If you’ve ever had the chance to talk to a pilot, chances are you’ve attempted to pick their brain about flying. Regardless of how often you fly, the majority of people you meet today have a shared curiosity for all things air travel.
We asked the general public to share their top airline questions with us. From smart to funny, passengers asked it all! Here are the top 10 questions pilots get asked, with responses from a real-life commercial pilot!
1- Do pilots nap while in the air?
“Yes and No. Typically US pilots are not allowed to sleep while in the cockpit. All pilots are assumed to be alert and diligent while at the controls at 38,000 ft. In fact, some aircraft have alarms that will sound if a control or switch is not touched frequently enough, ensuring that the crew did not fall asleep. On long international flights, there are additional pilots onboard that can relieve a pilot in flight. These augmented crews allow pilots on flights typically longer then 8 hours in duration, the opportunity to go to a spare seat or bunk and grab some shut-eye during flight. It should be noted however, that different countries have different rules. Some foreign airlines do allow pilots to take controlled naps under very strict rules and guidelines while in the air.”
2- Do pilots ever get scared?
“Scared is not the proper word; concerned or heightened awareness might better describe a pilot’s feelings on certain occasions. Pilots are placed in highly stressful situations from early on in flight training. They are trained to perform in situations varying from simulated fires, engine failures, rapid decompression, and strong wind shears, just to name a few. The training itself is designed to condition the pilot to be able to react to the most difficult inflight emergency calmly and rationally. In some ways, fear is conditioned out of the airline pilot, making him or her the cool, calm professional you see strolling around airline terminals worldwide today.”
3- Do crewmembers ever “hook-up”?
“Long overnights in places like Paris, London, New York, Las Vegas do provide the opportunity for pilots and flight attendants to mingle and fraternize. Combine that with good food, beautiful scenery, world-class resorts, and you now have a beautiful backdrop where on occasion can lead to romance in the skies. That being said, most airline crews are professionals who are only looking to perform their job duties and fly the public safely from point A to point B. They want to do their job, see a bit of the world, and then return home safely to their families. Some airlines have taken additional steps however, putting pilots and flight attendants up in separate hotels on their overnights, alleviating the chance of any possible ‘wrongdoing’ between flight crews.”
4- Do Captain’s and First Officers eat different meals to avoid food poisoning?
“In the classic 1980s movie Airplane!, the crew is stricken with food poisoning as they all ate the same fish dinner. In real-life however, all airline food is handled under very strict guidelines making food poisoning very, very rare. But most pilot crew meals are never the same. This is more likely due to the tastes of the individual rather then for the concerns over possible food poisoning.”
5- How much money do pilots make? Are pilots underpaid?
“Pilots like any other employee (yourself included) would probably gladly take more money. The amount a pilot makes depends on their position (Captain vs. First Officer), Aircraft Type (EMB-190, 737, Airbus 340), company longevity, and the type of airline (Legacy, Major, Regional) they work for. All these factors go into determining the pilots pay.
At the low end of the pay scale, a new-hire regional airline First Officer might only make around 25-30K a year. While at the higher end, a senior Legacy 777 Captain might make upwards of 300k a year. Overall, your average pilot is probably making in the 120K range, but again, this is all dependent of where the individual pilot falls within each of those categories.”
6- Are pilots overworked and tired? How many hours can a pilot fly per day?
“Rules that govern rest for pilots in the United States have recently gone thru a major overhaul. Designed to take into affect a persons Circadian Rhythms, which is the human bodies natural highs and lows thru the day, the new rules are designed to limit pilot fatigue. In fact, if a pilot is fatigued, several airlines have policies in affect that allow them to call in fatigued with no threat of disciplinary action from the company, as long as they submit the proper report. This is all in an effort to keep you the traveller safe. As a general rule, pilots can fly about 8 hours a day and be on duty around 12 hours, but there are exceptions to both these times.”
7- Is flying safe? Are bigger planes safer then smaller planes?
“Without a doubt flying is the safest mode of transportation in the world! Aircrafts are designed to a very strict and exact standard. Every aspect of air travel is governed by extremely precise rules that must be followed to the letter. Airlines incur very steep fines even for the smallest and most innocent of documentation errors, much less blatant and non-compliant ones. Airline crews are highly-trained and competent, ensuring the highest levels of safety aboard any flight.
All transport-category airplanes (airliners basically) must have the same level of safety. A 50-seat regional jet by-enlarge has the same type of safety equipment and system redundancies as that of a larger airliner. The Federal Aviation Administration that governs air travel operates under the system of ‘One Level of Safety’. This means all airlines and airplanes that fly the public around, must conform to the highest levels of safety and standards.”
8- How much training do pilots receive?
“Even before a pilot ever sets foot into an airline cockpit, they have probably undergone several years of training in either the military or civilian flight schools (sometimes both). Once hired by an airline, pilots must go through several weeks of training in order to learn the specifics of how that airline operates, known as ‘Operational Specifications’ (Opsecs), followed by simulated training on the particular airplane in which they are going to fly. Once this process is complete, pilots are then given a ‘check-ride’ on a simulator, which is conducted by either a FAA examiner or a company pilot that is trained to give these types of flight check events.
Following all this training, pilots can then begin flying on the actual airplane. This phase is called IOE (Initial Operating Experience), in which pilots fly on revenue flights under the watchful eye of a Line Check Airman, who is specifically trained to fly with pilots that are new to the airline or that particular airplane. This procedure is repeated every time a pilot goes to a new airplane or even a new seat (First Officer to Captain). Every pilot regardless of his or her experience must also go through yearly training. Here they undergo hours of classroom training, computer based instruction, and airplane simulator flying, ensuring that they are up-to-date with the most recent flight guidelines.”
9- How does the auto-pilot work? Do all planes use this?
“Autopilot works by using the airplanes internal sensors and computers to fly the airplane while pilots monitor the airplanes performance. This provides an extra level of safety by releasing the pilots from the sometimes-tedious process of physically hand-flying the airplane, and allowing them to focus on other tasks such as weather, turbulence, Air Traffic Control communications, etc. All airliners with over 19-seats have some type of autopilot. In larger airplanes, additional features exist like auto-land functions, which allow the airplane to execute an approach and landing in low visibility conditions without the pilot having to touch the controls.”
10- What are the advantages being a pilot?
“We get to do what we love, and that is fly. We meet so many wonderful people along the way, and experience so many new destinations. Plus, it’s always a sunny day at work when you’re a pilot!”
Have an additional question for our pilots? Share your questions below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.