Tucker Carlson’s Air Travel Safety Rant Was Unhinged, But Diversity Hiring Is Real

When I saw Tucker Carlson’s Tuesday evening piece on air travel safety making the rounds, I didn’t give it much mind. But as it’s picking up steam, it seemed important to cover. Because while nearly everything he says in the segment is wrong, if his staff spent a little bit of time researching instead of picking up online complaints by United pilots who do not like the politics of their airline or President Biden, he could come up with a much better-grounded argument.

Here’s the completely off the rails segment, where Carlson lays the blame for recent air travel near-misses at the feet of the President, arguing that “Biden imposed the principles of equity on the airlines, and that meant dramatically lowering hiring standards for pilots and air traffic controllers.”

That’s wrong, which I’ll get into in a moment, but first here’s the piece:

Carlson went on to read a pilot rant from December about United Airlines “Under its woke CEO Scott Kirby, United Airlines has allowed politics and racialist ideology to trump safety concerns.”

  • United Airlines has pursued a broadly liberal social agenda. They supported affirmative action on the California ballot in 2020, for instance. And they’ve aligned themselves closely with the Biden administration, which is understandable – the federal government is both the source of oversight and massive subsidies for the industry and United wants more money for fuel and environmental programs. Their head of communications used to be President Obama’s spokesman.

  • United was out way ahead of the Biden administration with vaccine mandates. This angered many pilots. Major airline pilots tend to skew older, white, and Republican.

  • But there is zero indication that this has been connected to safety, and Carlson doesn’t even try to make the case (other than repeating a statement from a single pilot who offered merely the assertion that it could in the future).

He then talked about the United Airlines Boeing 777 flight off of Maui that nearly plunged into the Pacific, suggesting the captain was “brand new” and the first officer was a “new hire.”

  • We don’t yet know the cause of problems with the United Maui flight – whether it was wind shear or an issue of the co-pilot incorrectly setting flaps. But there’s zero indication that diversity had anything to do with it.

  • We don’t know who the pilots even are but rather than being brand new to flying, the two had a combined roughly 25,000 hours of flying experience. If it turns out they were new to the 777 that’s not a function of diversity, but early retirements taken during the pandemic.

The piece offered the quote that “they’re hiring people straight out of high school now.” I assure you, major airline pilots flying you on your next trip are not straight out of high school.

And then this: “Southwest Airlines’ in-house training program…has dramatically lowered its standards.”

  • Airlines have not reduced the requirements to become a pilot, the federal government still sets those.

  • Southwest reduce the requirement for applicants to its training program to already have 500 hours of turbine time rather than 1,000 prior to being accepted. They still need as much flying time to operate as a commercial pilot, they’ll just bring them into the program earlier.

  • There’s been a pilot shortage so airlines have been willing to broaden the pool they recruit from. Pilot standards are still far more stringent – for reasons other than safety – in the U.S. than in Europe, where flying is safe.

Carlson’s piece was reckless, but if he did a little bit of research he could actually point to diversity hiring in air traffic control. That didn’t begin under the Biden administration, it started in the Obama administration. But there really hasn’t been an indication that it’s led to problems with safety (the track record over the past 10 years suggests otherwise). Technology, leadership, and lack of controllers leading to fatigue are surely bigger issues at the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization.

Nonetheless, the FAA did actually move to ‘off the street’ hiring with diversity as a criteria, passing over graduates of FAA-approved university air traffic control programs, during the Obama administratoin.

The FAA launched the Collegiate Training Initiative in 1997, working with colleges and universities to offer air traffic control degrees, and making their graduates the primary source for hiring controllers. This trumped the previous requirement of a high school degree and three years of (unrelated) work experience.

In 2005 the FAA Inspector General recommended adding coursework to these schools to reduce training time at the FAA’s academy. Since the FAA didn’t do this, Congress directed a study of the move in agency’s 2012 reauthorization.

Instead the FAA started an Air Traffic Controller Recruitment Campaign which bypassed graduates. A decision made by the FAA, and not by the Air Traffic Organization, meant that both high school graduates and those with air traffic control degrees had to apply through the same program and pass both the standard aptitude test for controllers and a biographical test. This had the effect of bypassing hundreds of controller graduates. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed concern with the FAA’s change in hiring practices at the time.

Still, this seems the least of the agency’s challenges and not something that can be tied to current near-misses. But anyone trying to make a ‘Tucker Carlson case’ would seemingly need to at least be familiar enough with the issues to start there?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Tucker Carlson is an extremely morally flawed self-serving sociopath with no respect for the truth and decency. Thus, it should be no surprise that Tucker Carlson has been personal friends with also deeply-flawed Hunter Biden and exploited that “friendship” to seek affirmative action — of the sort reserved for the rich and well-connected — so that his daughter could get into a better college/university than would happen without that kind of diversity hire for the underperforming children of such over-entitled parent.

  2. you are choose to think what is relevant but I suspect the NTSB will have the last word.

    you need to have about 120 more replies to catch up to “the other guy’s” article but I’ll keep checking this thread since you bother to reply to me which the other guy doesn’t. 🙂

  3. As a lifelong traveller and observer of the airlines and airline industry there was nothing Tucker stated that was untrue. You may not like to hear his opinion when it conflicts with your foolish social views prioritizing a woke agenda over aviation skills and experience in hiring. Personally I suspect Tucker is the liberal poster child of hate only because he is so effective and reasoned in his arguments. It’s been obvious the pilot shortage has been coming for decades (Thank You Baby Boomers) Any agenda not making air safety Job 1, 2 & 3 is miss guided.

  4. Funny, the [redacted -gl] here don’t realize that this is what they want. Diversity over quality in all hiring not just airlines. Tucker is spot on with his assessment of the airlines/FAA and their quest for wokeness.

    [redacted -gl]

  5. My take is I see elements of truth in Tim and Gary’s debate here (why does everyone put @ up front of names?…I’m old school not tech savvy)
    This was an incident that has been blown up by Carlson and the internet.
    The Captain was senior enough to hold the 777, he had a lot of experience. the FO may well have been new. We don’t know the breakdown of the “25,000” hours between the two. Incidents of this magnitude happen all the time. As long as there has been the NASA self reporting system they have published the results for pilots to learn from (crew info redacted).
    There is in fact an FAR (I think, unless it was company policy for fro the airline I retired from, but pretty sure it was a regulation) that prevents pilots with less than 100 hrs in type from flying together. It’s a bit antiquated as a pilot new to long haul wide body flying is still, while fully qualified and safe, getting comfortable with the airplane (he may well have only 10 landings made in his first 100 hours)
    That said, the salient point here is the industry is going to continue to have all kinds of high time pilots that are new to a particular type of aircraft and going forward they will occasionally be paired with new FO’s.
    This incident has absolutely nothing to do with race or gender. Tucker Carlson did what he does best, inflame people with little regard for the truth. Again, look at the NASA reports and you will understand incidents like this happen all the time, it’s very common among all manner of pilots.
    People think it’s worse now because we have 24 hour cable and the internet is geared to make you think so. It’s not, there have always been incidents like this and always will be. You could even make a case that the crew made a mistake (premature flap setting, improperly set altitude in the autopilot, whatever) , as all pilots do in their career and their experience kept it from escalating.

  6. JohnW,
    you add good perspective including that Tucker Carlson has a remarkable ability to get people talking. Once again, he is an OPINION part of Fox News, not a part of their core news function.
    My beef is the use of words like “unhinged” and other derogatory words.
    There is an ELEMENT of truth to what he says and therefore it isn’t all false.
    The NTSB will investigate and they will release their findings at some point.
    They have made recommendations about pilot pairing before and I suspect that will be one of the things that will come out in this incident if there is any indication – and based on the Air Current’s reporting – this wasn’t just a weather incident over which the pilots had no influence.
    It IS the goal of the US aviation safety system to recover from dangerous situations and these pilots did it; it is important to understand what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again at united or any other carrier. Teaching proper recovery skills helps save situations should they occur again for reasons that might not be expected. It isn’t an either/or.

    And there very likely is an uptick in airline incidents and it is likely due to the rapid restart of airline operations post-covid. Experience from both ATC controllers and pilots is likely to be the case.

    The American people do know what is going on when multiple incidents are publicized. I watch Fox News and CNN plus the network news and they are all covering these incidents.
    The point is not to blame the media for telling about them but to make sure these types of incidents stop happening.

  7. Tucker Carlson was trying to rip on Chelsea Handler too, but she nailed him when she noted that he’s got the hots for her too.

    It doesn’t takes a comedian to know a clown, but she has that Tucker Carlson clown down as just that: a distasteful clown who’s putting on a circus show primarily for gullible people whose hate is rooted in their insecurity over feeling like losers (but not wanting to admit it).

  8. Tim, Your point about the rapid restart of post covid travel is very important….all the airlines are hiring like crazy and first year pilots are actually making Captain in narrow bodies at junior bases in some cases. Airlines with a fleet like United are going to have a lot of pilots sitting in a seat they are new to. The people that want to tie this to minority hiring practices are letting their personal biases influence them and not reality.
    This incident was likely a small mistake compounded by weather is my guess. Could have happened to anyone.
    The lesson learned from this should be a closer look at new Captains flying with new FO’s. Your first 100 hours in an airplane you are on what’s called high minimums. You have several weather requirements that have to be met as well as where you can fly and with who. I’m wondering if that may need a closer look.

  9. In other words: “Tucker Carlson broadcast full of lies as usual.”
    Tucker Carlson is a danger to society.
    Moving on…..

  10. I was in agreement with this article until I saw the comment about airline pilots “skewing older, white, Republican…”
    Same assumptive stereotyping you are admonishing Tucker for just in the other direction.

  11. Two thousand years ago, Seneca said that public figures will say what their respective constituencies want to hear . . . even if they know that something is not true. A few years ago, the then-president of Fox News said that they were just giving the viewers what they wanted.

    Evidence presented in court reveals that Tucker Carlson, other Fox News on-air personalities, and Fox News executives have privately stated “brutal” criticisms of people they support and positions they espouse on broadcasts.


    ” . . . the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie , , , It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation.” – Adolf Hitler

  12. @ Tim Dunn

    Oh Tim, I have huge respect for your contribution on matters aviation, but you are arguably misguided on matters pertaining to journalism.

    “Once again, he is an OPINION part of Fox News, not a part of their core news function.”

    But mate, that’s how trash media operates to influence the gormless to its owners political agenda. We know Murdoch is trash in terms of journalistic ethics. We’ve known that decades. We know from the phone tapping scandals in the UK.

    “My beef is the use of words like “unhinged” and other derogatory words.”

    It’s unhinged because the argument lacks logical structure. Much worse, there is a wanton and deliberate manipulation of the audience.

    “There is an ELEMENT of truth to what he says and therefore it isn’t all false.”

    WTF – it totally disrespects any factual foundation and factually crafted narrative.

    “The point is not to blame the media for telling about them but to make sure these types of incidents stop happening.”

    No. You the audience need to hold substandard and toxic media to account. Making claims based upon easily disprovable fake news , even as an “opinion” piece, does disservice to you, and your fellow countrymen.

    My father, who was the head of news and current affairs for a highly respected national broadcaster in his day, would tell you (and Gary Leff and many others herein) to take your head out of your rear end on such matters and start demanding quality in your media. Savvy?!

  13. @Gary – not sure how true that really is or how statistically relevant (vs accurate) it might be either.

    Older is obviously subjective. Any high paying profession with significant advancement gates, and those that require substantial training, experience, and skill are going to tend to skew towards “older”. You could say the same about surgeons and many other professions. Republican? That seems like an assumption made based on “the type of people you think pilots are”. Very anecdotal. I’ve seen a few informal polls that point in different directions on this. Piloting is still a heavily unionized job and those unions send funds to democrats more so than republicans.

  14. I’m sorry, Gary, but your’ assessment is off. Carlson may be a radical right winger but he hit the nail on the head this time. Diversity over qualifications is the norm today and it’s coming too close to a level of incompetence never before seen in the aviation industry.
    The problem is throughout the industry including, and perhaps worse, in the FAA.
    We barely dodged the bullet in 1995/96; I’m afraid it’s finding its target this time, and soon.
    Just one old aviator’s (from within the FAA) opinion, mind you.

  15. I believe that one of Carlson’s comments was perhaps a different segment regarding this incident in Texas with First Officer Aska. “Beneath the surface of the first officer’s training record, they found a long history of failed examinations, terrible airmanship, and difficulties performing basic procedures. One instructor said that he was one of the worst pilots he had ever trained. And after all of this, he was hired anyway — due to inadequate hiring practices, a deliberate act of deception, and an FAA program that wasn’t implemented in time to stop it.” Affirmative action could have also been a factor or others pilots not speaking up due to fears of being called a racist. Sounds like there were many factors, but in other areas of training and education people are being advanced because of far in calling out certain persons inadequate abilities will appear racial. I have represented both legal sides of this in other fields, ie medicine and health care. There are people of all colors, cultures and sex’s that are inadequate at their jobs. If one can blame racism or sexism for their failures instead of themselves, many will. Additionally, in today’s culture if one has to advance someone or risk litigation or being labeled a racist, they usually advance the person,. I have had medical educators grapple with this dilemma too often.

  16. I’m not sure why these miles/points bloggers feel the need to comment on intricate labor/regulatory issues they clearly have little to no experience or expertise in. They are so inaccurate, I physically cringe while reading these uneducated, politically tinged diatribes.

    In response to your response on how long you’ve been running this page, just because someone has done something for a long time, doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Very few aged cab drivers are successful NASCAR drivers, even though many drive like they are.

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