This is a Hipmunk guest post from Scott Simko, a U.S. Commercial Airline pilot of over 15 years. His views and opinions are his and his alone and do not represent the airline of his employment or Hipmunk.
Once we begin cruising, we usually turn off the fasten seatbelt light, which allows everyone to stretch their legs. In the cockpit, the non-flying pilot communicates with ATC (Air Traffic Control) while the flying pilot manipulates the autopilot. We both keep an eye on navigation and the aircraft systems.
Of all the phases of flight (takeoff, cruise, descent, approach and landing) this is where we are least taxed with duties. Oddly enough, our workload is exactly the opposite of the flight attendants’ workload.
We are often asked if we are allowed to read. Frankly, it depends on the airline. Some allow you to read as long as it doesn’t block the view of the instruments. Others either strictly forbid it or limit it to company material only.
More often than not, we are just shooting the breeze. By the end of the trip, you get to know the other pilot very well.
Approximately twenty minutes before landing, we start planning. The non-flying pilot gathers airport weather data by using the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS). Think of it as a text messaging system, only for weather updates.
We need to know if it will be a visual approach or if we have to shoot an instrument approach to the airport because of poor visibility. We are also taking aircraft performance into consideration — details like what flap setting we will be using, etc.
Once we have all the data, we decide the best course of action. The flying pilot briefs the non-flying pilot on the approach, landing, and go-around procedures so there’s no confusion. These aren’t things you want to be doing last minute.
The image above is from Airplane. I hope no one gets mad at me for using it.