Pilots need to use the restroom, too

This is a story about how pilots are human, too. They also need to use the restroom during flights just like the rest of us. But, my story starts when I was experiencing what felt like the worst flight turbulence in my recent memory.

I was on a flight back home to Seattle from El Paso, Texas, which is about 3.5 hours. There was so much turbulence that the flight attendants almost had to skip the service. Yes, we almost didn’t get our free soda!

With maybe just a little over an hour left of the flight, they rolled out the drink cart. However, they did have to skip the snack cart, which I didn’t care about since I always bring my own snacks on flights. I’m not paying $10 for a cheese plate!

I was seated towards the back of the plane and after the drink service was completed, I noticed that a passenger had gone to the back galley to chat with the flight attendants. It was a smaller plane so there were only two flight attendants and the main cabin one had called the first class attendant to join. From the bits I could hear, it sounded like the passenger was a former flight attendant and had brought small gifts as a token of her appreciation for these flight attendants.

In the middle of the laughter and chatter, the phone in the back galley rang. One of the flight attendants answered and I could hear, “Could you give us five minutes? OK. Yes, thanks,” and she hung up. I suppose the pilot was letting them know that we needed to prepare for our descent.

The three women finished their conversation and then the former-flight-attendant-passenger returned to her seat. The first class attendant went back to her first class post. Then the main cabin attendant got on the intercom and told all passengers to “please stay seated” and “thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

I thought her message was a bit odd because she didn’t say we were about to land. There was no turbulence, so I didn’t know what the need to stay in our seats was. A woman who was headed back to the restroom just as the attendant got on the intercom immediately turned back around to her seat.

Then the main cabin attendant walked all the way to the front of the plane. I leaned into the aisle to try to see what was happening. I was not alarmed or concerned, just bored and interested. The two attendants were conversing. And then the cockpit door opened and the pilot stepped out and the first class attendant stepped in.

The pilot then proceeded to the restroom in first class and the main cabin attendant literally turned her whole body to essentially “watch the door” while he took care of business. Not sure where he could have gone, but I guess it’s all for security. I mean, I had no idea that when a pilot leaves the cockpit, that a flight attendant has to take the pilot’s place! The pilot emerged from the restroom and then went back into the cockpit and the first class attendant returned.

But then the main cabin attendant did not come back to the main cabin. She stood chatting with the first class attendant.

The cockpit door opened a second time. Did the pilot forget something in the restroom? What could it be now?

It was actually the second pilot (co-pilot, is that what they are called?) who had to use the restroom this time. Again, the first class attendant went into the cockpit when he stepped out. And, again, the main cabin attendant distinctly faced the restroom door while the second pilot took care of his business.

How awkward would it be if the pilot had to go number two and took a long time?

The whole process makes complete sense. (The process of the flight attendant standing in for a pilot while the pilot uses the restroom, not the part about what exactly the pilot is doing in the restroom). I was just amused because I had never witnessed this “changing of the guard” on a flight before. I have been on 10+ hour-long international flights and have never seen a pilot use the restroom. Surely during that long of a flight, the pilots must have to use the bathroom!

The logical reason is more along the lines of those planes for international flights are quite large and I am not sitting close enough to the front to observe anything.

When you’re on your next flight, take note! I’m curious if it’s the same process across all airlines and flights. Is it always the first class attendant that gets to go in the cockpit? Do they rock-paper-scissors for the role before the flight?

I still have so many questions. But, the main one has been answered: Pilots use the restroom on flights just like the rest of us.

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