15 Secrets Pilots Won't Tell You

Even if you're a frequent flyer, there's a lot you may not know about taking to the skies. A lot goes into the multibillion-dollar airline industry, and no one knows its inner workings better than the flight crew. The person possibly most privy to airplane secrets, of course, is the pilot.

Having gone through rigorous training in flight school and then seen all sorts of situations all over the world, nobody knows better about flying than a pilot. While flight attendants can be quite savvy and travel agents have quite a bit of industry wisdom, there's a lot that even they will be in the dark about because they're not the ones at the helm. Some of these tidbits may be a bit disconcerting, whereas some might make you less nervous about flying, but here are 15 secrets pilots probably won't tell you.

They’re very tired

Although regulations have changed in recent years to ensure that pilots get more sleep, many find that the amount of rest they get is nowhere near enough. Pilots often don't get enough time for a meal, and they're even known to take short naps mid-flight — which, although not officially allowed, does actually help them feel less tired.

The aircraft emergency frequency sometimes has pilots meowing and cracking jokes

Known colloquially as "guard," the aircraft emergency frequency in the United States is technically meant for emergency communications if an aircraft is in distress. Because flying is so safe in the U.S., however, it rarely gets used for its actual purpose and will sometimes consist of pilots to making strange noises (often meowing) at each other or cracking jokes.

Planes are often struck by lightning

It's not an uncommon experience for a pilot to be flying a plane that suddenly experiences a lightning strike. As scary as it is, however, the planes are built to withstand such weather.

They can get free flights but often choose not to

While a pilot's perks do include flying for free with their airline, they still have to wait for standby seats like other employees. Unfortunately, this requires a degree of flexibility that most pilots simply don't have in their schedule, as they need to plan their vacations ahead of time just like anybody else. They also don't get to the front of the standby line just by virtue of being a pilot — employee seniority, regardless of role, plays a factor.

Babies are not safe in your lap

The FAA allows passengers to have children up to the age of 2 in their laps, as opposed to in a separate seat, but most pilots will know that this is actually quite dangerous. Babies in laps are dangerous for the same reason electronic devices being out during landing or takeoff are dangerous: Passengers can lose control during deceleration, impact, or turbulence, causing harm to the child or others.

Kidney stones are common

Cockpit rules are quite strict, and FAA rules about going in and out of the airplane cabin have gotten tougher since 9/11. As a result, many pilots don't hydrate enough or go to the bathroom as often as they should, causing stress on the urinary tract and making kidney stones a common side effect of the job.

Nervous fliers should book an earlier flight

It can be a challenge to figure out just when is the best time to fly, but if your anxiety kicks up quite a bit on a plane, try to fly in the morning. As they day goes on and the ground gets warmer, the air becomes bumpier. Thunderstorms are also more likely to occur in the afternoon.

They’re often just as clueless as you are in airports

If you see a pilot walking through the airport, don't bother asking them for directions to the bathroom, your gate, or the best airport restaurant. Most pilots fly through so many airports that they're usually not much more familiar with their surroundings on the ground than you are.

Airlines often lie about flight arrival times

There has been a recent push by the Department of Transportation to increase on-time departures and arrivals of flights, and as a result, pilots are no longer allowed to delay flights for reasons outside of safety concerns. In an effort to improve their record, airlines often change their stated arrival times to being later than the actual time, as a sort of cushion so that flights actually land early at best.

They control cabin temperature

Frequent flyers will attest to the fact that airplane cabins are often freezing cold. Flight attendants aren't the ones to blame, however; pilots are in control of the temperature settings but are often reluctant to change them, as they're usually carefully set to accommodate everyone on board as much as possible.

Planes sometimes only have just enough fuel

Cost concerns are a top priority for airlines, and as a result, most planes have just enough fuel to get to a destination and not much more. That means that if a plane hits some sort of delay and is running out of fuel, the pilot may be forced to make an emergency landing at another airport.

This could be your pilot’s very first flight

Inevitably, every pilot has their very first time flying an actual plane. As a result, you could very well be a passenger on a flight where the pilot is fresh out of training. However, it should be noted that training is quite rigorous and the other pilot likely has more experience.

Updrafts are the real concern

Passengers commonly get nervous about turbulence, but ask any pilot, and they'll tell you it's almost never a cause for concern. What really makes a pilot nervous is encountering a big updraft — at night, the radar won't be able to detect it, and flying into an updraft is like hitting a huge speed bump at hundreds of miles an hour, causing everything to get thrown about much harder than it does during turbulence.

They won’t tell you if an engine stops working

If a plane engine fails during a flight, you won't hear a pilot come right out and say it. Pilots are more likely to say that the engine is "indicated improperly," if they choose to say anything at all to passengers. Luckily, airplanes today are built so that they can continue flying even without the help of one engine.

Water landings aren’t a thing

There's simply no such thing as a "water landing" — the pilot is simply crashing into the ocean. While it's much harder to do than an emergency landing, an experienced pilot and smart passengers can save your life by following the proper procedures.

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