Why You Shouldn’t Worry When You See a Pilot Sleeping in First Class
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
The Daily Mirror is a British tabloid paper — one that seems especially partial to airline-related “stories,” since they generally have broad interest. That certainly seems to be the motivation behind the publication’s most recent aviation post, “United Airlines passengers stunned to see pilot take off clothes and fall asleep in first class.”
I cringe when I see many Daily Mirror headlines, and this one’s no exception — the entire premise of this post is utter nonsense. Now I’ve seen plenty of flight crews act against the airline’s policy, but a pilot sleeping during the flight? On longer legs, such as those across the Atlantic, it’s actually required by law.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, or CFR, when there are three or more pilots operating a flight, each may not exceed more than eight hours of flight deck duty in any 24-hour period. The flight in question, United 161, from Newark (EWR) to Glasgow, Scotland (GLA), typically has a flight time of less than seven hours, so two pilots could operate that eastbound leg. The return can exceed eight hours of cockpit time, however, so an additional pilot is required — and they can’t spend rest time on the flight deck.
Much of the time, pilots complete their rest requirements far from passenger view. On larger planes, like Boeing’s 777, pilots have a dedicated crew rest above the forward galley, such as on Crystal Cruises’ 777-200LR, pictured below. After entering an entry code on a restricted-access door, they climb up a small set of stairs and step into a small room with a pair of recliners and two full-length beds behind.
Meanwhile, on the far smaller 757-200, which United flies between Newark and Glasgow, one of the 16 lie-flat business-class seats is reserved specifically as a crew rest, with pilots completing mandatory rest requirements during the over-water portion of the flight.
Longer flights may have a fourth pilot, and in the case of ultra-long-hauls, such as the upcoming world’s longest flight, from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN), there may be redundant cabin crews as well.
Like pilots, flight attendants may be required to snooze in the passenger cabin on smaller planes, too. United’s 767s have dedicated flight attendant seats in the economy cabin, for example, though Airbus A330s and larger wide-body planes most often have a dedicated flight attendant crew rest, either above or below the center or rear coach cabin.
The next time you see pilots resting during a long-haul flight, there’s no cause for alarm — they’re simply following the law designed to avoid fatigue, keeping you and other passengers safe in the process.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees