Iâve been struck by lightning twice.
Most pilots have. Airplanes are built to take it. You hear a big boom and see a big flash and thatâs it. Youâre not going to fall out of the sky.â âPilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, North Carolina
You may not be getting the airline you paid for.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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, youâre really on a regional airline. The regionals arenât held to the same safety standards as the majors: Their pilots arenât required to have as much training and experience, and the public doesnât know that. âCaptain at a major airline
If youâre a nervous flier, book a morning flight.
The heating of the ground later causes bumpier air, and itâs much more likely to thunderstorm in the afternoon. âJerry Johnson, pilot, Los Angeles
The smoothest place to sit is often over or near the wing.
The bumpiest place to sit is in the back. A plane is like a seesaw. If youâre in the middle, you donât move as much. âPatrick Smith, pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential
The general flow of air in any airplane is from front to back. So if youâre 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. âTech pilot at a regional airline, Texas
There is no safest place to sit. In one accident, the people in the back are dead; in the next, itâs the people up front. âJohn Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle
People donât understand why they canât use their cell phones.
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. âJ
Jim Tilmon, retired American Airlines pilot, Phoenix
We donât make you stow your laptop because weâre worried about electronic interference. Itâs about having a projectile on your lap. I donât know about you, but I donât want to get hit in the head by a MacBook going 200 miles per hour. And weâre not trying to
ruin your fun by making you take off your headphones. We just want you
to be able to hear us if thereâs an emergency. âPatrick Smith
Some FAA rules donât make sense to us either.
Like the fact that when weâre at 39,000 feet going 400 miles an hour, in a plane that could hit turbulence at any minute, (flight attendants) can walk around and serve hot coffee and Chateaubriand. But when weâre on the ground on a flat piece of asphalt going five to ten miles an hour, theyâve got to be buckled in like theyâre at NASCAR.âJack Stephan, US Airways captain based in Annapolis, Maryland, who has been flying since 1984
It's updrafts, not turbulence, we really worry about.
Alexander Hassentein/Getty Images
A plane flies into a massive updraft, which you canât see on the radar at night, and itâs like hitting a giant speed bump at 500 miles an hour. It throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. Thatâs not the same as turbulence, which bounces everyone around for a while. âJohn Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle
Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. Itâs all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. We avoid turbulence not because weâre afraid the wing is going to fall off but because itâsâ¨annoying. âPatrick Smith
Being on time is more important than getting everyone there.
The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much arenât allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight thatâs coming in just a little late. âCommercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
No, itâs not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.âAirTran Airways captain, Atlanta
Iâm constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than Iâm comfortable with.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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 youâre running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport. âCaptain at a major airline
You'll never hear, "One of our engines just failed.â
What theyâll say instead: âOne of our engines is indicating improperly.â (Or more likely, theyâll say nothing, and youâll never know the difference. Most planes fly fine with one engine down.)You'll also never hear, "Well, folks, the visibility out there is zero.â Instead they'll say: âThereâs some fog in the Washington area.â
Thereâs no such thing as a water landing.
Itâs called crashing into the ocean. âPilot, South Carolina
The truth is, weâre exhausted.
Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. Thatâs many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we canât pull over at the next cloud.âCaptain at a major airline
Do pilots sleep in (the cockpit)? Definitely. Sometimes itâs just a ten-minute catnap, but it happens. âJohn Greaves, airline accident lawyer and former airline captain, Los Angeles
When you get on that airplane at 7 a.m., you want your pilot to be rested and ready. But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. Theyâre in bad neighborhoods, theyâre loud, theyâve got bedbugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot. âJack Stephan
Sometimes the airline wonât give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food. âFirst officer on a regional carrier
Most people get sick after traveling not because of what they breathe but because of what they touch.
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. âPatrick Smith
Itâs one thing if the pilot puts the seat belt sign on for the passengers...
But if he tells the flight attendants to sit down, youâd better listen. That means thereâs some serious turbulence ahead. âJohn Greaves
Driving is WAY scarier than flying a plane.
People always ask, "Whatâs the scariest thing thatâs ever happened to you?" I tell them it was a van ride from the Los Angeles airport to the hotel, and Iâm not kidding. âJack Stephan
Most of the time, how you land is a good indicator of a pilotâs skill.
David McNew/Getty Images
So if you want to say something nice to a pilot as youâre getting off the plane, say âNice landing.â We do appreciate that. âJoe DâEon, a pilot at a major airline who produces a podcast at flywithjoe.com
The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County, California.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Youâre 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 donât 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 youâre airborne.â¨ âPilot, South Carolina
At some airports with really short runways, youâre not going to have a smooth landing no matter how good we are: John Wayne Airport; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Chicago Midway; and Reagan National. âJoe DâEon
Remember: Bad weather exists BETWEEN cities, too
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
This happens all the time: Weâll be in Pittsburgh going to Philly, and there will be a weather delay. The weather in Pittsburgh is beautiful. Then Iâll hear passengers saying, âYou know, I just called my friend in Philly, and itâs beautiful there too,â like thereâs some kind of conspiracy or something. But in the airspace between Pittsburgh and Philly thereâs a huge thunderstorm. âJack Stephan
Is traveling with a baby in your lap safe? No.
Itâs extremely dangerous. If thereâs any impact or deceleration, thereâs a good chance youâre going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile. But the governmentâs logic is that if we made you buy an expensive seat for your baby, youâd just drive, and youâre more likely to be injured driving than flying. âPatrick Smith
Passengers: PLEASE be more mindful of yourself and others.
Most of you wouldnât consider going down the highway at 60 miles an hour without your seat belt fastened. But when weâre 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. âCaptain at a major airline
If youâre going to recline your seat, for Godâs 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 whatâs going on behind them. âJohn Nance
Whatever you pay to fly, we pay more.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Please donât complain to me about your lost bags or the rotten service or that the airline did this or that. My retirement was taken to help subsidize your $39 airfare. âPilot, South Carolina
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. âFurloughed first officer, Texas
We miss the peanuts too. âUS Airways pilot, South Carolina
We donât wear our hats in the cockpit, by the way
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. âJoe DâEon
There's a good reason for everything we ask you to do.
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. âPatrick Smith
We hear some dumb things.
Hereâs a news flash: Weâre 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.â¨ âCommercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
I am so tired of hearing âOh my God, youâre a girl pilot.â When you see a black pilot, do you say âOh my God, youâre a black pilotâ? âPilot for a regional carrier
People tend to think the airplane is just flying itself. Trust me,
thatâs not true. It can fly by itself sometimes. But youâve always got
your hands on the controls waiting for it to mess up. And it does mess
up. âPilot, South Carolina
Those buddy passes they give us?
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
I give them only to my enemies now. Sure, you can get a $1,000 airfare to Seattle for $100. But since you have to fly standby, it will take you three months to get back because you canât get a seat. âPilot, South Carolina
Some insider advice:
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. âJoe DâEon
Cold on the airplane? Tell your flight attendant. Weâre in a constant battle with them over the temperature. Theyâre moving all the time, up and down the aisles, so they are always calling and saying, âTurn up the air.â But most passengers I know are freezing. âCaptain at a major carrier
Hereâs the truth about airline jobs:
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
You donât have as much time off as your neighbors think you have, you donât make as much money as your relatives think you make, and you donât have as many girlfriends as your wife thinks you have. Still, I canât believe they pay me to do this. âCommercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina
Finally, some airline lingo:
Blue juice: The water in the lavatory toilet. âThereâs no blue juice in the lav.â
Crotch watch: The required check to make sure all passengers have their seat belts fastened. Also: âgroin scan.â
Crumb crunchers: Kids. âWeâve got a lot of crumb crunchers on this flight.â
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. âOh, the gate lice are thick today.â
George: Autopilot. âIâll let George take over.â
Landing lips: Female passengers put on their âlanding lipsâ when they use their lipstick just before landing.
Spinners: Passengers who get on late and donât have a seat assignment, so they spin around looking for a seat.
Two-for-once special: The plane touches down on landing, bounces up, then touches down again.
Working the village: Working in coach.