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Can Pilots Leave the Cockpit During Flight?

The thought of seeing your pilot out of the cockpit feels just as wrong as the thought of seeing your elementary school teachers in their pajamas at the grocery store. However, it comes with the added element of danger as you wonder who is flying the plane! Are pilots allowed to be out of the cockpit?

The short answer is that under certain circumstances, pilots are allowed to leave the cockpit. The airlines don’t chain them to the command board! If there is a co-pilot on board, the pilot can leave the cockpit during certain times of the flight for essential duties and functions.

Keep reading to learn more about the circumstances under which a pilot can leave the cockpit.

Can a Pilot Flying Solo Leave the Cockpit During a Flight?

A pilot flying solo cannot leave the cockpit under any circumstances. Even if the autopilot is on, at least one pilot has to be in the cockpit at all times. That is because during an in-flight emergency, only a human can react in time to save the lives of everyone on board. By the time an absent pilot wanders back from the bathroom, it may be too late. 

However, that doesn’t mean your poor pilot on your long-haul flight is stuck in the chair for hours and hours. That is why almost all commercial flights, especially flights longer than a few hours, have two or more pilots in the cockpit. In case one pilot has to step out of the cockpit for any reason, there is always someone ready to take over the controls.

When Can a Pilot Leave the Cockpit During a Flight?

A pilot can’t just waltz out of the cockpit at any point during the flight. There are strict guidelines about when one pilot can leave the controls, even if there are other pilots in the cockpit and an autopilot system. That is because complicated maneuvers such as takeoff and landing require everyone in the crew, especially all the pilots, to be alert and paying attention only to the skies ahead.

However, a pilot can safely leave the cockpit while the plane is cruising. When the plane is at cruising altitude, there is not much for the pilots to do except monitor the instruments and stay on standby in case of an emergency such as a drop in air pressure. During that time, one pilot can safely leave the cockpit.

Pilots cannot leave the cockpit for any reason during takeoff, taxi, landing, and turbulence. Then, the plane needs multiple hands on deck to keep everything running smoothly.

Why Do Pilots Leave the Cockpit?

If you’re an anxious passenger, you may be wondering why your pilot is wandering around the cabin instead of flying the plane. However, pilots take their duties very seriously and don’t leave the cockpit just to stretch their legs.

The most common reason why pilots leave the cockpit is to take a bathroom break. Pilots are human as well and need to use the bathroom after several hours on a plane. Since cockpits don’t have private bathrooms installed, don’t be surprised if you see the pilot waiting in line for the same bathroom as passengers, although they have to use the one closest to the cockpit! 

Another reason why pilots leave the cockpit is to rest. On very long flights, pilots are actually mandated to take rests lasting up to several hours, which is why long-haul flights have three or four pilots at a time. Pilots have separate bunks that they can go to while on their mandated break. 

To sum up, pilots can only leave the cockpit to manage human needs such as sleep, bathroom usage, and food (they can leave to get a snack). Pilots flying solo cannot do any of these things and have to manage with snacks in the cockpit, staying awake all flight, and diapers to manage bathroom needs.

When a Pilot Leaves the Cockpit, What Does Everyone Else Do?

When one of the pilots leaves the cockpit, the remaining pilot is on duty to handle the plane in case of an emergency. Regulations mandate that this pilot has to be alert and attentive. Some regulations state that the remaining pilot has to put on an oxygen mask even during calm cruising so that in case of a sudden drop in pressure, the one person standing between the passengers on board and a crash doesn’t pass out.

Recent rule changes state that there have to be at least two people in the cockpit at all times. If a pilot wants to leave the cockpit, first, a flight attendant or flight engineer has to come into the cockpit, and then the pilot can leave. The rules changed in 2015 after the infamous Germanwings crash.

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