How much of a flight is automated and how much of it is actually you piloting?
It depends on the day and the person flying. I generally prefer to hand-fly the airplane up to about 10-15,000 feet before engaging the autopilot. Then you turn it off when you’re landing.
So on a day when it’s nice and you feel like flying, figure 30-40% of the flight is hand flown, the rest is autopilot. Some days you don’t feel like working as much and turn it on earlier and off later, but it’s always off for takeoff and landing.
Other people turn the autopilot on when you’re 600′ above the ground (our company standard minimum AP engagement altitude), then snap it off when we’re 200′ above the ground, so they fly on autopilot for 95% of the flight.
Do you know what all the buttons do? Have you pressed them all even once?
A) Yes, and if I forget they’re all labeled so…. hooray cliff notes!
B) No, there are several that never get pressed. In fact my company even has one button, the “High Power Schedule” button that kicks the engines up to their maximum possible thrust rating that we refer to as the “Get Fired” button.
Usually the ones that don’t get pressed are for emergency use only. Fortunately there are very few real life emergencies.
Is the audio quality of those transmissions really as bad as it seems in the videos? Because if it is, I cannot for the life of me see how you people understand each other.
The audio quality is a touch higher than on the recording. Most of us invest in high quality, noise dampening/cancelling headsets that run $600-1000 to assist in understanding. Further, most of the radio calls are very standard and we expect to hear the calls at certain points in the operation. if we have trouble understanding a specific word, we can generally either pick up what was said based on context. Additionally for any two way communications we will read back the precise instructions to ensure understanding. ATC then has the opportunity to correct us if we mis-heard.
Which commercial planes do you think is the best/worst designed from a pilot’s perspective? Are there any military or special-use craft that you think would convert well to commercial use?
Man, that’s not an easy one to answer. I don’t even know where to start on this one really. I haven’t flown enough different airliners to have a truly informed answer, but Boeing refusing to update the cockpit of the 737 due to type-rating issues hasn’t ever sat well with me personally.
Not that that particularly matters for anything and I’m sure there are thousands of 737 pilots who would tell me to shut the f*ck up, it’s fine how it is. The cockpit(s) of the Airbus line is so much better from a pilot perspective. It’s all sleek, and push button with actual space to move around, while the 737 cockpit is a direct rip from the even older 727 and is roughly the same size as my CRJ regional jet cockpit. Airplane generally flies just fine when there are competently trained pilots at the controls but that’s the best answer I can give you there.
The only military craft I could see having a viable civilian market (that doesn’t already HAVE a civilian market like the CH-47) would be the V-22 Osprey. The rest more prioritize power and performance (rightfully so) over efficiency, so making money with them becomes significantly harder. Companies like money. So… yeah.
Do you really have to eat a different meal than the co-pilot?
Haha I’m lucky if I get any food in-flight to begin with, let alone worrying if it’s different than what the other pilot is eating. I currently do not do the super long-haul cross-planet flights that entitle me to crew meals, so I can’t personally comment on whether that’s true or not. I think it’s up to each company’s individual policy.
What would be your one tip of advice for people terrified of flying?
Trust your flight crew’s judgement. If it were unsafe even a little bit we would not be getting on that airplane. We have families who love us too and aren’t trying to go die.
The bumps, the turbulence, can be scary to the uninitiated, but think of it more like driving over gravel or potholes in your car. You’re gonna bump around some and the ride is gonna suck, but you’re going to be fine. Up front, us pilots don’t wanna bump along any more than you are so we’re probably on the radio with ATC trying to find a smoother altitude to fly at. Some days though the ride sucks at all altitudes and all we can do is grin and bear it.
Hope that helps.
At what level of turbulence should we be worried? How bad does it have to get to become dangerous?
“Worried” is too strong a word, but when the captain advises the flight attendants to take their seats mid-flight, chances are we’re seeing a nasty looking storm out the front window. When you are seated, keep your seat belt on because sometimes things pop out of nowhere.
That said, I’ve flown through storms that LOOK like they’re going to be bumpy as shit and we don’t feel a thing. This is what happens 98% of the time.
Conversely there’s a rare phenomenon known as Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) that can be really severe but have zero indications it’s coming up until we’re deep in it. There was a Compass Airlines (Delta Connection) flight last summer I believe (maybe 2 summers ago?) that bounced the flight attendant off the ceiling of the plane and flipped a drink cart. In a situation like that, go ahead and be concerned, by all means. Believe me when I say we do our damnedest to avoid those sort of bumps.
Turbulence isn’t life threatening, it’s been a long time since I heard about a turbulence caused fatality or crash. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any in my lifetime. Injuries when it gets that bad are pretty common, usually from people that are up out of their seats when it happens.
I flew with a captain a while ago who got into Severe/Extreme turbulence (i.e. the top of the severity levels) while flying a smaller corporate plane. While he did land successfully and without injury (other than his passenger’s soiled pants), he said the plane was uncontrollable half the time and it took all of his skill to keep from breaking the plane. When they landed the tail was bent and the skin of the fuselage was rippled. It had to go back to the factory for 6-months+ worth of repairs.
I don’t tell you the previous story to scare you, but to highlight the fact that, even with those extreme weather conditions and a damaged airplane, it landed safely and everyone survived. The 757 airliner behind him flew through the same weather and also had to do an emergency landing because people go bounced around pretty badly (bruises, sprained ankles, etc) but that plane was not damaged like the small one was. Again, zero fatalities, plane landed safely.
These planes are built to survive extreme conditions. Like I’ve said in other questions, we are right up there with you and will not put anyone in a situation that threatens lives. Bottom line: the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign isn’t necessarily legally binding in the air like it is on the ground, but when it is on, you’re strongly advised to listen to it.
I often hear pilots say “we will make it up in the air” when there has been a short delay taking off. That indicates to me that you normally aren’t running at maximum speed (I’m guessing for fuel savings). How much faster could you go though? Let’s say it’s a 4 hour flight, could you get there in 3?
Basically, though not that much time. We can maybe do +/- 20 minutes on a 3 hour flight depending on conditions. It’s true, we don’t generally operate at maximum speed, and that is for fuel savings concerns. Our flight plan from out dispatchers has a planned flying speed and gives us a fuel load based on those calculations (with some wiggle room). And it’s not that we don’t HAVE the fuel to fly faster, it’s that the company makes less money if we burn through a bunch of extra gas we didn’t need to trying to make up 5 minutes. Gotta balance the concerns.
Other things we can do is ask Air Traffic Control for short cuts on our planned route of flight. From Point A to Point B there are generally proscribed routes of travel to make ATC’s job of tracking us easier. They’re generally pretty efficient, but not always the most direct route possible. Sometimes we can get the short cuts, if ATC isn’t very busy, sometimes not. We can usually save ~10 minutes with more efficient routing.
When the airline says my plane is delayed because of “mechanical issues”, what does that really mean?
99.9% of the time it literally means something broke and maintenance has to come out and fix it. Now that doesn’t mean something IMPORTANT broke, but if something is broken and it’s not in the aircraft logbook, it is literally illegal for us to go flying. Even if the door for an overhead bin breaks, its gotta get written up and entered on the aircraft dispatch release before we’re legal to go fly.
Usually it’s something like a fault cropped up in the electronics, maybe the temperature sensor for the wing anti-ice system threw out an error message and the mechanic is gonna come, pull a circuit breaker and reset the system, write it up as fixed, and boom. Done.
Buuuut, that takes time to call dispatch, get switch over to the maintenance desk and relay the problem to them. Then they have them call the company mechanics if we broke in a base, or draw up a quick contract with the local maintainers to come over and service the plane if we’re at an out-station. All of this takes time, usually for something really stupid that we honestly COULD go fly with if it weren’t illegal. Very rarely is it a serious maintenance issue. There’s an old pilot adage: problems on the ground don’t get better in the air.
If you’re ever worried about a plane coming off of maintenance, just remember: us pilots are on that exact same airplane with you. If it weren’t safe, we wouldn’t be getting on that plane. We love our jobs but do not have a death wish.
People always say pilot get paid by a lot (like enough to get u rich). Is that really true?
The simple answer to “do pilots make a lot of money” is….. eventually, if you’re lucky. Our pay is based on flight time. We’re only getting paid when the main cabin door is shut, until it opens again at the end of the flight.
All of that time preparing the airplane for flight, greeting all you lovely passengers as you come aboard, cleaning up the plane at the end of the flight once everyone gets off, sitting around the airport waiting for our next flight to start? We’re not getting paid for those times.
Airlines fall under the Railway Labor Act here in the US and have hourly pay rates for Captains, First Officers, and Flight Attendants, so the more we work, the more we get paid. Most airlines have a minimum monthly guarantee, i.e. you’ll get paid no less than 75 hours worth of pay, whether or not you actually get scheduled to fly that much. Pay rates are individual to each airline but a rough rule of thumb is a Captain makes twice as much as a First Officer who makes twice as much as a Flight Attendant. It’s not exact, but it’s relatively close to reality. As such captains are often unofficially obligated to buy the first round of drinks on the overnight and tip the airport shuttle drivers. haha.
Pilot pay has increased substantially since 2009 when new regulations went into effect, effectively shrinking the pool of available pilot candidates. They raised the airline pilot requirement from 250 hours of flight experience to 1500 hours of flight experience, a 600% increase to the minimum requirement to airline ENTRY LEVEL jobs. Prior to that, it wasn’t uncommon for a regional airline first officer to make $16,000/year and be on food stamps. Currently in the US, a regional airline a first officer can expect to make $40-50,000/year. A regional airline captain can make (roughly) $75-125,000/year depending on how many years seniority they have on the pay scale. The “big” airlines like Delta, American, FedEx, UPS, United, etc have much higher pay scales than the regionals and as such are the end-goals of most of us pilots.
Keep in mind though, these high-end pay scales are the…. “payback” for lack of a better term for years, decades really, of extremely bad pay and high cost of entry int o the aviation field. To become a pilot it’s not at all uncommon for people to go $50-100,000 in debt. Personally I got my pilots license with $57,000 of student loan debt. Then to accumulate 1500 hours of flight time most people have to work as flight instructors, pipeline inspectors, do banner towing along beaches, etc. Those jobs…. don’t pay a lot. Most pilots at that level can’t afford a house, or contribute to a savings or retirement account, so the high pay at the peak of the industry is designed to offset those early career detriments.
Bottom line answer: yes, you can get rich as a pilot if you stick with it long enough, keep your record clean, and have luck on your side. It’s less common, but for a large part of your airline career you can live a pretty comfortable, sometimes budgeted lifestyle. Hope that helps.
What effect does it REALLY have if I don’t put my device in airplane mode?
It can cause interference with our radios, both audio and navigational. On rare occasions we’ll have a lot of static on the radio, we’ll stop and make the announcement to remind everyone their phone needs to be in airplane mode and that if that doesn’t solve the problem we’ll have to return to the gate for maintenance. Reeeeeaaally quick the interference goes away. Go figure.
You want your phone in airplane mode too. Once we climb above ~5000 feet your phone isn’t gonna pick up any cell signal anyways so it’s just gonna spend the rest of the flight draining your battery searching for cell service.
Do you let young kids take pictures with you in the cockpit?
Absolutely. We all remember when WE were those kids. You’d be hard pressed to find the grumpy, crusty pilot who’s gonna pass up the chance to share our love of aviation with a kid and maybe create a life changing memory.
We can’t have people in the cockpit anymore during flight (thanks 9/11), but talk to the flight attendants about it during initial boarding, or talk to them in flight about doing it after everyone else gets off.
What’s your opinion on people who applause after landing?
I know, I know other passengers hate that and think they’re fools, but… I mean, most of us pilots have huge egos from doing what we do. We’re up front there probably applauding ourselves in our own heads. Either that or cringing at how we fucked up that landing, better do better next time. So.. whatever, thanks for the support I guess. Haha
Do they give you “Ladies and gentlemen, ah, this is your, ah Captain speaking” PA lessons?
Well ahhhhh, you have to pick your spots ahhhh, so that everyone knows you’re still speaking ahhhhh while you look for more pointless information to tell everyone like ahhhh the wind speed and direction at the destination.
Are all pilots required to wear aviators?
Yes. It’s hidden deep within federal aviation regulations 14 CFR 121.682 and all pilots are briefed on it when they’re in their new hire initial training.