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We asked pilots from across the country to give us straight answers about maddening safety rules, inexplicable delays, the air and attitudes up there, and what really happens behind the cockpit door. What they told us will change the way you fly. Airplanes are built to take it. You hear a big boom and see a big flash and that’s it. You’re not going to fall out of the sky. Airplane pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Stop believing these 20 common myths about airplanes. You may go to an airline website and buy a ticket, pull up to its desk at the curb, and get onto an airplane that has a similar name painted on it, but half the time, you’re really on a regional airline. The regionals aren’t held to the same safety standards as the majors: Their pilots aren’t required to have as much training and experience, and the public doesn’t know that. The heating of the ground later causes bumpier air, and it’s much more likely to thunderstorm in the afternoon. Jerry Johnson, airplane pilot, Los Angeles. Don’t miss these 16 airport mistakes you need to stop making before your next flight. The bumpiest place to sit is in the back.
A plane is like a seesaw. If you’re in the middle, you don’t move as much. Patrick Smith, airplane pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential. Learn more of the best airplane seats for every need. The general flow of air in any airplane is from front to back. So if you’re really concerned about breathing the freshest possible air or not getting too hot, sit as close to the front as you can. Planes are generally warmest in the back. Tech pilot at a regional airline, Texas. Well, what can happen is 12 people will decide to call someone just before landing, and I can get a false reading on my instruments saying that we are higher than we really are.
We don’t make you stow your laptop because we’re worried about electronic interference. It’s about having a projectile on your lap. And we’re not trying to ruin your fun by making you take off your headphones. We just want you to be able to hear us if there’s an emergency. But when we’re on the ground on a flat piece of asphalt going five to ten miles an hour, they’ve got to be buckled in like they’re at NASCAR. Jack Stephan, US Airways captain based in Annapolis, Maryland, who has been flying since 1984. A plane flies into a massive updraft, which you can’t see on the radar at night, and it’s like hitting a giant speed bump at 500 miles an hour. It throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. That’s not the same as turbulence, which bounces everyone around for a while.
Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It’s all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because we’re afraid the wing is going to fall off but because it’s annoying. Find out what really happens when your plane experiences turbulence. The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much aren’t allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight that’s coming in just a little late. That’s why airlines use this method to board as fast as possible. No, it’s not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals.
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So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport. One of our engines is indicating improperly. Or more likely, they’ll say nothing, and you’ll never know the difference. Most planes fly fine with one engine down. Well, folks, the visibility out there is zero.
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There’s some fog in the Washington area. It’s called crashing into the ocean. If you end up in a worst-case scenario, this is how to survive a plane crash. Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. That’s many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we can’t pull over at the next cloud. When you get on that airplane at 7 a.
But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. They’re in bad neighborhoods, they’re loud, they’ve got bedbugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot. Sometimes the airline won’t give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food. Always assume that the tray table and the button to push the seat back have not been wiped down, though we do wipe down the lavatory. Here are 17 tricks for staying healthy on a flight. But if he tells the flight attendants to sit down, you’d better listen.
That means there’s some serious turbulence ahead. What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? I tell them it was a van ride from the Los Angeles airport to the hotel, and I’m not kidding. You probably had no idea these hidden features existed on an airplane. Joe D’Eon, a pilot at a major airline who produces a podcast at flywithjoe. Be to stay awake—this is why you should never sleep through an airplane landing. The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.
You’re flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don’t like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you’re airborne. This happens all the time: We’ll be in Pittsburgh going to Philly, and there will be a weather delay. The weather in Pittsburgh is beautiful. But in the airspace between Pittsburgh and Philly there’s a huge thunderstorm.
Is traveling with a baby in your lap safe? If there’s any impact or deceleration, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile. But the government’s logic is that if we made you buy an expensive seat for your baby, you’d just drive, and you’re more likely to be injured driving than flying. Most of you wouldn’t consider going down the highway at 60 miles an hour without your seat belt fastened.
But when we’re hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour and we turn off the seat belt sign, half of you take your seat belts off. But if we hit a little air pocket, your head will be on the ceiling. If you’re going to recline your seat, for God’s sake, please check behind you first. You have no idea how many laptops are broken every year by boorish passengers who slam their seat back with total disregard to what’s going on behind them. Please don’t complain to me about your lost bags or the rotten service or that the airline did this or that.
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I know pilots who spend a quarter million on their education and training, then that first year as a pilot, they qualify for food stamps. Take matters into your own hands with these 16 tips for getting the cheapest airfare possible. These are things you can still get for free on an airplane. On TV and in the comics, you always see these pilots with their hats on, and they have their headsets on over the hat, and that always makes us laugh.
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We ask you to put up the window shade so the flight attendants can see outside in an emergency, to assess if one side is better for an evacuation. It also lets light into the cabin if it goes dark and helps passengers get oriented if the plane flips or rolls over. Here’s a news flash: We’re not sitting in the cockpit listening to the ball game. Sometimes we can ask the controllers to go to their break room to check the score. But when I fly to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon, the passengers send the flight attendants up at least ten times to ask us the Steelers score.
Oh my God, you’re a girl pilot. Learn 15 of the craziest things flight attendants have seen on the job. People tend to think the airplane is just flying itself. It can fly by itself sometimes. But you’ve always got your hands on the controls waiting for it to mess up.
Find out how autopilot really works on planes. Those buddy passes they give us? I give them only to my enemies now. But since you have to fly standby, it will take you three months to get back because you can’t get a seat. I always tell my kids to travel in sturdy shoes. If you have to evacuate and your flip-flops fall off, there you are standing on the hot tarmac or in the weeds in your bare feet. We’re in a constant battle with them over the temperature.
But most passengers I know are freezing. Learn the real reason airplanes are so cold. You don’t have as much time off as your neighbors think you have, you don’t make as much money as your relatives think you make, and you don’t have as many girlfriends as your wife thinks you have. Still, I can’t believe they pay me to do this. Blue juice: The water in the lavatory toilet. There’s no blue juice in the lav. Crotch watch: The required check to make sure all passengers have their seat belts fastened.
We’ve got a lot of crumb crunchers on this flight. Deadheading: When an airline employee flies as a passenger for company business. Gate lice: The people who gather around the gate right before boarding so they can be first on the plane. Oh, the gate lice are thick today. Spinners: Passengers who get on late and don’t have a seat assignment, so they spin around looking for a seat. Two-for-one special: The plane touches down on landing, bounces up, then touches down again. Working the village: Working in coach.
Find out what 11 other mysterious flight codes really mean. I may be in uniform, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person to ask for directions in the airport. We’re in so many airports that we usually have no idea. Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina. After you find your gate, avoid these 18 things you should never do on an airplane. Sometimes it’s just a ten-minute catnap, but it happens. One time I rode in the jump seat of a 747 freighter, which carries cargo, not passengers.