Ask a Pilot!

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What Unexpected Things May Be Happening on Your Flight

This week we had the opportunity to interview Rene, an airline pilot for one of the U.S. legacy carriers. He shared so much great information that we can’t possibly fit it all into one post!

Today Rene tells us about what unexpected things may be happening on your flight while you are busy enjoying your pretzels.

Number three was a bit of a surprise!


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Medical emergencies

There are sometimes medical emergencies on board, of which passengers may not be aware. If there is a medical emergency on the flight, the flight attendants are the primary source of assistance. They will let the pilots know as soon as they are able, and the pilots have access to medical professionals through a special service available to us over the radio. This could be used to render immediate aid to a passenger or to coordinate the proper care on the ground.

If the issue requires us to land, we will do that as quickly and safely as possible while taking into account the services available at the airport. Depending on the situation, the pilot might aim to go an airport that is larger and has better connection to the city. When we make an emergency landing in the middle of a flight, we will need fuel, services for the passengers, a gate etc. If we stop at an airport that does not have any such services, it causes a huge problem (there maybe no TSA, for example).

We need to make sure that the plane can get in and get out. If we declare an emergency, we can land wherever we need to, but if we land somewhere and can’t get out again, that’s a major problem. Obviously, if someone is dying and seconds matter, we will do whatever we have to. But, in less serious cases, the pilots have to look at the whole picture.

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Coordination, coordination, coordination

From the back of the plane, it is easy to think not much goes on up front. When we are outbound, there is a great deal of coordination and communication happening with dispatch at the company, the gate agents, the people working the ramp, catering, the people fueling the plane etc., to make sure the proper level of service is provided for the flight.

For landing, it can actually be a problem if the plane arrives too early, because the ramp and gate agents have other flights too. If we come in early and surprise the crew on the ground, we may not have a gate or may not have the services required, such as wheel chairs for passengers.

We are already prepping the landing when we are 45 minutes out. At 20 minutes out, the arrival airport knows exactly when we are arriving and what we need. There is a lot of effort put into trying to make things run smoothly, so when they don’t we know about it, and it definitely bothers us.

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Law enforcement

In addition to air marshals, law enforcement officers (FBI, Secret Service, police officers etc.) may be on your flight, and you will not know it. They may even be transporting a prisoner, though there are very strict rules about how this is done. When we have these people on board, the whole crew is must be informed and the entire process follows the rules to the letter.

Have you ever witnessed a medical emergency on a flight? Or suspected you were seated next to an air marshal? Has something unexpected happened to you on a flight? Let us know in the comments!

Thank you, Rene. For taking the time to talk to us. We’ll be sharing more pilot insights in the coming weeks.


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