A pilot reveals the 5 things she always does before every flight

I’m often asked if I have a ritual when I fly, be it in the cockpit or outside. I figured when I was asked about this, do you mean – a secret handshake, a foot shuffle or an Irish jig?

I don’t jig or dance, but I definitely do the same “setup” every flight out of habit. I think most people who fly are creatures of habit and I’m no different.

Hotel notes in the cockpit

My hotel paper collection is my go-to place to write down all the important ATC items. At the beginning of the journey, my notes are brief. At the end of the journey, the paper is covered with notes, scratches and crossed out numbers.

Copyright: Christy Karsten

1. Set up my “nest”.

When I board the jet, I set up what pilots like to call our “nest.” This is where the rituals come into play the most.

flight number

I always Place a pad of hotel paper on the yoke clip. I collect pads from all over the world and secretly smile when I see the hotel logo smiling at me from the yoke. I like to use blue ink and always write the flight number in the top left corner. The flight number is “who you are” and how air traffic control calls you on the radio.

Cockpit note: Funny how once the flight is over, no matter how long it is or how many times I’ve said it, I forget the flight number once I’m at the curb of our destination. The hotel bus drivers roll their eyes when we clearly can’t remember!

Instructions for air traffic control

I also scribble the Automated Terminal Information Service letter and our gate number in the same upper left corner. If air traffic control asks me and I forgot, I can check with a simple look. Once we exit the gate area, I copy every single instruction the ground controller gives us and can read them verbatim to him.

Cockpit note: At some airports, such as Orlando International Airport, air traffic controller instructions can be quite complex and reach the speed of a machine gun. We’re expected to do it right, read it up quickly, and stick to it. Taxiing at some airports can be like a maze of confusion and quite complex.

Flight plan on the pilot's iPad

Our flight plan was ‘pushed’ onto a reader on our iPads, which can now scribble and draw with the help of an electronic legend. Goodbye paper, hello tablet!

Copyright: Christy Karsten

Additional important numbers

To my right, next to a clipboard under the window, is my notepad with important nuggets for the flight. I record fuel numbers for takeoff information, minimum fuel levels, burn levels, and how much fuel to expect on landing. I note SOBs – erm – souls on board and pets. I also write down the name of our purser in case I need to ask a specific question and get an answer quickly.

2. Introduce me to the flight attendants

One ritual I have is trying to walk around the cabin and introduce myself to each and every flight attendant before boarding. I’ve found that when a flight attendant calls the cockpit and I answer, it can get a bit confusing for them. If I haven’t met them, they usually think they’ve dialed the wrong number, as most of our pilots are male. Also, I want to tell them that personally if they need it anything please call!

Cockpit note: A purser is the senior flight attendant on the plane.

Thermos and iPad holder in the cockpit

My favorite thermos fits perfectly in the cup holder next to my iPad mount. I think the pink gives the cockpit a happy color.

Copyright: Christy Karsten

3. Charge iPad

After setting up my Nest, I place my iPad on the Consul with attachment points and upload the flight plan, TPS (Takeoff Performance), weather and all company information for the flight. I place my special blue ballpoint pen in the holder, plug my personal headphones into the jack and place my personal pink thermos of chilled water in the cup holder. I place my gear bag and orient it the same way every flight: next to me on the right side. Then I can easily grab my warning vest for the tour outside. Everything has its place in this bag, and everything has its place.

Old school paperwork

Old school paperwork is still used but will soon be phased out

Copyright: Christy Karsten

Cockpit note: In my industry, paper is being eliminated. The weight reduction of our 2,145 page operations and aircraft manuals is significant. Our flight schedules, performance charts, weather data, flight schedules, maintenance and passenger information, to name a few, are only displayed through our iPads. Just a click and a swipe and I can find the information I need.

4. Outside tour

Each flight requires an outside inspection. I do my tour in the same way, in the same direction, looking for certain things. As I approach the jet in all its glory, I tap the engine and say hello to her. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but I do it every time. I rub her and talk to her like she’s a person. I tell her, “She’s a good girl,” pet her, and continue my tour. It’s my tribute to the fact that she will work hard for the next 10-16 hours and safely take us to a new and exciting destination. I think pilots as a group are creatures of habit and it’s good for us to have our own rituals.

So next time you get on a plane, look out the window and see if your pilot is patting your bird. That could only be me!

5. Greet passengers

When I’m done with the outside check and get back on the jet, we’ve usually started boarding. I love personally welcoming every passenger I meet on board.

For more on Christy’s adventures as a pilot, check out these stories:

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