Saving a plane full of people – from a bad entertainment experience?

I was on a business trip to Europe last week, and on the plane ride
back, I was accosted by a gentleman who asked me if I was a Microsoft
employee by any chance.  Perhaps jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt in the
business class section was a dead give-away…   I admitted that I did
work at Microsoft, and he asked if I knew anything about windows, and I
admitted that I was in the windows group.  He asked me if I could help
him with his Windows problem.  I mumbled, that I haven’t really worked
in support, but I’ll give it a shot.  I hopped over my neighbor who was
sound asleep and followed him to his PC.  It ended up that he was the
steward  (I assume that’s the word for a male stewardess?)  His PC was
actually built into the plane. 
Ever since I worked in the flight controls certification group at
Boeing, I had always fantasized that one day, the plane would be going
down, and I would somehow be able to help the pilot troubleshoot the
flight controls issue, thus saving everyone on board right before it
crashed in a fiery blaze into the earth.  Although this wasn’t a
flight controls issue, perhaps this was my chance.  Perhaps my mediocre
windows skills would fulfill my fantasy of "fixing" the plane and save
us from a disaster. 
He pointed to a bios screen, and asked if he should change any
settings.  I told him that I wasn’t quite sure what the problem was
yet, so I can’t really say if we should change any settings.  He then
rebooted to show me what the problem was.  It ended up that I was
working on the Inflight Entertainment System.  Apparently, some of the
passengers were complaining that their individual movies were
restarting sporadically, and so the steward rebooted the system. 
Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed that I was called in to handle
such a non-critical issue especially after my daydreams of rescuing a
plane from imminent disaster… but at the same time, I was a bit
When the computer booted up, it showed the Windows 3.11 for Workgroups
logo.  I believe this version of windows was released while I was in
high school.  I involuntarily let out a "Woah… "  The steward
acknowledged that the software was a bit old…   Then there was a note
that said that SAMBA was looking for a certain file server and a list
of pings that were timing out. 
I told the steward that I didn’t think this was a Windows issue, but
that a server somewhere else may be having problems, or it could be a
networking issue. The steward told me that there were other servers,
but it was underneath the deck.  I thought for a moment that maybe I’ll
get to crawl through the underbelly of the plane to reset some server
somewhere…  alas, he sighed that we don’t have access to those
At this point, I didn’t feel like I had much more to offer.  The pilot
came back and asked if he should reboot the entire system. 
(Apparently, they can reboot everything from the cockpit.)  I was about
tell him that, that’s probably a good idea, when the steward broke in
and said, "Well, I got this Microsoft guy working on it.  I think he
should be able to fix it… " 
With an awkward smile, I turned back to the touchscreen and started
fiddling around, not quite knowing what to do.  I started alt-tabbing
through all the applications.  Then miracle of miracles – the SAMBA
notice went away, and the Inflight Entertainment software started to
boot.  The steward started getting excited saying that he wasn’t able
to get this far, and this was new!  He told me to wait just a moment
and disappeared into the flight crew area.  I started reading the
instructions that was stickered on the panel next to the system and
started pushing some buttons next to the screen to get to a bunch of
menus.  It seemed like it was working like the instructions
prescribed.  The steward returned with a certificate for some free
bonus miles.  I told him that it’s really not necessary, and I’m not
even sure I did anything.  Nevertheless, he was quite gracious and
thanked me and took over at the console.
I came back to my seat, then returned to my work on my PC.  A few hours
later, I had the satisfaction of watching a movie on the airplane
computer system that I helped to "fix".  Although if I was a betting
man, I’m pretty sure that they probably eventually rebooted the entire
system…. I don’t want come off sounding like a company salesman, but
they should probably look into upgrading – at least to Windows 95…

1 Comment

  1. Way to go Don!!!!
    That cracked me up. Especially knowing that the IFE (in flight etertainment) uses windows 3.1. Not supprised though. I have been working all week on getting the right flight contol software for our plane here in taiwan and what do you know it is loaded by way of a 3.5" floppy dive in the flight deck. It takes multipule disks to reload one system in some cases. Remind you of loading software durring the windows 3.1 days????

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