8 questions you’ve always wanted to ask a pilot

8 questions you’ve always wanted to ask a pilot

Where do pilots sleep? How do you start a plane? Our captain Paola Oyarzún answers these (and other) questions

Rafael Bahia Personal Archive, Getty Images

Published December 2019

When it comes to aviation, let’s just say that some things are left in the air. That’s why we called our pilot Paola Oyarzún, who flies A320 planes on domestic routes in Chile, to answer the questions we all want to know but never had the opportunity to ask.

1. How many pilots are necessary for each flight?

It depends on the flight duration. For reinforced crews, there are usually one or two extra pilots (in addition to the pilot and copilot). But, again, it depends on the flight duration and each country’s regulations regarding the minimum and maximum amount of hours each pilot can work. On my routes (domestic flights in Chile), there are two pilots aboard: a captain and a first officer (copilot).

2. When you’re flying, what time zone do you use?

For most flight operations, we use UTC (Universal Time Coordinated, which serves as the basis for time zones worldwide) as a reference. When we land, we start using the local time for the other processes.

3. Where do you sleep? And what toilet do you use?

I fly the A320 aircraft family, designed for short-haul flights, so there’s no special place for me to sleep. On other plane models for long-haul flights, there are special chairs for resting or a place called crew rest compartment, with beds. As for the toilet, we use the same ones passengers do: we usually use the toilets in the front because they are closer to us, and every time we leave the cockpit during the flight, a special safety procedure must be followed.

8 questions you’ve always wanted to ask a pilot

4. Do you have time to explore the places you fly to?

Yes. We often have this opportunity when we spend the night. However, when it’s a return flight on the same day, we wait on the plane for around 30 or 40 minutes: it’s the time necessary to clean the aircraft and set it up for the next journey.

5. Can you leave the cockpit when autopilot is on?

Autopilot is on during most of the flight to reduce our workload. Cockpits can never be left unattended. We take turns to do everything: use the toilet, eat... In case one of us needs to leave the cockpit, the crew must follow a procedure.

6. How do you start a plane?

We have a procedure that, in simple terms, is based on a switch, which activates the engines and creates a spark that starts the combustion process. Everything is automated and quite modern.

8 questions you’ve always wanted to ask a pilot

7. Can a commercial pilot fly all aircraft models?

Pilots can fly any type of plane, but they need a specific license for each one because of their different technical characteristics. In my case, I fly the A320 family, but I can get a license to fly larger models.

8. Do you eat the same food as the passengers?

No. Actually, pilots and copilots don’t even have the same meal for safety reasons.

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