unimpressed – the lion's share of the cost had been the new screen. So he stuck to his guns.

"They paid by cheque," he recalled, "which subsequently bounced."

Of course it did. Some story concerning the chequebook being for the wrong account was concocted and a replacement was promised. Doubtless made more urgent by the need for James's services once again. That new screen? It didn't work.

"This shocked me," James told us, "as I had demonstrated it working when I returned it to the customer."

This being a modern laptop, there were no external knobs or dials for the screen, but James still wondered if there'd been some finger trouble and somebody had jabbed the wrong the key. "The couple were not exactly the most skilled computer users I had met."

No worries though. The couple had a son. He was a pilot for the aforementioned airline, formerly the favourite of the world. "If anyone knew about computers then he did" was the retort, and so James agreed to take a call from this "expert" on his return from his latest fly-boy antics.

Doubtless using The Voice reserved for announcements to passengers, curious if their bags were on the same flight as themselves, the son duly called James. Yes, the laptop was on. Yes, the screen was black. YES, there were glowing LEDs indicating activity. YES OF COURSE HE'D TRIED USING THE FUNCTION KEYS TO TURN UP THE BRIGHTNESS.

And so it went on. James was baffled. The screen had definitely been working, but the son insisted that turning up the brightness using the function keys had no effect.

Maybe a keyboard driver? But no, James had tested the hardware and knew it was definitely working.

"After going over the same ground several times the pilot was starting to get irate with me as I was obviously an idiot who didn't know his job," said James. "It was getting to the point where I was going to arrange another visit so I could see for myself when I decided to get him to try turning the brightness down instead of up... just in case..."

Success! Our not-so-friendly pilot had mixed up his arrows and had been mashing the Down button instead of the Up.

"I don't know about you," said James, "but I am not confident flying with a pilot who fails to differentiate between up and down correctly, but seeing as I am an idiot who knows little about these things I am probably just being stupid again..."

James added: "He didn't even apologise."

We think it's entirely possible that the pilot on the phone was thinking about pulling up on one of Boeing or Airbus's finest, which would involve yanking the controller back (or hitting the down key on a flight simulator to point the nose up.) Then again, we've had a good few landings where it certainly felt like the pilot confused "up" with "down" in the closing seconds of flight, with bits of the aircraft's interior falling on us as the airframe bounced down the runway.

As for James, he eventually got paid and was never called about the screen again.

Just because a person has mad skillz in one discipline does not mean IT knowledge is a guarantee. Ever had a call from a customer convinced that up was down or the VGA socket was simply a fancier serial port? Let us know with an email to On Call. ®

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