Few people spend more time around airplanes than the pilots who fly them.
No matter how much you think you know about flying in the modern world, there are probably a few things you never realized about air travel that pilots wish you knew. Are they really sleeping in the cockpit and flying on autopilot? The truth may surprise you.
There are airplane myths, and then there are facts. Ahead, check out some of the things your airplane pilot never told you (but that they wish you knew).
1. Yes, they’re really flying the plane
Some people think pilots aren’t truly flying the plane because of autopilot, but that’s just not true. Think of autopilot like cruise control on your car — just because you can set a constant speed, it doesn’t mean you just stop paying attention.
Next: Here’s the best time to fly if you’re scared of turbulence.
2. Nervous flyers should travel in the morning
Does the thought of turbulence make you want to cry? Better pick that early flight.
Since the heat from the ground causes bumpier air, pilots suggest booking the earliest flight possible before the sun heats everything up to get the smoothest ride. Thunderstorms are also more likely to occur in the afternoon, not the early morning.
Next: There’s not a full tank of gas.
3. The plane may be light on gas
Thanks to cost cutting measures, your pilot may be flying with just enough fuel to reach your destination. This tactic doesn’t allow wiggle room for unexpected events like thunderstorms and it could mean that your plane will need to land sooner than expected to fill up.
Next: It’s likely that your plane will get struck by lightning.
4. Planes get struck by lightning all the time
If you picture a giant lightning bolt sending your plane plummeting to the ground, you’re wrong.
Airplanes are built to withstand storms and can totally handle a stray lightning bolt or two. If you hear a big boom and see a quick flash while you’re flying, it’s possible that you just got struck. But your pilot isn’t worried about it, so you don’t need to either.
Next: This is why you may have overpaid for your ticket.
5. You might not be flying the airline you think you are
Even if you purchased a pricey ticket online, there’s a good chance you’re really flying with a regional carrier that was outsourced by a major airline.
Why does it matter? According to one pilot, the smaller regional airlines aren’t held to the same safety standards as the big guys, and the pilots may not have as much training or flying experience. It doesn’t mean you’re going to crash — but it is frustrating to know you’re paying top dollar for inexperienced pilots.
Next: Hollywood always gets this wrong.
6. Don’t believe everything you see in the movies
Pilots typically don’t wear their uniform hats while they’re flying.
Next: This is the smoothest seat on the plane.
7. Sit in the middle if you’re sleepy
Just like on a roller coaster, the bumpiest ride on a plane is in the back. Try to pick a seat right above the wing for the smoothest ride, since this is the aircraft’s center of gravity.
Next: This is why you’re not allowed to use your cell phone.
8. There’s more than 1 reason you’re not allowed to use your phone on the plane
While a single cellphone signal isn’t enough to mess with airplane communications, one American Airlines pilot pointed out that 12 people trying to dial home at once could lead to a false reading on the instrument panel.
Plus, putting away phones and laptops means they won’t fly out of your lap and hit someone in the head during a bumpy landing.
Next: Pilots find some rules weird, too.
9. Not all FAA rules make sense
US Airways Captain Jack Stephan puts it this way:
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.
Next: You’ll never have an “ocean landing.”
10. Water landings don’t exist
There’s no such thing as a water landing. Your plane just crashes into the ocean (but you could still survive if you pay attention and follow instructions).
Next: Don’t fear the turbulence.
11. Turbulence isn’t dangerous; it’s just annoying
Most nervous fliers are terrified of turbulence because it feels like the plane is going to plummet out of the sky. But that’s simply not the case.
Pilots are a lot more worried about updrafts, which is like a huge speed bump for a plane that can’t be detected on the radar at night. An updraft will throw everything up and down violently. Meanwhile, turbulence is just little bumps like potholes that won’t do anything besides annoy the flight crew.
Next: It’s all about the schedule.
12. Being on time is the most important thing
According to one commercial pilot, the Department of Transportation made time performance so important that flights don’t often get delayed anymore, even if the plane is missing 10 people from a connecting flight that’s running late.
Time performance is also why the airlines will say your flight takes two hours when it really takes 90 minutes — so they can have a better record and fewer delays.
Next: The pilot won’t tell you if something is wrong.
13. Your pilot is speaking in code
Your airline pilot would never say, “the engine just failed,” but they might say, “one of the engines is functioning improperly.” But don’t worry about it too much — the plane could fly normally with one engine down and you’d never even notice it.
Next: They’re tired.
14. Pilots are exhausted
Work rules allow pilots to be on duty for 16 hours straight with no break, which is longer than truck drivers. Plus, if a pilot gets tired mid-flight, he can’t exactly pull over and have a rest. Still, a quick 10-minute catnap in the cockpit is possible (if the co-pilot is OK with it).
Next: When you hear this, things are getting bumpy.
15. Pay attention to the seat belt instructions
If the pilot turns on the fasten seat belt sign for passengers, you should follow instructions and expect a bit of a bumpy ride. But when he or she instructs the flight attendants to sit down and buckle up, be prepared for more serious turbulence.
Next: This is the most challenging aspect of flying.
16. A good landing takes skill
Have you ever been on a plane where everyone clapped after landing? It may seem cheesy, but landing is the hardest part of flying. Expressing a quick thanks for a smooth landing is a nice way to make your pilot’s day.
The shorter the runway, the harder it is to land. Pilots especially dislike John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Jackson Hole, Chicago Midway, and Reagan National in Washington D.C.
Next: Here’s the only thing you need to do on your flight.
17. Always follow the rules
Even if you don’t know what it is, there’s a logical reason for every rule on the plane. You need to keep your window shades up so that flight attendants can see outside if there’s an emergency and so passengers won’t be left in the dark if there’s an emergency and the power goes out.
Even if it’s not immediately evident why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s so important for you to comply with the rules during your flight.
Read more: 15 Secrets Airlines Don’t Want You to Know
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