10 Secrets Your Pilots Know -- But You Don't

For those of us who fly regularly, there are always questions we wish we could ask our pilots about the process of air travel. Reader's Digest felt the same way, so it asked commercial airline pilots to share some of their secrets.

Pilots answered 50 questions, covering everything from the best time of day to fly to their least-favorite airports to visit. Below are 10 of my favorite answers.

Edited by Benet Wilson

  • 01 of 10

    Least-Favorite Airports

    ••• A jet parked at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

    Hands down, pilots' least-favorite airports are Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, because both airports have noise restrictions that make flying in and out a challenge. They also both have short runways that require fast take-offs. I had the chance to fly Reagan's infamous River Visual in a simulator, and it didn't go well -- I took the top off the Washington Monument.

  • 02 of 10

    Planes Struck By Lightning

    A regional jet pilot based in Charlotte, North Carolina, admitted that most pilots have experienced a lightning strike, but assures travelers that airplanes are built to take it. "You hear a big boom and see a big flash and that's it. You're not going to fall out of the sky," he said.

  • 03 of 10

    Best Seats for Nervous Flyers

    ••• Photo by Benet J. Wilson

    The worst place on the plane for turbulence and movement are the seats in the back, since airflow goes from front to back. Sitting in the middle, over the wing, is where the air is smoothest and can be comforting for nervous flyers. "A plane is like a seesaw. If you're in the middle, you don't move as much, says Patrick Smith, a pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential

  • 04 of 10

    What's Worse than Turbulence?

    Pilot and Co-pilot in Cockpit
    ••• Bernard van Berg/Stone/Getty Images

    As passengers, we tend to worry when we feel turbulence on our flights. But pilots have something they worry about more: updrafts. Retired pilot and air safety expert John Nance says that when a plane flies into a massive updraft, which you can't see on the radar at night, it's like hitting a giant speed bump at 500 miles an hour. Pilot Smith adds that they find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It's all but impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. 

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Words You'll Never Hear on Your Flight

    ••• Arlene Fleming

    Those words are "one of our engines just failed." Instead, pilots say, passengers will hear the words "one of our engines is indicating improperly" or they'll say nothing at all. I experienced this on a flight from London Heathrow Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport, where they said nothing. I noticed we were turning around and asked the flight attendant what was happening. The pilot came on 15 minutes later and said similar words.

  • 06 of 10

    Why You Really Get Sick on a Flight

    ••• Photo courtesy of Janet Tarbox/Flickr

    I admit it -- I'm a germophobe. And airplanes are nothing more than flying Petri dishes. I keep hand sanitizer and baby wipes in my personal airline amenity kit. Why? Because aircraft cleaners don't have time to wipe down an aircraft between flights, so things like seatback trays, air, and light controls, seatbelts and lavatories are breeding grounds for germs that cause illness.

  • 07 of 10

    No More Voluntary Delays

    Airplane aisle with group of passengers in seats
    ••• Abel Mitja Varela/E+/Getty Images

    Thanks to the Department of Transportation, there's an emphasis on on-time performance where pilots aren't allowed to delay a flight anymore. and a Charlotte, North Carolina-based pilot admits that airlines have adjusted flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals by saying a flight takes two hours when it really takes an hour and 45 minutes.

  • 08 of 10

    When You Really Need to Fasten Your Seat Belt

    ••• Arlene Fleming

    I'm one of those people who always keeps on her seat belt, even when the captain says it's ok to take the off. The flight attendants will remind passengers to keep them on, but when the pilot comes on the intercom and asks the flight attendants to sit down, that means you need to listen.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    If You See Something, Say Something

    A plane flies into Lihue airport on Kauai
    ••• Matthew Micah Wright/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    Landing a plane takes skill. I've always done ratings of 1 to 10 -- 1 being God awful and 10 being perfect. When a pilot has a perfect landing, I make it a point of telling them as I depart. And it turns out that pilots appreciate being told, according to Joe D'Eon, a pilot at a major airline.

  • 10 of 10

    Wear Sturdy Shoes

    A captain at a major airline -- and my pilot friends -- advise wearing a pair of sturdy shoes when flying. God forbid there was an emergency, you wouldn't want to evacuate a plane that might be on fire or standing in mud and weeds wearing a pair of flip-flops. Not only do we wear sturdy shoes, but we also count how many rows we are away from the nearest exit row.

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