In the golden age of flying, pilots were rockstars. Many were helicoptered from airline HQ to the gate and never dealt with metal detectors, airport concourses, and terrible concession food. And while, yes, the food's gotten better, the life of a pilot ain't what it used to be. Now they get to their planes like the rest of us (minus the lengthy security lines) and put up with many of the same annoyances that make flying unpleasant for passengers. And even though you don't have much interaction with them past a polite nod and a hearty "thank you for flying" when you deplane, they feel your pain.
Or, at least, that's what it seemed like when we asked a bunch of them how they would change flying; aside from, of course, insisting they should once again be helicoptered to the gate. Who knows, maybe they're trying to score some points over the flight attendants, but here are six flying fixes they’d like to see.
Schedule more nonstop flights
Part of the reason America's most delayed airports have so many delays is because of the spoke-and-hub system, where seemingly everyone has to connect through Dallas if they're flying across more than two states. This system causes domino-effect delays and results in more passengers being stuck due to missed connections. More nonstop flights would alleviate a lot of those problems. As one pilot put it:
"Connecting through a hub will save you money, but it also causes a lot of the headaches travelers suffer. Often connections are scheduled so tightly that a minor delay will cause problems, and even if you are able to hustle and make your next flight, your bags may not be so lucky."
Make airports quieter
In some countries, gate agents and airport personnel won't make PA announcements unless there is a legitimate emergency. In America, it's not uncommon to have four announcements going on at once. "We have this insane infatuation with PA announcements," said Patrick Smith, who penned the pilot tell-all Cockpit Confidential and runs AskThePilot.com. "So much of it is just needless." Do we really need to be reminded to never accept packages from strangers over a blaring loudspeaker? Probably not. And making airports quieter, more relaxing places would go a long way to reduce the stress of flying.
Put Wi-Fi and power outlets in every seat
Some airlines, like Virgin and Alaska, already have A/C outlets at every seat so you're not panicking to find a charging station during your 30-minute layover at O'Hare. But if every airline did it -- and added Wi-Fi to the experience -- passengers would almost certainly forget about everything they went through to get to the plane. See, we knew there was an ulterior motive!
Simplify the international arrival process
Anyone who's arrived in the US and then had to change planes knows the mission of going through customs, retrieving your bags, re-checking those bags, and going BACK through airport security. It's unbelievably inefficient and actually discourages people from flying through (and/or visiting) America, hurting our national airlines in the process. "We're the only country in the world where you have to do that," Smith said. "Hundreds, if not thousands of passengers miss connections every day. So people don’t fly through here and that benefits the airlines from other countries."
Increase monitoring of airline competition and mergers
Some of us may remember when we had literally dozens of airlines to choose from. Now we basically have seven. And it seems every year there's a new merger that not only further limits competition, but somehow makes your reservations doubly as confusing. And it's not by accident.
"Airlines love to play games with the competition in order to drive them out of business," one pilot told us under strict anonymity. "They'll sell tickets at a loss on a certain route to undercut a startup or clog up a certain airport to take all the available slots. This puts startups at an obvious disadvantage. At the same time, some international airlines are subsidized by their governments and, thus, the playing field is significantly tilted in their favor."
Offer passengers more food vouchers and onboard freebies
Wouldn't it be nice if after the gate agent told you the next flight to Omaha wasn't leaving for nine hours, he then offered you a nice warm cookie? Of course it would. Contrary to what you might have heard, the airlines aren't legally required to give you a voucher for food or drinks in many delay situations, but as one international pilot told us, "It would really go a long way."
In fact, many pilots agreed that going a step further -- and providing more than than just a can of soda and free pretzels on each flight -- would do a lot to improve the passenger experience. Said one commercial pilot: "They need to offer a small meal on flights over four hours again."
We did learn one little-known secret that you should absolutely tuck away: "We as pilots have the authority to tell the FAs to give free [alcoholic] drinks and TV if we have a delay that causes an inconvenience. We don't let the passengers know about the drinks though, we just don't charge them when they order -- otherwise, we'd have a plane full of belligerent people."