11 SECRETS PILOTS WON’T TELL YOU
For the past few weeks the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been breaking news on every major channel around the world and headlines in every major newspaper. Many experts have failed to give a concrete answer about what happened, while there have been a series of sightings of surface debris by various countries’ satellites over the search area, with none of the photographed debris, however, recovered by the searching ships.
Of course we don’t plan on giving you any answers about Flight 370 either, but we can reveal 11 secrets your pilot doesn’t want you to know while you are in flight. Reader's Digest asked a few commercial airline pilots to share some of their secrets with their readers and here’s what we learnt.
1. AIRPLANES CARRY LESS FUEL THAN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO
Yep, it’s 100 percent true. Flying with marginal fuel is pretty much standard for every airline around the globe. Most pilots won’t even try to hide this anymore and they will openly admit that they are under constant and intense pressure from their airlines to carry as little fuel as possible for one major reason. What could that reason be?
Hhhmmm . . . Saving money, of course.
2. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW THE WHOLE TRUTH
It’s not like you will ever hear “Sorry, folks, but we can’t see shit out there.” Instead they will tell you what you need to hear such as “There’s a little fog surrounding Heathrow Airport, so there might be some delay in landing.’’
Jim Tilmon, a retired American Airlines pilot verifies what we just said:
We tell passengers what they need to know. We don’t tell them things that are going to scare the pants off them. So you’ll never hear me say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we just had an engine failure,’ even if that’s true.
3. THE REAL REASON THERE ARE FLIGHT DELAYS
When we usually hear that there will be a couple of hours’ delay we first get irritated and curse, but then we realize that something serious probably occurred and for our safety some folks right now are double-checking the engines or so.
However, in most cases a delay occurs because most airlines are so greedy that they won’t even provide their staff with a freaking break and time to eat or shower and the crew will often have to delay the whole flight only so they can eat properly or take a dump, for all we know.
4. MOST PERIODS OF TURBULENCE ARE AS HARMLESS AS THEY COME
Apparently periods of turbulence are just like palpitations; when you get them you feel like you are having a heart attack but in reality they are usually harmless and do not pose any threat to your life. According to pilot Patrick Smith, we shouldn’t worry about turbulence at all:
We (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.
5. A WATER LANDING IS NOTHING BUT AN EXPRESSION
We’ve seen it in films, we have read about it in books, we have heard about it from others who experienced it (and survived) but the truth is that there’s no such thing as a “water landing.”
In reality, the whole concept of a water landing is just sugarcoating the pill when there’s no other choice and the plane is inevitably going to crash into the ocean. Yep, you heard right, “crashing into the ocean” is the right term, so if you ever have the bad luck of hearing your pilot talking about an upcoming “water landing” just pray and hope for the best possible result. Why you think they call it “MIRACLE” on the Hudson, huh?
6. THE INTERIOR OF AN AIRPLANE IS USUALLY DIRTY
How many of you usually feel sick after a flight? That’s perfectly understandable and natural, of course, if there was any turbulence during the flight or bad weather, which usually makes landing a true “emetic” nightmare, but can’t you recall many times that everything went smoothly during the flight or landing and you still felt sick afterwards? Well there’s a logical answer to this phenomenon, and trust us, it has nothing to do with what you might imagine. According to Patrick Smith, there’s a sanity problem on most planes:
Always assume that the tray table and the button to push the seat back have not been wiped down, though we do wipe down the lavatory.
7. LANDING IS THE MAIN INDICATOR OF WHETHER A PILOT IS GOOD OR NOT
Even though it’s considered to be a “secret” or an unwritten code, pretty much everybody knows that the good pilot gets the chance to show off his skills when landing the plane. The smoother the landing is the better and more experienced the pilot, and this is something one of the best pilots, Joe D’Eon, pretty much agrees with:
So if you want to say something nice to a pilot as you’re getting off the plane, say ‘Nice landing.’ We do appreciate that.
8. A PILOT’S HOBBY: STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
Well that’s quite shocking to hear but apparently it’s something that has happened at least once to every experienced pilot during his career. Every pilot will assure you that airplanes are built to take it and it’s nothing to worry about really. According to a pilot for a regional carrier in Charlotte, NC, what most often happens to you when you get struck by lightning is that you hear a big (scary) boom and see a big flash; that’s it in a nutshell. Should we believe him or will such disrespect irritate Zeus, the god of lighting?
9. THE BEST PLACE TO SIT ON A PLANE
Here things get way more complicated since we get three different versions from three experienced pilots who seem to disagree with one another. Here is what the pros say:
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
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, pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential
There is no safest place to sit. In one accident, the people in the back are dead; in the next, it’s the people up front. —John Nance, aviation safety analyst and retired airline captain, Seattle
For some reason I tend to agree with John Nance the most, don’t you?
10. PILOTS MIGHT SLEEP IN THE COCKPIT (DURING A FLIGHT, OF COURSE)
Well to be honest, this one sounds pretty bad and gives a good reason to all the bitter people out there who are afraid of flying or just want to blame the pilot for every plane disaster that ever occurred but don’t rush to judgment before you hear what’s going on first.
Again, airlines seem to be extremely greedy and harsh with the crew and in many cases they force pilots to fly for sixteen (or more) hours without a break, which means that your pilot might be totally exhausted during the flight. If you don’t believe us, hear what the specialists say:
Do pilots sleep in (the cockpit)? Definitely. Sometimes it’s just a ten-minute catnap, but it happens. —John Greaves, airline accident lawyer and former airline captain, Los Angeles
When you get on that airplane at 7 a.m., you want your pilot to be rested and ready. But the hotels they put us in now are so bad that there are many nights when I toss and turn. They’re in bad neighborhoods, they’re loud, they’ve got bed bugs, and there have been stabbings in the parking lot. —Jack Stephan
11. WHEN THE PILOT COMMANDS THE FLIGHT ATTENDANTS TO SIT DOWN, START PRAYING
When the pilot puts the “fasten seat belt” sign on for the passengers there is usually nothing to worry about, it’s just procedure. We are not saying you shouldn’t listen to your pilot, of course you should, all we are saying is that there’s nothing to worry about. Now if you hear him announcing that the flight attendants need to sit down ASAP, it would be wise if you listened too and you know, why not start praying, just in case. OK, OK, we might be exaggerating, since in most cases when this happens it’s usually just a warning of severe turbulence ahead.
Written by Theodoros II for TCMag