50 secrets your pilot won’t tell you

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the past couple of weeks, so I’ve also spent a lot of time in places like Hudson News, a purveyor of books, magazines and munchies to help get you through long airplane trips. Checking out the magazine racks at HN gives me a chance to sample publications I don’t normally spend much time with, which includes anything from Mother Jones to Us.

I haven’t looked at Reader’s Digest in years, having written it off a few decades ago as fare for the senior set. (Yes, I know, if I’m not there yet, I may be close.) One thing about the Digest, though, is that it’s always been good at writing eye-catching headlines, like the one I blatantly lifted for today’s post.

Who among us doesn’t suspect that there’s plenty the airlines don’t tell us, and if truth be told, maybe we don’t want to know. So the Digest got the best of me, and I plunked down my money to learn more about the 50 secrets your pilot won’t tell you.

Here are three, just to sober you up before you embark on your holiday travel:

  • “I’m constantly under pressure to carry less fuel than I’m comfortable with. Airlines are always looking at the bottom line, and you burn fuel carrying fuel. Sometimes if you carry just enough fuel and you hit thunderstorms or delays, then suddenly you’re running out of gas and you have to go to an alternate airport.” -Captain at a major airline

It happened to me about a year and a half ago. On a flight from St. Louis to Phoenix, with a stopover in Denver, the captain announced that bad weather was keeping us from landing in Phoenix and that we’d have to divert to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for more fuel. It turned out that other planes had the audacity to tap out Cheyenne’s fuel supply before we left, and the airport had to order in more.

We spent nearly three hours sitting in the plane, waiting for the next batch of fuel to arrive. The lesson I learned, overhearing the flight attendant, was that the crew hesitated to let us out because, once the door opened, the clock that logged the crew’s hours shut off, and the flow of extra pay shut off with it.

  • “The Department of Transportation has put such an emphasis on on-time performance that we pretty much aren’t allowed to delay a flight anymore, even if there are 20 people on a connecting flight that’s coming in just a little late.” -Commercial pilot, Charlotte, North Carolina

So that’s why I had to spend an extra six hours in Charlotte waiting to get back to Phoenix. My flight from Chattanooga missed the connection by what seemed to me to be only a few minutes.

  • “The two worst airports for us: Reagan National in Washington, D.C., and John Wayne in Orange County, California. You’re flying by the seat of your pants trying to get in and out of those airports. John Wayne is especially bad because the rich folks who live near the airport don’t like jet noise, so they have this noise abatement procedure where you basically have to turn the plane into a ballistic missile as soon as you’re airborne.” -Pilot, South Carolina

This little revelation makes Dulles and LAX look better all the time.

If you’re a flyer, frequent or not, take a look at the article. It’ll give you a reason to pony up for a drink or two next time you’re in the air.

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