How Do Pilots Entertain Themselves on Long Flights?

Because staring out of the window gets pretty old.

Working as a pilot was found to be the third most stressful job of this year. Hardly surprising, given the responsibilties and pressures involved in safely directing a plane full of passengers to their destination on time. Then there's the nuisance of having to share a cramped space with someone you may or may not like and, for some, battling sexism

Given the pressures of the job, we'd like to think that, at least on lengthy flights, hard-working pilots can take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy some down time. Indeed, we know that, when it comes time for pilots to get some shut eye (the total flying time allowed is usually only around eight hours a day), they rotate positions with other crew members and can, on the Boeing 777, retreat to not only their beds but also business-class seats with their own bathrooms and ample space to spread out. 

But, outside of designated break times, how do pilots keep themselves occupied? The good news is that, even while in the cockpit, first officers can occupy themselves with things other than looking straight out of the window — after the aircraft has reached its cruising altitude, of course, and auto pilot is engaged. In addition to communicating with air traffic control and monitoring the aircraft, "pilots may be reading a newspaper or filling out a crossword or sudoku puzzle," one told Woman's Day. "This multitasking can help keep us alert during a lull." This, according to a poster at Aviation Stack Exchange, is called "in-seat rest" and is allowed by FAA/ICAO regulations for short periods of time.

"There is a procedure to follow," the poster writes, "for a pilot to start and stop in-seat rest (basically making sure it's safe to do so and that the other pilot is awake, alert and knows the other pilot's entering a rest period) and there must be a certain overlap time where both pilots are not in in-seat rest." On another thread, a different poster points out that listening to music is usually OK during "low workload phases" of the flight but visual entertainment, such as video games, is verboten. 

Having said all that, however, it seems as though the likelihood of a pilot ever being bored during their flight time is fairly slim — and that the actual time "in addition to communicating with air traffic control and monitoring the aircraft" (as Woman's Day's pilot suggested) is scarce. Over at Quora, author and pilot Joe Shelton has given a very detailed rundown of what exactly he is doing while flying. His responsibilities, even during what might be called 'down time' include monitoring the autopilot, programming the route, checking out the window for other aircraft, keeping a close eye on engine instruments and talking to air traffic control. Most of which, he writes, he multitasks all at once.

Phew, no wonder those stress levels are so high.

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