6 things pilots notice when they fly (and scare you)

When traveling by , most of us take the opportunity to , work, read or watch a movie to pass the time. We also observe everything around us and focus on the factors that affect our comfort: seat size, the behavior of other passengers and turbulence. For pilots and aviation experts, however, the experience can be different.

Details that count

Aviation specialists are trained to pay attention to the small details in airplanes. So even when they're not at the controls, they can sit in the main cabin and notice things that other passengers don't. Several airline pilots have shared with us the little things they can observe when traveling in the cabin with the rest of the passengers, which might scare everyone if they knew.

Frost on the Windows

It's likely that most passengers are concerned about frost, but according to Tanya Gatlin, pilot and associate professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, it's not as serious as most people think. “It's not something that can cause an accident or is a factor,” she explains. Gatlin points out that, when necessary, ice and snow are removed from a plane before takeoff. In addition, the aircraft is covered with materials that will prevent ice from accumulating during the flight.

Suspicious Smells

Smells can be one of the strongest indicators that something is wrong with an aircraft, as they can signal problems with the engine or fuel storage systems. “Sounds are always helpful, but a passenger cabin is often quite isolated from any noise that might indicate a problem. However, smells quite freely, and some (such as fuel, hydraulic fluid or overheated air) are easily recognizable,” explains Tom Quarrier, former safety director of the Air Transport Association.

The Changing Angle of Light

Experienced pilots know that a sudden change in the angle of the light entering through the cabin window can be the first sign that the pilot is changing course. “An unexpected and significant change in the angle of the sun can be the first sign that a course change is underway,” Quarrier notes.

The Communication of Delays

Many travelers don't ask for explanations when their flight is delayed, but they should, according to Patrick Smith, pilot and author of the air travel blog ‘Ask the Pilot'. “I get very frustrated when there's a delay or the plane stops on a taxiway for 25 minutes for no reason and nothing is explained,” he says. The reasons for delays aren't too complicated for passengers to understand. “There's always something everyone can understand if you use the right language and are patient enough,” Smith adds.

The Landing Routine

Pilots and stewardesses have meticulously timed routines they use to prepare for landing. The announcements to put your seat and tray table in the upright position are familiar to most travelers, but some pilots can predict the timing of this routine to within seconds. “Most passengers don't notice the leveling that often occurs when the aircraft is about to enter the approach environment or descend below 10,000 feet,” explains pilot Hachi Ko. “When I feel that little leveling for the plane to slow down, I imagine the pilots checking the checklist. At the right moment, I turn to my fellow pilot and say ‘Ding!

Emergency exits

Many passengers don't listen while safety instructions are being explained, but pilots understand how important this can be. In the event of a forced landing, you may not have the time or ability to find where the exits are. “First, I always look for the nearest emergency exit. Then I count the number of seats between that exit and me,” explains John Chesire. “I do this in case it's necessary to get there in the dark, under water, if there's smoke or if the plane is upside down. I know in advance where the exit is and can blindly count the number of seats by touching them and get to the emergency exit row,” he adds.

When you fly next time, remember that pilots and aviation experts have a different experience. They pay attention to details that most passengers are unaware of, but which are essential for a safe and smooth flight.


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