07/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

On A Wing And A Prayer

This is the Pilot speaking:

We are encountering mechanical difficulties and will be landing shortly. It would appear that the Airlines automated fuel restriction process has incorrectly calculated the fuel required for this flight. In the meantime I would request that all passengers use the restroom at least once so that we can jettison as much extra weight we are carrying as possible.

Should it become necessary to shed additional weight, we will begin selecting various passengers carry-on luggage for in flight removal from the craft. Those in first class are exempt from the luggage ejection selection process. In a worst case scenario, passengers nearest emergency exits will be issued parachutes for additional weight reduction measures."

Ok folks, that cockpit pronouncement was a fabrication but, I'm getting more than nervous now, apart from sticker shock at the cost of taking a flight these days; future flights could become real white knucklers. We board aircraft these days with little more concern than boarding a bus and the statistics bear out the fact that in terms of accidents per passenger mile, busses are the loser, but the current fuel price increases killing us at the gas pump are causing the airlines fits.

To cut costs, American airlines is laying off pilots, flight mechanics and additional employees. Even more ominous, US Airways is forcing its pilots to fly with less fuel than the pilots think is necessary for safe travel. I don't know about you but enough mechanics to keep planes properly maintained and enough fuel to get to another airport in the event of a problem at the one it was to land at are two of the most important elements of feeling safe about flying the friendly skies.

Eight pilots and their union have filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration, accusing the airline of infringing on their authority and making them fly with less fuel than they feel is safe, said James Ray, a spokesman for the U.S. Airline Pilots Association.

It doesn't help matters that the eight are senior pilots who I would presume are most aware of the scenarios of potential emergencies that would justify their fuel level needs. I wouldn't want a plane to fly without proper maintenance or enough fuel.

The airline insists it is within safety tolerances as evidenced in a US Airways spokesman's statement.

"Our arrival fuel amounts on average are more than twice the FAA minimum standards," Durrant said. "With the high price of oil, it is a balance between having enough to travel safely and also flying efficiently."

If the airlines say it's safe and the senior pilot thinks otherwise, I will go with the pilot, he is the one that will be in the air with me. Unlike a paper airplane that can float harmlessly to the ground, a jet airliner is hundreds of thousands of pounds that obey the rules of gravity. Even the FAA knows that ultimately it's the pilot's call.

"If a pilot doesn't feel that a plane has enough fuel in it for the trip that he or she is about to make, then they have the discretion of not flying that flight," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Wednesday.