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
“Most of the time, how you land is a good indicator of a pilot’s skill. 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.” -Joe D’Eon
“Some Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules don’t make sense to us either. Like the fact that when we’re at 39,000 feet going 400 miles an hour, in a plane that could hit turbulence at any minute, [flight attendants] can walk around and serve hot coffee and Chateaubriand. But when we’re on the ground on a flat piece of asphalt going five to ten miles an hour, they’ve got to be buckled in like they’re at NASCAR.” -Jack Stephan, US Airways captain based in Annapolis, Md., who has been flying since 1984
“Sometimes the airline won’t give us lunch breaks or even time to eat. We have to delay flights just so we can get food.” -First officer on a regional carrier
“The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much aren’t allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight that’s coming in just a little late.” -Commercial pilot, Charlotte, N.C.
“The truth is, we’re exhausted. Our work rules allow us to be on duty 16 hours without a break. That’s many more hours than a truck driver. And unlike a truck driver, who can pull over at the next rest stop, we can’t pull over at the next cloud.” -Captain at a major airline
“I may be in uniform, but that doesn’t mean I’m the best person to ask for directions in the airport. We’re in so many airports that we usually have no idea.” -Pilot for a regional carrier, Charlotte, N.C.
“This happens all the time: We’ll be in Pittsburgh going to Philly, and there will be a weather delay. The weather in Pittsburgh is beautiful. Then I’ll hear passengers saying, ‘You know, I just called my friend in Philly, and it’s beautiful there too,’ like there’s some kind of conspiracy or something. But in the airspace between Pittsburgh and Philly there’s a huge thunderstorm.” – Jack Stephan
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