What do pilots actually do on long-haul flights?

Cockpit whispers
That's what pilots really do on long-haul flights!

© Volodymyr_Tverdohlib / Shutterstock

Have you already wondered what pilots are actually up to on long-haul routes? Do they sleep and read too? Or do they have to be on their guard non-stop? Three questions for flight attendant Delia.

As the name suggests, such a long-haul flight can be damn long. The currently longest route from Singapore to New York takes just under 19 hours.

Sure, we passengers try to pass the time with movies, books, eating or sleeping. But what does the cockpit crew actually do when the autopilot takes over control of the aircraft? Delia, who has been a flight attendant with a large airline since 2010, knows:

What are the tasks of the pilots during the flight?

Once the cruising altitude is reached, the autopilot is switched on, but it is permanently monitored by the pilots. On every flight there is a “flying” pilot and one who mainly does the radio and the monitoring of the devices. The radio pilot is in constant contact with nearby ground stations or other aircraft in the vicinity. In addition, the cockpit crew always has an eye on the weather, as it often changes on long flights. So that the co-pilots can also gain flight experience, one of them flies the outward flight and the other the return flight.

Are pilots allowed to sleep on the way?

The cockpit crew got to can even rest on very long flights – there are statutory rest periods for this. Therefore, depending on the duration of the flight and the airline, a third pilot is deployed on the long haul so that one can always take a break or sleep. However, all three of them have to sit in the cockpit for take-off and landing. Once the aircraft has reached air travel altitude, they discuss who can go into the crew beds or reclining seats and when. How long each is calculated depending on the length of the flight snap so that everyone is back in the cockpit for landing. By the way: on night flights, the cabin crew also regularly checks by phone whether the boys and girls in the cockpit are okay and that they are not falling asleep. But that almost never happens – pilots are used to working at night and drink a lot of coffee.

Is it allowed to chat and eat in the cockpit?

Pilots are allowed to chat during the flight as long as they are not too distracted from their work. During the take-off and landing phase, however, the “Sterile Cockpit Rule” applies, where only things relevant to flight and safety may be discussed. Of course, people also eat in the “office with a vision”.


Our expert: Delia has been a flight attendant for a major airline since 2010. She writes about traveling on her blog delia-wings.de. She has also been a fear of flying coach since 2019. She offers coaching by telephone and has self-published the book "fear of flying – tips of a stewardess – finally flying without fear".

Book about fear of flying

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