Birds are amazing animals that learn how to fly the moment they get out of their mother’s nest. That brave jump high up in the tree will kickstart their instincts to flap their wings and fly. Humans, on the other hand, have only known flying for one hundred years or so. But it is surprising how many flights there are that happen all over the world. According to The Statistical Portal, on average, the number of people that flew last year was staggering, it was 4.1 billion. How many airplanes are there now? Airliners.net estimates there are 37,000 airplanes around the world, and a small number out of commission, or under repair. Furthermore, how many airplane pilots fly the air on any given day is also an interesting number.
But what’s more interesting are the things pilots know that they are not allowed to, or choose not to share with the general public. These are things that happen while in flight, on the airstrip, and even in the airports. In fact, pilots and other employees in the airport are privy to many things that the common passenger does not know, or even think about. Aside from that seemingly important little black box, we have gathered 25 facts about airplanes that pilots would rather keep a secret.
Airplane pilots admit that their aircraft carries just enough fuel to get to their destination. It is a regulation set by the company and they also admit to being uncomfortable flying with no wiggle room fuel-wise. It’s business logic, fuel burns quickly, so they put just enough to get there, no room for burned and wasted fuel. But when the weather doesn’t allow them to land, pilots are forced to check the nearest airport with good weather and land there before their fuel runs out.
It may seem unreal, but planes have been hit by lightning on the job more than most people would believe. Some were even struck by lightning at least twice. Not a worry; planes are well insulated and are manufactured to withstand lightning strikes. They won’t malfunction and just freefall after getting hit. So that bright flash following a loud booming sound might just be your plane getting hit by lightning miles up in the sky. Sounds scary but the pilots say it’s all safe.
An updraft is air current moving upward, usually during a thunderstorm or a tornado. Pilots say that this is the more dangerous kind of natural phenomenon and not turbulence. Although turbulence is the number one cause of passenger injuries, updrafts have a much stronger force and they are unpredictable and virtually undetectable. At least turbulence can be anticipated, as we hear pilots announce that we will be going through turbulence and advise us to take our seats and buckle up.
If there is someone to ask about which seats are the best seats to take on a plane, it’s more than a safe bet to go get the answers from the pilots. They’d say a nervous flyer should choose the middle part of the plane because turbulence tends to have a greater impact at the rear and front parts of the cabin. If it is the air conditioning you are concerned about, then sit in the back as it is coldest in the front.
Pilots may have been trained on how to communicate or what to announce and what they have to keep to themselves. We never hear them saying words like failed, crash, or malfunction. This is positive scripting, much like how flight attendants are trained in communicating with passengers. Pilots have the same skill, although they rarely interact with the passengers. But their voice and special announcements seem to be the most important and passengers listen up and pay attention 100 percent every time.
There are passengers that always feel sick flying, and most of them point their finger at the food served and blame it. But commercial airline pilots say it’s highly unlikely that the food is the reason. They’d say that most probably the reason why passengers feel sick is that of the surroundings of a passenger once they take their seat. Everything at arm’s length may not be sanitized in between flights and could have germs, like seatbelts and food trays.
The business of seat belts in planes is kind of inconsistent, flight attendants to tend to enforce the rule all the time, but there are certain moments they just don’t seem to mind at all. First of all, the seat belt light is right there in front of us, next the attendants will remind you, then the pilot will also announce it. Bear in mind that the final word is on the pilot and when he says to sit down, then go find your seat and buckle up. Or, treat it like a car seat belt; always have it buckled when you are sitting in your seat and the car is in motion.
Have you ever wondered if the flight attendants ever get some rest on a long flight, one that’s like 16 hours, say a flight from New York to Beijing? They can’t just stay seated in that tiny makeshift chair and use the wall as a bed. Some planes, like the Boeing 777, according to Business Insider, have a secret stairway that takes you down to a low-ceiling room with small beds that attendants use for a decent rest during long-haul flights.
If there is one thing that makes pilots feel proud of themselves, or if you want to compliment a pilot, do so by telling them how smooth the landing was. Pilots admit that they take pride in their landing skills, they also believe that the true skill of a pilot lies in how smoothly they are able to land a plane. So, the next time you fly and notice how you never felt anything while landing, be sure to tell the pilot before deplaning. It’ll make his day.
Airplanes generally have two engines. This is the reason these big vehicles are able to fly. But what pilots don’t tell us is that an airplane only really needs one of these engines to fly. In fact, they say that engines are not needed to land a plane. But again, as we learned about their positive scripting, we will never hear our pilot say that the plane’s left wing engine is not working, but it’s okay because the right one is in perfect condition and should be able to take us to our destination without a hiccup.
They don’t like to admit it, but the autopilot feature really does most of the work on the plane. As soon as the pilot takes off and reach cruising altitude, they can switch on that autopilot button, kick their shoes off, tilt their seats back, both arms resting behind their heads and just relax. With perfect weather, pilots just need to take off and land the plane, some even say we don’t need pilots anymore. But without the pilots, who are going to push that autopilot button?
Now that we’ve learned that Mr. Autopilot does the majority of the flying, and matter of factly, it does 90 percent of the pilot’s work, is there traction to the scary rumor that pilots sleep on the job? They admit to sleeping in the cockpit, of course. This is why they have a co-pilot. It’s not like they turn the autopilot on and both sleeps in the cockpit. They do the sleeping in shifts, like professionals! And besides, it’s just a quick power nap, a 15-minute shuteye or so.
Some decades back, smoking in public places was not a big deal. Have you seen that Ben Affleck film, Argo, where every time there’s a scene in a plane, most passengers and even the main characters are smoking in their seats? But now, all ashtrays are removed, except in the lavatories. While all passengers know there is no smoking in the whole plane, some will still light up in the lavatory, so they had those ashtrays stay put there. At least that passenger will dispose of it properly and it won’t be the cause of a fire.
There has been no recorded incident of any kind of malfunction on a plane’s instruments and readings caused by interference from cell phone signals. Pilots admit that if cell phones could really cause interference, they would enforce that rule much more seriously. But please follow them when they tell you to keep your laptop secure. In turbulence, it could fly in the air and hit someone in the head. Remove earphones and headsets, too. If they have an important message, how are you going to hear it with them on, right?
Some things that are regulated by the FAA do not make sense, even to the pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration is the sole agency that makes up the rules inside airplanes that both the crew and passengers have to follow. But pilots wonder how it is that the FAA says it’s okay to serve a hot beverage thousands of miles up in the air, a drink that could scald a person with the smallest of turbulence. Then, they do not let passengers take their seat belts off even though the plane is on the ground and just rolling at a speed that’s very, very safe.
Despite what the cinema and television filled our heads with about co-pilots and their actual job description, the co-pilots are fully capable of flying an airplane. They are not the token sidekick who always looks up to the captain and seem to have no clue what to do. They are not the Robin to the pilot’s Batman. Both pilots get to fly the plane, one flies to the destination, the other flies the plane back. It’s not a sidekick or an understudy thing.
That extra seat in the cockpit is not for special passengers. It would be cool to imagine a famous actor, like Tom Hanks, researching the Sully role, and asks to sit in the cockpit. The seat that Tom would be taking is called the jump seat, it’s right behind the pilot and the co-pilot. But it’s not for that purpose, no matter how cool it may be. It’s for flight attendants during landing and takes off. It’s also for inspectors for when they monitor a flight.
Pilots say there is no such thing as water landings. Now that they mention it, it’s pretty clear and obvious. Do you see it now, too? Land and -ing, the operative word being land. How can anything, let alone an airplane, make a landing on water? It’s just an impossible feat. Pilots say it is called, rather simply, crashing on water. In cases of emergency landings, the best way to survive is to crash on water. It eliminates a lot of issues, like fire.
Have you ever stayed at work for 12 hours straight the whole week? Doing it once is bad enough, but the whole week is a nightmare and would warrant some form of deep hibernation come the weekend. Try 16 hours a day every day. That’s what a pilot’s schedule often looks like. Power naps in the cockpit doesn’t sound like a bad idea now, does it? Their work schedule demands that amount of time, they don’t even have enough time to sit down and have a decent meal.
The cockpit is usually off limits to non-crew members, even some crew members are not allowed to go in and out without the pilot's say so. But the crew and the pilots go the extra mile for passengers, especially the nervous first-timers and kids. They often let them take a peek inside the cockpit to divert their minds from worrying about flying. Some would feel at ease having interacted with the pilots, that small gesture makes some passengers more comfortable and shake that nervous feeling away.
If you are one of those nervous flyers or has seen the inside of a cockpit as a kid, you’d notice there are no toilets in the cockpit. Pilots have no hidden stairway that leads to a secret toilet as the flight attendants have. According to Mental Floss, the simple act of peeing is a task that can prove very inconvenient for pilots, so, most of the time, they just hold it in when the urge comes. The FAA does not help with the problem. They have strict rules on pilots entering the cabin and leaving the cockpit.
Having flown anywhere and everywhere, some seasoned and experienced pilots cast their vote on the worst airports they ever had to work in. Unlike passengers, who value the aesthetic beauty and the facilities available for them in an airport, pilots have a very simple checklist. Remember how pilots love it when they are complimented on a smooth landing? Here is a pilot’s list of the worst airports where no matter what they do they would never make a smooth landing. And these notorious airports are Chicago Midway, John Wayne Airport, Reagan National, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
After reading about the pilots nodding off in the cockpit, we wondered if they can do something else instead of getting sleepy while on the job. But as it turns out, there are a lot of restrictions, especially inside the cockpit, that prevents pilots from fighting off that yawn and sweet slumber. One good way is to read a good, exciting book, instead of falling asleep. As it turns out, most airline companies wouldn’t allow that. Reading materials in the cockpit are considered distractions.
This one is another secret that pilots wanted to share, but it is really more of good, sound advice for all the frequent flyers out there. They’d look at passengers wearing flip-flop with a funny face, all the while saying in their minds, “What the heck is he thinking?” They advise that whenever we travel by plane, it is only safe to wear good, sturdy shoes. We never know what will happen, but if something does happen, you’d be happier that you wore those strong, reliable shoes rather than fashionable slippers that make your outfit look better.
Pilots and crew officers are hard-working individuals with their craft known to be one of the most lucrative out there in the professional world. But locally, they do not get as much respect as when they are in other countries. The uniform is one way to get that respect. In some countries, they are considered rock stars and kids follow them around. They are always nicely greeted, with affection and respect. Kind of like Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can.
References: Tripsavvy, Travel and leisure, RD, Telegraph, Thrillist