Airline Pilot Secrets

A US magazine has unearthed 13 secrets that your pilots don't want you to know.

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Reader’s Digest, the US publication, recently launched a new series entitled “13 Things Experts Won’t Tell You”. This month’s feature saw airline pilots reveal all.

The magazine’s research suggested that some pilots feel under pressure to fly with less fuel than crew are “comfortable” with; that you’re unlikely to receive much warning if something goes awry in the sky; and that airlines may overestimate flight times to improve punctuality. Some of the trickiest US airports to land at were also revealed.

Here’s what the pilots had to tell the Reader’s Digest reporters:

“I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” – Captain at a major airline.

“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.” – Jim Tilmon, retired American Airlines pilot, Phoenix.

“No, it’s not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.” – AirTran Airways captain, Atlanta.

“You may go to an airline website and buy a ticket, pull up to its desk at the curb, and get onto an airplane that has a similar name painted on it, but half the time, you’re really on a regional airline. The regionals aren’t held to the same safety standards as the majors: Their pilots aren’t required to have as much training and experience, and the public doesn’t know that.” -Captain at a major airline.

“At some airports with really short runways, you’re not going to have a smooth landing no matter how good we are: John Wayne Airport; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Chicago Midway; and Reagan National.” -Joe D’Eon, a pilot at a major airline who produces a podcast at flywithjoe.com

“The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C. (pictured below), and John Wayne in Orange County, Calif. You’re flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don’t like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you’re airborne.” – Pilot, South Carolina.

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