Reader Jacob asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum, about visiting the cockpit when flying on an airline:
Hi! I recently did a round trip ORD-SLC on American Eagle operated by Envoy in F (CR7) . On the flight back, I got in a conversion with the pilot as the crew was in the cabin. The pilot then asked if I wanted to go up in the flight deck. I happily said yes and spent a good 20 minutes up there just before the boarding door was closed. I’m writing this question as I’m wondering what the rules are on going into the flight deck in the future. Thanks!
For most airlines, long gone are the days where you can visit the flight deck inflight, and possibly even sit in the cockpit for takeoff and landing. Several years back I was on a Thai Airways flight and asked the flight attendant if I might be able to visit the cockpit after landing. To my surprise she returned 10 minutes later and said “how would you like to visit now?” I was floored, and spent about 20 minutes in the cockpit while we were enroute to Bangkok. It almost felt scandalous, given that I’m so used to the post-9/11 security mentality.
But even for airlines which were previously lenient about inflight visits, I suspect they’ve gotten even stricter lately, following the Germanwings crash last year. For the most part even pilots can’t freely enter and exit the cockpit inflight anymore.
To answer Jacob’s question, the good news is that for the most part you can still visit cockpits, regardless of whether you’re traveling with a little kid, or just a little kid at heart. There are a few things to keep in mind:
- It can never hurt to ask if you can visit the cockpit; just explain you’re an aviation geek and are fascinated by the plane, as the worst they can say is “no”
- For the most part, cockpit visits are at the pilot’s discretion, so it’s all a function of how busy they are; they may be willing to let you visit before the flight, after the flight, or not at all
- If you do get to visit the cockpit, be mindful of the pilots’ time, and get the hint if they want you to leave; some pilots may be super chatty and keep you up for a while (as was the case for Jacob), while others may only have a spare minute
- Ask before snapping pictures, as some airlines allow cockpit visits but don’t allow photos in the cockpit
It’s worth noting, however, that the policy for cockpit visits varies by airline. For example, Qatar Airways has a strict policy against passengers visiting the cockpit, including before and after the flight. Meanwhile Emirates has a policy where you can visit the cockpit at the captain’s discretion, though only after the flight, since they’re busy before departure. Other airlines (like American, British Airways, Delta, etc.) allow them at anytime while at the gate at the captain’s discretion.
In general I’ve found US and European airlines to be extremely accommodating of cockpit visits. The same is true on some Asian airlines, though at times I’ve found the request can be lost in translation, as they’re sometimes a bit confused why an adult would want to visit the cockpit.
Then again, the requests that seem completely normal on some Asian airlines do sometimes leave even me confused. Recently in the LAX immigration hall I saw a family come up to the pilots from their flight, shake their hands, and then each get an individual picture with each of the pilots. A dozen pictures later, everyone was on their way…
Despite all the security procedures in place nowadays, cockpit visits are still very much possible on most airlines. Just be sure you ask the flight attendant first, and be ready to take “no” for an answer if the pilots are busy and/or not very social. If you are invited, be mindful of the pilots’ time, and ask before snapping pictures.
What has been your experience with visiting cockpits on flights?