What’s in your captain’s flight bag?


As a former RAF and private jet captain, I know that pilots are a source of great interest to many, both inside and outside the aviation industry. That’s why PrivateFly has conducted a survey of 1,315 global pilots, across the aviation spectrum, to find out how they are feeling about their jobs, their pay, and their industry.

The global pipeline of trained pilots is slowing and the survey shows that this is a major current industry concern for the future. But as a result, today’s pilots appear to be enjoying their relative rarity in the meantime – we saw higher ratings of job satisfaction and security than in 2012.

Other findings include:

  • Pilots named their top three flight bag must-haves and popular answers included an iPad or other tablet, sunglasses, torch, batteries, spare headset, snacks and gym kit.
  • Tabasco sauce was another popular pick, by many pilots. More unusual must-haves included a bike pump, nail polish remover, ramen noodles, and Lego.
  • Packing light is pilots’ top travel tip. Many also suggested to be prepared for unforeseen eventualities when travelling.
  • The average UK pilot has visited 39 countries, with the most well-travelled clocking up 190. Paris is their top-rated city to travel to, and Australia and New Zealand their favourite countries.
  • Pilots’ favourite aviation moment in history is the first Concorde flight by Andre Turcat in 1969.
  • While 76% said have wanted to fly since childhood, over a third have held a different full-time job before. Previous careers include a carpenter, a genetic scientist and a DJ.

Of the 1,315 pilots surveyed, the biggest proportion (46%) is flying for airlines. A further 19% fly in private/business aviation, followed by 16% in other paid general aviation roles – such as instructors or examiners; 11% are leisure pilots – flying for fun, rather than for their job.

Age and gender

Asking about their age, the most popular age band for pilots taking part is 25 – 44 (55%). A further 22% are 45 – 64, closely followed by 15 – 24 (18%). Furthermore, 28% of respondents have been flying for over 20 years. A total of 28% have been flying for 5 years or less (of which 19% have flown for 2-5 years and 9% for 0-2 years).

When it comes to years of flying, airline pilots were less experienced than private jet pilots, with almost half (48%) flying for 10 years or less (versus 32%). Private jet pilots had the most years of flying, with 40% flying for over 20 years (versus only 27% of airline pilots).

97% of pilots taking part in the survey were male, with just 3% female. A higher proportion of female respondents said they fly for airlines than males (59% versus 46%) so other variances tended to reflect this, rather than gender specifically. And taking airline pilots only, while pay and benefit responses were similar, over half (54%) of male pilots said they’ve had a pay increase in the past 12 months (26% above inflation), versus just 35% of females (10% above inflation).

What makes a good pilot?

Pilots were asked their opinions on the qualities that make a good pilot, and were asked to pick three attributes from a list of eight. The top three attributes chosen overall were: Making safety a priority; good flying handling skills; and a cool head.


What does the future look like?

The pilots were given a list of factors and asked to pick the one which they predict have the single biggest impact on the aviation industry over the next five years. They could also choose a different factor of their own.

In 2012 the biggest issue (picked by 66%) was fuel costs. But with oil prices having dropped significantly since then, only 11% of pilots chose this as their number 1 concern this time.

A shortage of pilots (chosen by just 7% in 2012) was the overwhelming top answer, with 53% of pilots choosing this, reflecting this sharply growing concern. Airline (56%) and private jet pilots (55%) were particularly likely to make this their top answer.

Terrorism does not appear to be a major concern for pilots with just 5% choosing this – and this has increased only very slightly from 2012 (4%). Helicopter pilots were more likely (18%) to be concerned about this than others.

Advances in pilotless aircraft were only a top concern for 8% overall, with airline pilots particularly unconcerned about this (5%).

5% of pilots chose ‘other’ and their answers were varied, but a quarter mentioned economic or political instability in some form. One said “Political events damaging the economy (Brexit…Trump etc)”. Several others mentioned the rise of low cost airlines and the impact this has on commercial success and industry.

Travel habits & tips

Pilots were asked if they had any unusual travel tips or travel habits. Many gave practical advice about the importance of planning or preparation and a common theme was to pack light (“pack early”, “one carry on bag total”, “simplify your life”, “less is more when it comes to packing”).

On a less practical note, many talked about the importance of having fun and enjoying the experience of travel including: “Explore. Eat local. Don’t waste the opportunity” and “See and do as much as you can”. Others focussed on physical wellbeing and exercise (“swim at the start of each day”, “yoga to reset your body clock”; “work out and take a run”).

What to eat or drink was another common theme. Lots of pilots mentioned the importance of hydration, advising to drink as much water as possible when travelling. Others advised “no sugar, no bread, no pasta”, “eat vegetables”, “take breath mints”, “eat a piece of ginger”, “enjoy the local food and drinks”.

Some pilots focussed on what to wear, including “Always fly in cargo pants”; “always dress smartly”; “wear slip on shoes”, “always take flip flops”. One suggested taking a visor and another said he/she always flying in odd socks.

Pilots’ jet lag tips were varied but a common tip was to adjust to the destination time zone as quickly as possible – though by contrast, others recommended staying in a routine based on the point of origin. Drinking lots of water, and sleeping as much as possible were common types of advice. More unusual tips included “drink Red Bull and “meditation”.

Parts of this article where originally published on the website of PrivateFly. The full version of the survey can be requested by contacting PrivateFly directly.