The Nauseating Reason Why Pilots and Co-Pilots Never Eat the Same Meal in Flight

The Nauseating Reason Why Pilots and Co-Pilots Never Eat the Same Meal in Flight

Because no-one wants a real-life Airplane! scenario.

By Karen Gardiner

If the classic comedy Airplane! taught us anything, it's that your flight is in big trouble if both the pilot and co-pilot come down with food poisoning at the same time. 

For this very reason, it has long been rumored that airlines require the pilot and co-pilot to eat different meals in case the ingredients used to make one of them is contaminated — and, hence, incapacitates either.

This rather anxiety-producing fact about air travel found traction once again recently when when Travel + Leisure ran a story highlighting a 2012 CNN interview with a pilot who confirmed the practice, which is implemented by the airlines rather than the FAA. Of course, given that airplanes are very conspicuous sites of class segregation, it seems almost obvious that, according to senior pilot Han Hee-seong, "usually the pilot gets the first-class meal and the co-pilot the business-class meal." 

All well and good, but should we be worried if even one of the professionals in the cockpit is debilitated and unable to work? Not really. All pilots, according to the BBC, can handle a multi-engine jet on their own. "The main reason for having two pilots is that something like this occasionally happens — though it's less common for a pilot to die than to be incapacitated by something like food-poisoning. Pilots and co-pilots are required to choose different meals from the in-flight menu for precisely this reason."

While food poisoning on board an airplane is thankfully rare, Travel + Leisure reports that in 1982, "some bad tapioca pudding incapacitated 10 crew members — including the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer — on a flight from Boston to Lisbon." That flight had to quickly return to Boston.

None of this helps, however, if your pilot ate something bad before the flight. As one Quora user wrote of a lunch he had prior to the flight. "It was so bad I was essentially incapacitated and my first officer flew the flight mostly by himself." Lucky he and the FO didn't dine together.  

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