In our newest series, we look for answers to the questions that tickle our curiosity and puzzle our minds. From the random, to the educational, to the downright silly -- we bypass all other sources, and go straight to the professionals to ask the insider…
Captain Wee Eng Lee is a former pilot with over 33 years of flying experience, 22 of those years spent with our national carrier. Having also flown for China Airlines and Air Asia, he is a veteran of long haul international flights all across the world.
After hanging up his hat and gloves in 2010, Captain Wee now serves as a flying simulator instructor at the Asian Aviation Centre of Excellence, training the next generation of pilots from all over the world.
What do pilots do on a long haul flight?
Try to keep awake! (laughs)
It is our responsibility to have good rest before a flight, so you have to be disciplined. But a long haul flight is non-stop; so like from KL to London, it is a non-stop 12 to 13 hour flight.
On that flight there are normally two captains and two first officers, and we share the flight. We are split into two teams - one handles the take-off and the other the landing.
If team A does take-off – one hour after that, we switch and team B flies for half the flight, while team A rests. At the halfway point, we switch again and team B rests until one hour before landing; that is when team B takes over and lands the plane.
But in between all of that, we try to rest as much as we can. Some planes have bunk beds for you to sleep, or you sleep in business class.
If you can’t sleep, you just stay awake – you read a magazine, you make conversation, you go over your manual; but we usually fall asleep. We are trained like that.
What do pilots eat on a long haul flight?
It is airline procedure that the captain eats a different meal and the co-pilot eats a different meal – in the event of food poisoning, both of you won’t end up with the same problem.
The meal is set for us by the airline. After take-off, we can ask for the meal whenever we want, and the crew will heat it up and serve it to us.
But sometimes, there will always be some food to spare from the first class so we try to see what we can get. Sometimes it’s as simple as satay, but other times it could be lobster.
But normally we are entitled to our main meal, which in itself is quite sumptuous and more than adequate.
You’re not supposed to take food from home for safety reasons, so you don’t want to be packing nasi kandar or something because if you get food poisoning then you’re in trouble.
Are there any places, restaurant or bars where there are perks for being a pilot?
Not that I know of. In the hotel that you stay you normally get a crew discount, but I have not come across any place that offers something specifically to pilots.
But, if you’re smart and sociable you make friends with a restaurant owner or a chef, and if you’re regular enough they might give you a discount or a special meal. Sometimes you bring them something from Malaysia, like sambal or something; but that comes down to you.
It’s not so much about a discount or free meal, but it helps pass the time when you know someone local where you are flying to.
Pilots play their part, but here are the things you can do to ensure a safe and comfortable flight for everyone on board.