When Pilots Chat Up Flight Attendants In The Galley They’re Breaking The Law

A listener on this week’s Airlines Confidential podcast relayed a story about the pilot taking his lavatory break. Access to the cockpit is blocked while this is happening so prevent passengers from getting in. And a flight attendant goes into the cockpit so that the other pilot isn’t alone (a procedure adopted after the Germanwings crash where a pilot committed suicide, locking the other pilot out of the cockpit).

The pilot didn’t go right back into the cockpit. He spent time chatting with a flight attendant. And the listener wanted to know whether there’s a time limit for how long a pilot can be out of the cockpit during a flight.

Former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza relayed that he spoke with attorney Peter Petesch about the relevant Federal Aviation Regulations. FAR 121.543 requires pilots to be in the cockpit at all times except:

  • “Necessary for performance of duties” to check something in the aircaft
  • “In connection with physiological needs” using the lav
  • Crew rest, when another pilot takes their place

There’s no time limit on these exceptions. So in Baldanza’s words “the only thing I could imagine this pilot would do is say his chatting with the flight attendant was meeting another physiological need.”

Several years ago on an American Airlines flight from Washington National to Dallas-Fort Worth my flight’s captain spent 20 minutes in the galley flirting as part of his lavatory trip.

This came right after the meal service, and passengers up front were visibly squirming in their seats, while a service cart in the aisle in coach meant it wasn’t possible for passengers to go to the lavatories in back either.

My view is that a few pleasantries as part of a bathroom trip is fine, but that a pilot shouldn’t be out of the cockpit for 20 minutes on non-bathroom business while they’re on duty.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This happened to me a few years ago on vx right after the merger. 45 minutes the young fo was trying for and he wasn’t getting anywhere! I ended up filling out a “how was your trip” questionnaire from as and they’ve returned a $75 discount code. I really wasn’t looking for anything but I was still pissed when I filled it out.

  2. I wonder how this applies to a flight attendant replacing the pilot in the cockpit. From my experience, the big 3 U.S. airlines, when a pilot comes out a flight attendant goes in.

  3. In the US the procedure for having a FA in the flight deck do there were never only one person was adopted after 911, European carriers adopted the practice after the German Wings incident.

  4. What happens if the FA and the pilot don’t want to open the cockpit door right away after the other pilot finishes their business? 🙂

  5. @Gary, when the pilot took 20 minutes to talk to the FAs in the galley, was there a tie hanging on the door knob to the cockpit?

  6. Well I’m sure I’ll be hated for saying this but women don’t belong in the cockpit. Men should have some traditional sanctuaries. I want to know a man is in charge when I fly the friendly skies. As for galley chat, I guess once in awhile they hire a beauty.

  7. When I leave the cockpit for physiological needs, that includes standing and stretching for a few minutes. One can not adequately stretch in the lavatory. I don’t want deep vein thrombosis so I am going to take a little time.

  8. Just so you know, when an all-female flight crew is running the flight deck, it’s not the ‘Cockpit’. It’s referred to as, “The Box Office”. 🙂

  9. Joanie Adams, you must be an ancient dinosaur! If you look at statistics in all your medical schools, pharmacy schools, any professional school- at least 75% of the classes and graduates are woman for quite awhile! How do you see professional people and your own sexual identity is very sad.

  10. LOL joanie, I don’t hate you for your perception, but here’s a different one.
    . I spent 40 years as an Airline Pilot (and no it doesn’t mean I have all the answers but it does give me some qualifications to make this judgement)
    I started when airlines primarily hired white men under 32 years old. Fighting discrimination, whether age, gender or ethnicity has made the industry safer.
    Diversity has brought a greater range of life experiences to the collective experience of flying airliners. I’ve been an instructor, Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer on about a dozen different airliners, domestically and internationally, and flew with women in all the above capacity. Can’t say who is better, men or women. Mostly good from both genders and if there is a difference the men are more likely to possess type A behavior by over reacting to a situation. Women pilots can be a little more thoughtful and less likely to allow ego to interfere with safety. Confidence is crucial to the job description but has to be used correctly and not over authoritatively. I. E some guys are jerks and that has been a factor in numerous accidents. That’s a whole different discussion but CRM training with it’s focus on the importance of diverse perspectives in the cockpit addresses this well. Women pilots who have what it takes to make it to the airlines are by and large very skilled aviators possessing an inner strength to deal with discrimination. They enhance the profession.
    Btw I’m an old white guy

  11. Oh, and as far as Pilots talking to FA’s on a bathroom break…….yes I talked to the FA’s in the galley. Sometimes a discussion about weather, potential passenger issues, maybe a realistic arrival time, the list is long and sometimes just simple small talk that served as enhancements to the overall reinforcement of being a crew that works together was in order. The FAR’s are vague enough to allow some leeway as Ben Baldanza alluded to and his perspective is a good one.
    Sad state of society that people can go around pointing figures and posting on social media all kinds of misinformation about what someone is doing….I believe a furor was once raised about a pilot sleeping on the job and his picture was posted on social media He was sleeping in his designated crew rest seat in First Class and someone had a problem with that……

  12. What a load of hog wash. I won’t get the time back that it took me to read that article. The author should not swerve into areas that he knows nothing about.

  13. @JohnW
    Do you not know that pax who frequently sit in row 1 can hear absolutely EVERYTHING including the sordid details of sexual trysts, who’s banging who in the base, who’s trying to hook up with who,, who got drunk etc…..
    You’re not talking about “weather”.

  14. Gary, Just wondering the relevance of posting this? Mental health breaks, bathroom breaks, human conversation why is this an issue? Male or female pilots are human beings last time I checked. The only people who would be affected by not going to the rest area would be first class when they block the aisle for our safety. There are other restrooms in flight. Perception is everything. I work in the public sector. I was brought to the office due to a citizen reported seeing one of us drinking beer on the way to an emergency response……it was a bottle of root beer….

  15. For sure it happens Chris and it happens in other inappropriate places too.
    I’m speaking for myself, I never said anything that I would be embarrassed for a passenger or my wife for that matter to overhear.
    I’m sure it happens, it just doesn’t mean that anytime a pilot is talking to a FA it’s wrong or unsafe…..most of the time it’s an integral part of the job. Reacting to a few loudmouths is a disservice to the majority in the profession.

  16. @Joanie Adams; Many women received training from their parents and are fully qualified to poop in an aircraft lavatory. Unsurprisingly, some of these dedicated and ambitious women have received the benefit of additional flight training and are fully qualified, certified, and licensed to pilot your aircraft (and use the lavatory). Enjoy your flight, Don’t forget to flush and wash your hands to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  17. “Physiological needs” as stated by the FARs most definitely includes standing up and stretching my legs when I take my break. Leave it up to the general public to have an unshakable opinion on everything regardless of their knowledge level. I had one passenger tell me he was reporting me because I got too close to another aircraft (he saw the normal opposite direction traffic passing 1,000 ft above us in RVSM airspace). I didn’t have any clue how to respond to such ignorance. Same here with BB’s attempt at humor.

  18. My gawd..several years ago..and you can’t let it go…so many experts.
    Guess what, I had pilots with food poisoning( had to luckily get a non rev pilot to go assist in cockpit)just in case. Had a Captain have a heart attack..awful. Maybe pilot has bad back, needs to stand for a bit.
    Had Sky Marshals out themselves to help me move a woman to galley floor(stroke) so we could do emergency landing.
    How about smoke in cockpit? Bird strike windshield. Oh yes..you would whine for years about that!
    Just get your panties out of you know where.
    Have a good one.

  19. “Sky Marshals”……yup, they’re really called that! F/As always gotta try and play the “hero”. Don’t break a nail man!

  20. 2-3 minutes of pleasantries or updating the arrival time are fine. Anything beyond 2-3 minutes becomes disrespectful both to the paying passengers who would like to be able to use the lav, and weakens respect for authority because if the crew are seen to be flirting and not taking their duties seriously, how can you expect pax to do other than be just as relaxed about it.

    A few of the overly hostile pilot responses in the comments show that they are thin skinned and seem to think that they can behave however they want without consequence. Sorry, the plane is a place to behave professionally. If you want to flirt or stretch, you will need to do that on your layover.

  21. I agree, ” a few pleasantries as part of a bathroom trip is fine”. I would further add that physiological need extends beyond whatever happens in the lav. Standing up, moving around, changing your visual and mental focus, and all that are important elements of a healthy break. I don’t know what the time limit should be. Maybe nobody really knows and that’s why it’s not specified in the regulations. You don’t need twenty minutes.

  22. Really pointless article. That can be waiting for coffee to brew…. food to get warmed up.
    It’s amazing how many people with so little knowledge have an in-informed opinion just a thought about the first thing that comes to their kind.

  23. Hey Gary Leff, mind your own f***ing business and leave the poor flight crews alone you fat f**k! You try being crammed into a tiny space for hours on end. I guarantee you’ll wanna take a long break and have some other form of human contact other than ATC and the other pilot. Your article is full of s**t and so are you.

  24. This is such a bunch of baloney. #biggestwasteofmediaspace!
    Get real!
    Keep dreaming as if you were ever a pilot or a flight attendant…obviously you are not!

  25. I’d suggest taking this article down. You are discussing security procedures that should not be public on the internet (even if it isn’t top secret). Should we remind you of 9/11?

  26. What a piece of work. Seriously?! I have not encountered a bathroom break more than 10-15 minutes after 9/11. Where are you getting your info?!
    I will take as long as I need to on a bathroom break to STAND and STRETCH my legs. Sitting for 8-9 hours a day (plus time spent in a car) is AWFUL on the legs and back. I may or may not chat with the F/A while doing so but will so some stretching as long as I feel the need.

  27. Your speeding in your car (almost everyone does) is multitudes more risky.

    As already said, part of physiological needs is to stretch and get the blood flowing to prevent DVT, among many other medical needs.

    As for as this article being a security risk? Lol. The information can be gathered by being a pax on any flight and casually observing.

  28. Wrong !!!! We had that in place before German wings. And sometimes Pilots are talking about important stuff we need to know stop spreading BS.

  29. The Germanwings pilot didn’t commit suicide. He committed mass murder. It’s fine with me that he died, no-one else needed to.

  30. Omg Carl
    Speaking of thin skin.
    If the lav was so important at time. Why didnt take your little man ego to coach class and use the lav back there.
    Or your to self center to go back.
    Unbelievable the non sense people write about !!!!

  31. Having been a pilot on relatively long haul flights, Mr. Warren Trout is correct. Pilots also need to get up and move around to avoid DVT (ECS-Economy Class Syndrome) and remain alert.

  32. And I agree! The Germanwings FO did NOT commit suicide, he committed MASS MURDER! Gary, your narrative should be corrected.

  33. I’m not surprised this happened on an American flight. While I only fly a couple times a year, over the last decade I can’t recall a single positive memory on an American flight. But, I usually leave a Delta flight with warm fuzzy feelings… Especially pre-Covid when they still served Economy passengers complimentary meals on long-ish domestic flights, and came around frequently with snacks. I just don’t have any memory like that from an American flight, except getting out my credit card for a stale sandwich.

  34. As a crew member of the airlines family…to all the people whom enjoy putting in your negative WORDS about us.
    …..try greyhound and ×××× ***

  35. This has nothing to do with Germanwings. US carriers had already instituted two person in the cockpit rule post 9/11, but other countries did not necessarily follow suit.

  36. The fact that most of these commenters think they’re flirting with each is hilarious. No. Just, no. You literally have to wait 20minutes to use your fancy 1st class bathroom because you judt HAVE to go at that very second. GTFO. You’re grown people. Go to the back or hold it, you aren’t 2 year old children.

  37. CHRIS,
    Sky marshals are undercover law enforcement officers who are passengers.
    She was not referring to other flight attendants.
    Maybe try learning the facts before making your stupid comments.

  38. I used to read your blog quite often. I call it a blog and not an article because calling it an article would be disrespectful to actual journalism. Your blog has become more of a gossip column. Really? This is news worthy? I’m sure those employees could use the break now and again. Aren’t you the same writer that posted about the one pilot who was taking his break, and turned it into an issue when in reality it wasn’t. A lot of people take what you say at face value and it’s sad. One quick Google search would tell me that pilots working international flights are entitled to rest. Not their fault they have no control over where the airline decides to put them to sleep. You’d be the same person writing about a pilot watching a movie during his break. I don’t work for an airline but I sit all day for work at a desk job. I like to have the ability to get up and stretch. This is really sad to see how far reaching you’ve become with these articles and how beneath you some of these topics are. You as well as The Points Guy, are both doing a disservice to the traveling industry. Quite the opposite of what your bio makes it seem.

    I’m not saying co workers should be flirting but who knows for sure what they were doing. Could have just been talking. Or maybe it was flirting? Who knows. In this case it wasn’t. Differentiate that better because too many people who read the headline and a few sentences only, seem to think that’s what this article is about. I’m curious what your readership is like? The numbers exactly. How many active readers per article depending the subject matter. It all relates to airline industry topics but some of them are seriously misguided. You leave out key details. Thank the man up above that I have some common sense and good judgment to fact check what someone writes about. Everyone is a journalist now apparently and anyone who can pay for the web space can write an article now…blog post rather.

    Reasses how you approach your content. Sincerely I used to be a real fan and as of late you’ve let me down with some of your subject matter. Is THIS really that news worthy? No not really. How about googling what’s going on with the airlines right now. How employees are losing their jobs. I’m very fortunate to not be in their position as are you, writing from the comfort of your secure job position. We have it lucky. They have it quite rough right now.

    How about supporting them and trying to help them maintain their jobs, especially given the current climate. Talk about their labor negotiations or how thousands of these employees are losing their jobs and being furloughed until demand picks up which could take years.

    Also, fact correction, the German wings incident was the reason European airlines implemented a 2 person at a time in the cockpit policy. For the USA, all the airlines per the FAA rules have been doing this practice since 9/11. This is why I say your facts are sometimes misleading or your posts are completely missing them in general. I’m just a normal 9-5 reader but had to comment on this post as I can see how offended you make these employees feel as of late. They’ve got enough going on. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Instead help the rest of us see whats really happening at these airlines. I can see why so many employees are commenting on your posts correcting your post/information and why they’re upset. This isn’t journalism. You’re turning this into the Daily Mail of flying.

  39. How would you feel, as an adult, to constantly have to “ask” if you can go to the bathroom while be crammed into a little cubby! Let them stretch their damn legs for a few minutes, if they need to, or have the flight attendant brew fresh coffee for them. On most flight they usually come out once, sometimes twice. I would rather have the pilots get the blood flowing and keep awake with a mini break! Either hike to the back bathroom or hold your little pea bladder!

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