17 Secrets Pilots Tend To Keep To Themselves

Sarah Kester
Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can
Travel and Leisure | Warner Bros.

The life of a pilot sure isn’t always a smooth ride. 

Despite the glamour that’s portrayed in the movies and on TV, there are long hours, strict rules, and even low pay. Pilots spend long stretches of time away from home and sometimes deal with rude passengers

Here, pilots share secrets of the job. Prepare for sky-high craziness! 

1. They can fly for free

Unsplash | Ross Parmly

Ah, the perks of the job! Although this sounds majorly awesome, it isn't always easy to nab a seat.

Patrick Smith, a first officer (co-pilot) and author of Cockpit Confidential told Mental Floss that you have to wait for a seat to become available.

While this works well for those who are spontaneous travelers, it's not ideal for pilots planning a structured vacation.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can
Travel and Leisure | Columbia

“It’s too unpredictable,” Smith said. “If a baggage handler has more seniority than me, he’ll be ahead on the standby list.”

2. Pilots don't always agree with the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) rules

Giphy | Saturday Night Live

Take hot coffee, for instance. Some pilots disagree with how a flight attendant can serve it on a plane that goes 400 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, passengers have to be buckled in when the plane is rolling on the ground at a tiny fraction of that speed.

3. You can't read in the cockpit

Giphy | Parks and Recreation

When you're on the job, you're on the job. There are no distractions allowed!

This means that magazines, books, and music are all banned. The only thing they're legally able to do is to talk amongst themselves.

4. Pilots don't like it when babies sit on their parents' laps

Baby on lap
Unsplash | Paul Hanaoka

Another rule that pilots shake their heads at is how the FAA allows parents to carry babies up to two years old on their lap.

Pilots find this very dangerous since it's very easy to lose control of your child.

5. They can't nap

Giphy | Lifetime

It doesn't matter if the co-pilot is flying the plane. Or, how sleep studies have proven that a short nap can be beneficial to wakefulness.

Instead, the FAA has strict rules to avoid tired pilots, such as mandating minimum rest periods.

Even with these rules, they're still tired

Man yawning
Unsplash | Sander Sammy

With many long trips and not enough time between flights, some pilots have admitted to taking naps in the cockpit — even though they're not allowed to.

Additionally, some pilots don't even have enough time to get food.

6. Passengers can look around the cockpit

Pilot scene from Vacation
youtube | Warner Bros.

Ever wondered what goes on inside there? Just ask and you'll find out!

“People are more than welcome to come up and say hello before pushing off,” Smith told Mental Floss. “90 percent of pilots love it when people do that.”

7. Many pilots have had their planes struck by lightning

Unsplash | Brandon Morgan

"You hear a big boom and see a big flash and that's it," a regional jet pilot told Trip Savvy. Although this doesn't sound good, he assured travelers that airplanes are built to withstand it. "You're not going to fall out of the sky," he said.

8. The co-pilot is just as qualified

Giphy | Top Gun

Co-pilots are not the sidekicks! They are fully qualified and could fly the plane if they wanted to.

But since seniority comes into play, they get to fly less often. However, they've been known to take turns with their co-worker.

9. They know the best seats for nervous travelers

Airplane seats
Unsplash | Suhyeon Choi

"A plane is like a seesaw. If you're in the middle, you don't move as much," Smith said. The back seats, on the other hand, are the worst place for airplane turbulence because airflow goes from front to back.

10. Pilots don't always make a lot of money


The salary of a pilot isn't always sky-high. According to Bloomberg, some regional pilots are making as little as $21,000. That's even after they spent six figures on flight school! Not cool.

11. You can get really sick on a flight

Giphy | HBO Max

Blame this on the germs. And lots of 'em. This is due to aircraft cleaners not having enough time between flights to do a proper sanitization. This means that areas people commonly touch — seatback trays and light controls, seatbelts, and lavatories — are breeding grounds for germs.

12. You'll never hear these six words on a flight

Unsplash | Jon Ly

It's "one of our engines just failed." First of all, that would absolutely frighten the passengers. Secondly, most modern jets are built to be able to fly with one jet if the other one is lost.

13. There's a spare seat in the cockpit

Unsplash | Kristopher Allison

This is called the "jump seat" and it's used for FAA inspectors or trainees to sit in during flights. Sometimes, a qualified pilot will sit in it. Although, they're better off in coach since the chair is uncomfortable.

14. If you like your pilot's landing, say something

Thumbs up
Giphy | NBC

You leave a good review for a restaurant, so why not applaud your pilot for a perfect landing?

Joe D'Eon, a pilot at a major airline, told Trip Savvy that pilots really appreciate this feedback.

15. They don't like it when passengers make insane requests

Angry man
Giphy | Team Coco

They're pilots, not bus drivers. “Asking if we can land so they can get off, it doesn’t work that way,” Smith said. “One woman who left her medication in her checked luggage wanted someone to ‘go downstairs’ to get it.”

16. You should be wearing sturdy shoes on your flight

Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
Travel and Leisure | Paramount Pictures

Pilots don't want to admit this (out of fear of frightening passengers), but you really shouldn't be wearing flip-flops on a flight.

In the event that you need to evacuate a plane, you'll want shoes that will protect your feet from the elements and cushion your fall.

17. Pilots get a lot of kidney stones

Unsplash | Rayyu Maldives

This is the result of dehydration and strict rules against leaving the cockpit. “It’s inconvenient to get up when the cabin crew is serving refreshments, too, so we tend to hold it in," Smith said.

H/T: Mental Floss, Trip Savvy