40 Things Your Airplane Pilot Won’t Tell You
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.
I’ve 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 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.
Turbulence isn’t dangerous
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.—Patrick Smith. Find out what really happens when your plane experiences turbulence.
If you’re a nervous flier, book a morning flight
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 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 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.
Sit in the back if you’re always cold
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.
There’s a reason you can’t use your cell phone
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.—Jim Tilmon, retired American Airlines pilot, Phoenix
Listen when I tell you to put your laptop away
We don’t make you stow your laptop because we’re worried about electronic interference. It’s about having a projectile on your lap. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get hit in the head by a MacBook going 200 miles per hour. 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.—Patrick Smith
Some FAA rules don’t make sense to us either
Like the fact that when we’re 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 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.
We’re more worried about updrafts than turbulence
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.—John Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle
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 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.—Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina (That’s why airlines use this method to board as fast as possible.)