Flying on an airplane can be nerve-wracking, period. Between freaky turbulence and insane flight delays, one has to wonder why we travel by air at all. However, because the flight staff makes every effort to make the trip as smooth as possible (and here’s what all of those mysterious flight codes mean), there’s one somewhat surprising thing happening in the cockpit—and hardly anyone knows about it.
By rule, pilots and co-pilots won’t eat the same meal while on the job. It’s for a very good reason, too: Should a meal go wrong—and cause food poisoning, let’s say—the other pilot might need to take over flying the plane. (Don’t miss even more surprising things pilots won’t tell you.) As you can imagine, pilots prefer to avoid foods like raw fish before and during working hours for the same reason.
This isn’t a mandate handed down by the Federal Aviation Administration, though most airlines enforce their own rules on the matter. Food poisoning in the cockpit isn’t unheard of, either. In 1982, a flight from Boston to Lisbon turned around when nearly a dozen crew members, including the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer, fell sick after eating bad tapioca pudding. (There’s also a shocking condition many commercial airline pilots have in common.) And at least two pilots in the U.K. got food poisoning in 2010 while on the job. Thankfully, events like these are pretty rare.
Safety reasons aside, cuisine is also hierarchical in the cockpit. The pilot typically eats a meal from first class, while the co-pilot receives a business class meal, Captain Han Hee-seong of China Eastern Airlines told CNN. Still, pilots say that a generous captain will let the first officer choose their meal first. As for your own in-flight culinary options, this is why you should never, ever eat food on planes—and it’s not because it tastes bad.