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Airline pilots tell their juiciest secrets

By Brad Tuttle
October 3, 2012

Have you ever wondered if pilots actually sleep in the cockpit? Or whether airlines have adjusted their flight times strictly for the sake of a better record of on-time arrivals?

The answers to those questions would both be Yep, they sure do. And these insights come straight from the pilots' mouths in a worthwhile new Reader's Digest story, "50 Things Your Pilot Won't Tell You."

Among the juicier tidbits are indications that pilots often fly in less-than-safe conditions. For example:

"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

Sometimes, it's the pilots themselves making for a worrisome situation in the cockpit:

"Do pilots sleep in there? Definitely. Sometimes it's just a ten-minute catnap, but it happens." –John Greaves, airline accident lawyer and former airline captain, Los Angeles

Also, the idea that the airlines manipulate flight times is not just some crackpot conspiracy theory:

"No, it's not your imagination: Airlines really have adjusted their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals. So they might say a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes." –AirTran Airways captain, Atlanta

There's some practical advice in the story as well, such as what every passenger should do to avoid germs while flying:

"Most people get sick after traveling not because of what they breathe but because of what they touch. Always assume that the tray table and the button to push the seat back have not been wiped down, though we do wipe down the lavatory." –Patrick Smith, commercial pilot and author, askthepilot.com

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Inspiration

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