When it comes to commercial airline pilots, we don’t usually see them but we always hear them. It turns out, however, that the sound of their voice can inspire either much or little confidence. A recent survey shows that 65 percent of respondents said a pilot with a Texan accent would give them the least amount of confidence when traveling by plane.
The survey of 4,207 US travelers conducted by Jetcost found that 54% of respondents can be more or less confident in their pilot simply based on their accent, the Los Angeles Times reported. The accents passengers tend to trust the most are the Midwest and West Coast accents. Sixty-three percent of respondents said an Upper Midwestern accent gave them confidence in a pilot’s ability to fly a plane, while 58% said the same of a Southern Californian accent.
Other accents that inspired confidence were the Great Lakes accent (51%), the Central Canadian accent (45%), and the Southwestern US accent (37%).
Meanwhile, the accents that inspired the least amount of confidence, other than the Texan accent, were the New York accent (59%), the General American accent (54%), the Central Canadian accent (45%) and the Southeastern US accent (37%).
It seems Americans are most comfortable with a relaxed West Coast or Middle-American accent. A 2010 survey in the UK, however, showed that British passengers felt safest with a male pilot with a “received pronunciation” Oxford accent. Despite these surveys, there are no studies that show any correlation between a pilot’s speaking manner and their ability to fly a plane.
In American folklore, there is one man who represents the epitome of the calm and collected American pilot, Chuck Yeager. In 1947, after serving as a fighter pilot in World War II, he became a test pilot for the United States Air Force. Yeager was the first pilot to officially break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.
In Tom Wolfe’s 1979 novel The Right Stuff, the author looks at Yeager’s status as one of the best pilots of his generation, writing that Yeager’s speech pattern was mimicked by pilots who wanted to convey the cool, collected, folksy speech pattern that was the pilot’s trademark.
“With a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness that is so exaggerated it begins to parody itself… Military pilots and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker-hollow West Virginia drawl, or as close to it as they could bend their native accents. It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager,” Wolfe wrote.
Subconsciously, for many American air travelers, this speech pattern is associated with familiar and relaxed pilots that are capable of dealing with any aircraft malfunction while also managing to keep their passengers calm.