One of the most common questions we get asked from our budding learner pilots is whether they are allowed to eat in the cockpit during the flight?
With so many regulations in modern aviation, we are not surprised that this question gets asked as many of the pilots going through their licenses to fly commercially want to know whether they are going to struggle in their long-haul flights.
So today we’re going to explore how a pilot navigates his food intake during a flight and what some of the best practices are regarding maintaining a safe flight and digging into a healthy meal.
Can A Pilot Eat When In The Cockpit?
The simple answer is yes, a pilot is allowed to enjoy their meals in the cockpit and there are no rules saying they must leave the cockpit in order to eat their meal.
However, there are certain rules that a pilot has to adhere to about food and drink intake.
For example, both the pilot and co-pilot will not eat their meals at the same time and will spread the mouth. This is so there can always be one person in control at all times which dramatically reduces the risk of an accident.
They will also strategically pick the correct time to enjoy their meal, and you won’t see a pilot eating and drinking during a particularly important or bumpy part of the flight.
This means that a pilot will not eat or drink during takeoff or during the landing of the plane.
They are also not going to eat it during turbulence or during a busty period where concentration is required. When the airplane is flying smoothly and everything is ok in the cabin, they’ll take their break at this stage.
Most pilots will eat when the airplane is on autopilot and the pilot and co-pilot will alternate between eating meals.
For all other types of light, i.e. private flights where there is no auto-pilot and attention is needed, we do not recommend you eat food during this time and maintain full control and keep your attention on flying at all times.
How Does A Pilot Get Their Food?
Another common question we get from pilots in regard to food on a flight, is how do they get their meals? Do they get catered for by the airline or do they need to bring in their own food?
The good news is that most airlines will provide meals so the pilot is not obliged to bring in their own meals.
This is helpful, as some long-haul flights will require two meals, and having to prepare your own food can be extra stress that a pilot doesn’t need.
However many seasoned pilots will go to the trouble of preparing their own meals and bringing them on board, as eating meals on the plane can become monotonous as plane food can lack variety and taste.
It’s also worth noting that some airlines require the pilot and crew to pay for their meals, which also includes water.
Some airlines will offer a food allowance, which can be really helpful on long layovers when a pilot won’t have access to cooking amenities.
This can either be provided in the currency where they are flying to or will be added to their salary at the end of the month.
What Do Pilots Eat When They Fly?
We’ve already touched on whether pilots can get free meals, and if they choose to have an airplane meal or if they bring in their own meals.
But how does a pilot stay healthy when their job requires them to be traveling all of the time?
Most of the time, a pilot will follow a healthy diet and do everything they can to stay in great shape. They will typically pick a healthy breakfast, such as an omelet, and will avoid a heavy meal before they fly.
This is so they can stay focused throughout the entire flight, and not suffer blood sugar spiking which can cause that classic sugar crash many of us feel throughout the day.
For lunch, you can expect a pilot to have another light meal, such as a salad with protein such as chicken, or a low carbohydrate meal that focuses on providing as many vitamins and minerals as possible.
Another common dietary consideration for pilots is to avoid fizzy drinks, as this can cause bloating and gas which are not ideal when flying a commercial plane, and to limit caffeine intake.
Water is also vital for a pilot and getting at least 2-3 liters throughout the day is important to stay hydrated, as dehydration is one of the most common ways for people to lose focus on their task.
A pilot will also take some snacks along to the flight, as this can help prevent any cravings that can affect concentration.
Many pilots will stick to a healthy snack option and avoid too many sugary or salty snacks. Food items like nuts, or protein powders for a protein shake are common options, and foods to avoid are usually candy and chocolate bars.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can the pilot and co-pilot eat the same meal?
No, the pilot and co-pilot have to eat separate meals for safety reasons. This is to prevent both pilots from coming down with food poisoning mid-flight.
This was parodied in the film Airplane (1980) when both pilots (amongst many of the passengers) came down with food poisoning and an ex-pilot needed to take control and make an emergency landing.
Can both pilots go to sleep at the same time?
Although modern planes are equipped with an auto-pilot, it’s still illegal for both pilots to go to sleep at the same time. There should always be one fully awake pilot that is operating the controls at all times.
Can pilots drink alcohol on a flight?
The FAA strictly prohibits alcohol intake from any crew member within less than eight hours before a flight as it increases the risk of an accident.
In fact, most pilots will avoid alcohol altogether throughout their working block.
Do pilots eat first-class meals?
Yes, pilots have the option to enjoy a first-class meal if they wish to. Whether it is free will ultimately depend on the airline and the agreed terms of the pilot’s contract.
So there we have it: a pilot can have the option to enjoy their meals throughout the flight and many will regularly eat their meals in the cockpit.
Whilst there are many sanitary regulations that prevent certain situations from occurring, i.e. alcohol intake before a flight and not allowing the pilot and co-pilot to have the same meal; pilots are free to enjoy either homemade meals and snacks or food provided by the airline.
While it may seem strange to think about what a pilot eats while flying, there are many benefits to staying fit and healthy, as flying can have many potential negative effects on the health of the pilot.
It helps to maintain a positive attitude towards work and allows a pilot to remain calm and focused when dealing with stressful situations, and allowing them to enjoy meals is just one of those approaches.
When it comes to the actual food itself, a pilot should try to keep their meals simple and balanced, avoiding overly processed foods.
If a pilot wants to add more flavor and variety to their meals, then they could consider adding spices and herbs to their dishes.