How to Get Capt. Sully Sullenberger as Your Pilot and Other Tips for Picking the Safest Flight

There is no way to guarantee a seat on his plane, or at least no way that US Airways has announced yet. (Granted, in the age of baggage fees etc., one could imagine the highly improbable "Sully Surcharge" to have him as your pilot.) But by choosing your flights wisely, you might be able to tip the odds in your favor.

Picking Sully's Flights

US Airways has 3,096 daily flight departures and 4,194 pilots. Almost two-thirds of those flights are operated by US Airways Express. Sullenberger only flies for the mainline US Airways, which has 1,199 daily flights. So first off, choose one of those.

That typically requires reading the fine print when booking a ticket. For instance, if you fly between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the airline's hub in Charlotte, N.C., on flight 3212 you will actually be on a flight operated by Republic Airlines doing business as US Airways Express.

The next thing to consider is what type of aircraft you will be on. Sullenberger only flies Airbus 319 and 320 jets -- displayed on the airline's Web site as A319 and A320. US Airways only has 93 and 68 of those jets, respectively, so pick wisely. If you end up on a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A330, there's no chance Sullenberger will be at the helm.

Granted, you might do all that planning and it could be his day off.

Nance said that shouldn't matter. Sullenberger is credited with saving the lives of 155 people, and Nance said Sullenberger did everything right, but that doesn't mean that Sullenberger is the only one who could have landed that plane safely.

"There was no miracle: 80 percent of the airline pilots out there would have done the same thing," Nance said. "There are tens of thousands of Sullys flying out there."

Pilots are trained to handle any situation and multiple procedures are supposed to take the variables and risk out of flight, Nance said.

But what about those regional airlines? Often when buying a ticket on the mainline carriers a segment might be operated by a smaller, regional airline often with younger, less experienced and lower-paid pilots.

Take the Continental Express flight, operated by Pinnacle Airlines' Colgan Air, that crashed before landing in Buffalo in February. Rebecca Shaw, the 24-year-old co-pilot of that plane earned $23,900 a year. Sullenberger was paid more than $100,000 a year at the time of the Hudson River crash. His first officer, Jeffrey Skiles was paid about $70,000.

Flights to Avoid

Nance said pay alone should not be a factor. All airline pilots go through the same rigorous training, he said. However, the pay issue can't be ignored.

Both of the pilots in the Continental Express crash commuted long distances -- from Florida and Seattle -- to start their work days. While salary in itself might not be an issue, Nance said, the fact that it often leads commuter jet pilots to commute many extra hours can hurt safety.

Still, Nance said, the regional airlines have cleaned up their act from the 1980s and are generally as safe as the mainline carriers.

In February testimony before Congress, Sullenberger said that his "decision to remain in the profession I love has come at a great financial cost to me and to my family." He said his pay has been cut 40 percent and his airline pension is now "worth only pennies on the dollar."

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