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Do pilots take turns on long flights?

Surviving Long-Haul Flights

I’m impressed as to the detail in this article. For example, yes, you can take off your shoes, but please take a shower before your flight.

No point in trying to force sleep. If it ain’t happening, don’t stress about it.

A great way to freshen up prior to arrival is to brush your teeth. I agree it does make you feel better.

Posted by BB
1250 posts

I used to find it difficult to sleep on airplanes. I started taking melatonin and half a gravol to help me sleep, and now I’m so accustomed to sleeping on planes that I don’t need to take anything. Just the sound of the plane makes me sleepy. (Good thing I’m not a pilot!)

Regarding meals at weird times, on my return flight from Cancun to Calgary a couple of weeks ago, we were offered lunch (pasta or chicken) shortly after takeoff—so about 9 a.m. Cancun time and about 7 a.m. Calgary time. Huh? I don’t eat on planes these days anyway, preferring not to remove my mask, but that was really unappealing at that time of day.

Posted by Jeff
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
404 posts

Great article. Thanks for posting. Everyone has tricks for surviving the long-haul flights. This summer I’m looking at a 14-hour flight from JFK to Doha with a break of a couple hours before I board a flight to Jakarta. I’ve done it before and it was a challenge. I usually get up and walk around once an hour to use the restroom and stretch.

Posted by kayla.p.
274 posts

I’ve long since given up trying to sleep on a plane. I don’t want to take any kind of sleep aid and arrive groggy and fighting sleep, so I make it a point to sleep well the week before departure. If I doze off, that’s a bonus, but I don’t even bother bringing my travel pillow anymore. I read on my tablet or watch a movie or listen to music. When I smell coffee brewing from the back, that’s my cue to get up, stretch, and go brush my teeth before everyone else wakes and lines up for the bathroom. Usually the stimulation/adrenaline rush of being in a new place is enough to keep me awake. I soldier on, have a very early dinner and am in bed by 7:30 or so. I’m always well rested and ready to go in the morning.

Posted by BigMikeWestByGodVirginia OP
Almost Heaven
2521 posts

Jeff, I also have to get up and walk around once an hour. Usually I go to the bathroom even if I don’t have to go as an excuse to walk.

kayla.p, same here. It’s frustrating, but I still try to sleep. Yes, taking a sleeping pill seems to make it worse. Beating the crowd to the bathroom before landing is also something I try to do. Brushing teeth definitely helps to freshen up and feel better.

Posted by phred
Los Angeles
3643 posts

there are a lot of these articles kicking around, I saw one that very adamantly said that flight attendants never eat on a flight and neither should you. Which is BS obviously, I see them eating all the time. And why the heck not?

Posted by S J
Western Canada
2397 posts

I can’t sleep on planes no matter what I try.

Sitting in an aisle seat to be able to get up and walk frequently.
Standing at the back or at the galley and stretching frequently.
Drinking lots of water or juice.
Watching movies.
Being sure to wear clean comfortable clothing in layers in case it’s cold onboard, that doesn’t bind or squash parts of you.
Sorting and cataloguing all your photos on your IPad or phone.
Listening to podcasts or an audio book.
Starting to write your travel blog or journal on your device.

How loud is too loud for car speakers?

That’s about all I do, as I don’t have the budget for Business Class seats!

As I’ve said before, I just treat a long flight as «One night’s bad sleep.»

Posted by BigMikeWestByGodVirginia OP
Almost Heaven
2521 posts

phred, I wonder if the flight attendants are eating airline food or something they brought with them. I have seen airline meals taken to the cockpit.

S J, good perspective. This is why it’s important to sleep well the week prior to the flight, so one night’s bad or no sleep can be shaken off faster.

Posted by Carol
Atlanta, GA, USA
2411 posts

My friends who are FAs can eat airline food but try not to.

Posted by periscope
1794 posts

I never used to fuss about it much.

Now, I’m only flying upfront with my own little cubicle and a lie-flat bed and I do notice I get more rest lying down even if I’m only cat-napping. As for eating, IF the international flight departs before 6:00pm, I will eat on board the flight; IF the international flight departs after 6:00pm I will eat in the Signature lounge before boarding. On the return flight, a daytime flight, I just eat what’s served on the flight. Plus, they have a basket of junk food displayed which I have been known to frequent.

Posted by Carol now retired
Lynnwood, Washington
7023 posts

No one has mentioned the biggest determiner of all of how much sleep one will get. How close is the nearest crying baby or children not being supervised by parents? You have no control over these factors so it is best just to go for it and realize that the flight will end sometime.

I have no problems with babies that cry because, well, they are babies and can’t help it. I do have problems with parents who do not supervise or control their children. I had an overnight 11 hour flight seated across from a family (Mom, Dad, 3 kids ages 6 and under) where the children were allowed to scream, yell, throw food, etc all night. I think the Mom would have tried, but the Dad put on his phone and ignored everything. She was just overwhelmed and gave up. I had an entire tray of food dumped into the aisle and over my feet. I realized at that point I could get angry or I could try to give that poor mom some help. I cleaned up the mess and helped the mom who was very worried about her shoes and the food. I only had to deal with those kids and that deadbeat dad for 11 hours. She had them for the long haul.

Were they one of the most annoying groups I have ever traveled next to? Yes! Did I wish I was seated elsewhere? Yes! Did I survive and go on to have a great trip? Yes!

So, do all the tricks you can think of, but hope that you are seated near people that will allow you to sleep.

Posted by Frank II
12858 posts

phred, I wonder if the flight attendants are eating airline food or something they brought with them. I have seen airline meals taken to the cockpit.

The pilots will eat the meals but they are not allowed to eat the same meal. Whoever is flying the airplane that route (pilot in command) gets to choose first.

This may be a surprise to some, but the captain does not actually do the flying all the time. Sometimes the first officer flies the plane. The two pilots usually take turns.

Posted by roubrat
1605 posts

The pilots will eat the meals but they are not allowed to eat the same meal.

This is one of those things that seems so obvious but I’d never even thought of before.

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Where Does The Crew Sleep on Flights?

On flights lasting several hours, the flight crew on the plane, just like the passengers, also needs to sleep and rest. the flight crew takes turns resting, but they are nowhere to be seen. This article will reveal precisely where these airline crew members disappear during a flight.

The location where airline crews rest is dependent on the duration of the flight and the number of members working on that flight. For the different classifications of flight duration, the FAA has 3 categories that set the guidelines for how crew members rest.


Class 3

The simplest category, class 3, describes the standards of a rest facility on short-haul flights. On these flights, the crew rest area is only required to have a normal passenger cabin seat with foot support and recline. Flight attendants rest in practically the same seats as the travelers on these types of flights, although many times they might not rest at all. If a flight is full, however, the flight attendants can sit in the foldable seats in the galleys or by the jump seats next to the exits.


Surprising facts I learned shadowing a Delta flight attendant


Class 2

On medium-haul flights or flights that fall under class 2, the FAA requires that crew rests have a lie-flat seat that can turn into a bed and curtains for privacy. This type of crew rest is the least common, as a handful of aircraft doesn’t have these seats. As a result, because planes used on medium-haul flights will commonly be the ones that are used on long-haul flights or short-haul flights, crew members onboard medium-haul flights may be able to rest in long-haul rest facilities, or less, fortunately, in short-haul rest facilities. Class 2 rest facilities also inconvenience the crew members since curtains have to be installed and removed from a seat.

The secret airplane crew rest that's hidden in plain sight


Class 1

Lastly, on long-haul flights, FAA’s class 1 category requires that crew rests are separated and isolated from passengers and contain bunk beds or other flat platforms to sleep on. The isolation of these rest areas is why flight attendants seemingly disappear from the plane when they rest on long-haul flights. These secret crew rest compartments are usually located above the cabin, and to access them, flight attendants need to unlock a door and climb a narrow set of stairs. These private compartments are compact and simplistic and do not contain any windows or entertainment screens. The beds come with seatbelts and curtains for security and privacy.

Inside the Crew Rest Compartments where flight attendants and pilots sleep | Daily Mail Online


Here's The Secret Room On Airplanes Where Flight Attendants Hang Out | Can You Actually

Not all crew rest area compartments are the same on aircraft, as airlines incorporate these rest areas into their aircraft accordingly, based on which planes are used for these types of routes. These private rest stations are only found in wide-body aircraft since narrow-body aircraft might not necessarily have the space.

Aside from the flight attendants, the pilots on a flight have essentially the same resting regulations as the cabin crew, but they can rest in the cockpit instead with another pilot supervising the controls. Pilots are usually separated from the crew when they rest outside the cockpit.


Pilot Falls Asleep During Flight, Misses Destination By 29 Miles

In the end, employees onboard a plane rests in the same places as passengers on short flights, and their compartments on long flights. Next time you fly on a plane, ask the flight attendants about the crew rest areas, and they might let you catch a glimpse of it.



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The Story of the A220, how it Came About and How it’s Becoming Popular


Aside from the fact that the Airbus A220 is the only airbus aircraft to not have a 3 in its name, the A220 is special from the fact that it isn’t fully made by Airbus, but instead a joint venture between them and Bombardier. This is all because of what some might call a mistake made by Boeing, causing Airbus to acquire a 50.01% stake in the company. In this article I explore its controversial creation, and why it’s needed.


The Airbus A220 was first named the “CSeries” by Bombardier, and was meant to cater to the demand of small aircraft in between their current-sized fleet and those larger already made by Airbus and Boeing. The particular area where it was expected to boom were the US markets, given there is always demand to be flying from small airports as there is no lack of them in the large country. At first, things were running smoothly and it was expected to enter commercial service in 2014, just one year after its first flight. However, things turned out not to go as planned, and the CSeries encountered issues on one of its test flights, causing it to miss the Farnborough air show, the largest in the industry, and delay its release. This was not good for the aircraft, nearly causing the project and the company to go bust, until financial aid was provided by the Canadian government.

Boeing’s crucial mistake

Eventually, these problems were fixed, and the first CSeries was delivered to SWISS on June 26, 2016. Eventually, more orders began to come for the new aircraft, including the critical ones in the US. In fact, Bombardier was offering Delta 75 of the aircraft at $20 million a piece, a price which was even lower than the cost to build them, and a cost which was just too good to refuse. However, this was contested and was seen to be Dumping, when a manufacturer essentially gives away its aircraft as sort-of “Samples”, and is illegal in the US and other countries. Boeing was quick to take action, claiming that it was stealing the market from its 737s, despite the fact that Delta had explicitly said that they weren’t looking to purchase the variants that Boeing were claiming to be losing out. It was then decided that, given Bombardier was a foreign company, the US government would impose a 300% import tariff, something near-destructible for the company.

Airbus saves the day

However, Airbus decided to step in and acquire a 50% stake in the company, something beneficial for both parties concerned. This was good for Bombardier, as Airbus has its final assembly station situated in Alabama in the US, meaning that seen as the aircraft technically wasn’t foreign, the import tariff wouldn’t be imposed on it. This would also help Airbus, as it would mean that the company would now profit off of an aircraft which had no competitors at the time. This allowed the aircraft to be reintroduced to the US market, allowing it to thrive.

Where it is now

Now, the CSeries has been re-branded to be the Airbus A220, a move which has knocked it out of the park for the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer. This has allowed airbus to spend absolutely no money on development, and come away with an excellent aircraft, which is dominating its playing field. As of April 2023, 251 aircraft have been delivered, with another 785 firm orders. The airlines operating the aircraft include Delta, JetBlue, SWISS and airBaltic, who operate a fleet solely made up of the A220. When Aviation for Aviators asked their CEO, Martin Gauss, about the aircraft, he said that “The aircraft has performed beyond the company’s expectations, delivering better overall performance, fuel efficiency, and convenience for both passengers and the staff.”

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How airline pilots beat jet lag

(Credit: Alamy)

Nothing can take away the enjoyment of a long-haul holiday more than jet lag. But how do the people who do it week-in, week-out cope? BBC Future finds out.

London’s dawn sky was orange when I boarded the flight. When I got off some six hours later in Montreal, Canada, it was still orange.

My body didn’t like it one bit. All of us operate based on the circadian rhythm, where light determines whether it’s time to be active or have a snooze. Those constantly darting across multiple time zones are familiar with that sinking feeling when the body clock gets completely mixed up and won’t adjust to the quick change in the light-dark cycle. The result, of course, is jet lag, caused by the disruption to the circadian rhythm – and for many of us, it’s a zombie-like state that results in moodiness, irritability, and deep fatigue. “Our internal clocks are not set to 24 hours. Unfortunately, exposure to light at the wrong time of day will cause your social sleep schedule to desynchronise from your internal clock,” says Erin E Flynn-Evans, a member of Nasa’s fatigue countermeasures group.

It’s the aircraft’s speed that’s to blame; the time zone changes are just too rapid.

It's not so much the distance airliners are travelling, it's that they're flying so fast (Credit: Getty Images)

It’s not so much the distance airliners are travelling, it’s that they’re flying so fast (Credit: Getty Images)

But some people experience these massive body shocks day in and day out: professional aircrew like pilots and flight attendants. So how do they cope with jet lag – or are they simply immune to it?

“Pilots suffer just like the rest of us, but they are typically provided with education sessions on how to manage their rest opportunities,” says Flynn-Evans. Most airlines have fatigue risk management programs to help pilots cope with jet lag – and pilots are even allowed to call in ‘fatigued’ when they feel like they are too jet-lagged to carry out their jobs safely.

The training prepares pilots to find out what works best for them – and stick to the routine. “When I started to fly long-haul, and asked older captains for advice on beating jet lag, they nearly all said ‘oh, what I think doesn’t matter – you’ll find out what works best for you.’ And they were right,” says Mark Vanhoenacker, a British Airways pilot and author of Sunday Times bestseller Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot.

If your flight is eastbound, it’s a good idea to start getting up early for several days before your trip and turn on bright lights

Flynn-Evans advises astronauts on how to beat jet lag – and the advice applies to regular travellers, too. First, always think about your direction of travel, as it will determine the times you should take a nap and times that you could consider taking supplements such as synthetic melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to set the body’s sleep cycle; artificial melatonin is a popular alternative to sleeping pills (although the debate whether it really is effective in beating jet lag is yet to be resolved).

Most people find it easier to adjust to time changes when flying west rather than east. When neurologist Dr Lawrence D Recht studied 1991-1993 season records of 19 Major League Baseball teams, he found those that had to travel east usually surrendered one run more than usual in every game.

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Some pilots try to stay in their home time zone the entire trip (Credit: Getty Images)

Some pilots try to stay in their home time zone the entire trip (Credit: Getty Images)

So if your flight is eastbound, it’s a good idea to start getting up early for several days before your trip and turn on bright lights, says Flynn-Evans. On the day of travel and on the flight, avoid light – wearing sunglasses can help – to advance your internal clock. And when you arrive at your destination, for the first few days sleep with your curtains open and allow in plenty of light.

However, if you are travelling west and chasing the Sun, stay up late before the journey and expose yourself to bright light in the evening, delaying the body clock. No need for sunglasses on the flight – try to get as much light as possible. “These light effects happen relative to your internal clock, so if you are traveling from Los Angeles to New York, you should keep your watch set to LA time and make sure that you are exposed to bright light in the NY morning, but not before 3am LA time. It’s tricky, because you have to make adjustments based on the time zone that you left, not the time zone where you are arriving.”

Some pilots prefer staying on their home time zone the entire time they’re away

Long-haul pilot and flight safety specialist at Balpa (the British Airline Pilots Association) Stephen Landells recommends drinking plenty of water on the plane, eating lightly but at sensible times and trying to avoid caffeine or other stimulants.

Once at the destination, Vanhoenacker says that for him, “an 11am rule” works best. “If I can get to my hotel room or my bed at home by 11am, then I’ll have a nap for an hour or even two. Anything later and I’ll stay up until a normal bedtime. Whether or not I sleep on arrival, though, if I find myself struggling by late afternoon, a shorter nap can help – and 20 minute ones work a treat. Definitely set an alarm.”

Exercise is good, too, he adds – it refreshes you and makes you sleep better when you do eventually get your head onto the pillow. And he tries to find someplace green on his first day, even if it’s just a neighbourhood park. “And I’ve convinced myself it helps even to walk a little more – for that reason I usually avoid the moving walkways at airports, especially after a flight.”

Coffee and exercise

Not all pilots follow his routine, though. Some pilots prefer staying on their home time zone the entire time they’re away – but such an approach probably does not work for most business travellers, for whom it’s important to synch themselves with the rhythm of wherever they’re staying.

Betty Thesky is a flight attendant and author of Betty in the Sky With a Suitcase. She flies round trip to Europe from the US at least once a week. Unlike pilots, she says that she and other members of the aircrew don’t get any special training to fight jet lag – so she simply developed her own ways of dealing with it. “I arrive in Europe in the morning and allow myself to nap for a few hours, then force myself to get up even though my body wants to keep sleeping,” she says.

Even something as simple as a walk in a park on a sunny day can help combat jet lag (Credit: Alamy)

Even something as simple as a walk in a park on a sunny day can help combat jet lag (Credit: Alamy)

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