Real Answers from Real Pilots

How much do Pilots do enroute?

Every now and then, i’ll get a negative comment from different sources about the Airline Pilot career as far as how much work the Pilots actually do when the plane is at cruising altitude.
What’ the real story? Do Pilots stay relatively busy regardless of the period during the flight, or can it potentially get boring sometimes?

Thomas,

I find that interesting that you hear negative comments regarding airline pilots at cruise? Are they complaining we’re getting paid to sit? If so what’s wrong with that? But to answer your question, it depends. There are many different operations and flights. When I flew inter-island we’d sometimes be at cruise for 5 min and you we’re busy from take-off to landing non-stop. Now I’m on the widebody and the flights range fro 4.5-12hrs and yes the majority of that flight time is obviously at cruise. Are we just sitting there doing nothing for hours on end? No. There’s a fair amount of work to be done. We make position reports, check fuel scores at every fix, plot our courses and compare our position with GPS, and also check the weather at our destination and our alternates as weather is very dynamic and can’t turn rapidly. Is any of this arduous or particularly challenging? Usually not really and sure occasionally you might get a little bored.

That said I have to be honest, when you’re flying 300 people at 80% the speed of sound and 41,000’ in an aluminum tube that about .25in thick surrounded by air that doesn’t have enough oxygen to keep you conscious for more that 7 sec and is -76 F boring is good :slight_smile:

Adam

Thomas,

Honestly to some degree your friend is correct. In a “perfect world” where nothing goes wrong pilots probably could (and would) be engineered out of the cockpit. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view?) we don’t live in a perfect world so for the foreseeable future pilots are definitely a necessity which is fine with me.

Adam

Thomas,

I wrote an article a few months ago on this very topic. You can check it out here: Hand Flying at the Airlines

Chris