British Airways Beyond the Flight Deck photo app sees pilots use their iPads to take a souvenir photo of families/customers who come up to the cockpit before/after a flight. From right: Denise van Outen and her daughter Betsy. Image: Stuart Bailey via British Airways

APEX Insight: While in-flight visits to the cockpit have been forbidden since 9/11, airlines are allowing passengers and budding pilots to experience the flight deck in innovative ways – from a photo app loaded on pilots’ iPads to video documentaries.

Tiny traveler Adam Mohammad Amer became an Internet sensation after a video of his visit to an Etihad Airways cockpit went viral. In the video, captured by Captain Samer Yakhlef, the not-yet six-year-old displays an impressive aptitude for command of the flight deck as he identifies controls and discusses emergency operations. Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Amer responds, “I want to be a captain, just like you.”

For many pilots, the opportunity to visit the cockpit at a young age was a pivotal point on the path to flight training school. “Seeing Adam’s enthusiasm reminds me of my own as a young boy, with dreams of becoming a pilot,” said Captain Yakhlef. Amer’s dream of captaining an Airbus A380 moved one step closer to reality when the airline invited him to Etihad Airways Training Centre and gave him the chance to land the jumbo jet in a flight simulator.

Visits to the cockpit during flights were banned by air transit authorities in the aftermath of 9/11, and with a heightened awareness of security concerns, many travelers do not realize that several airlines permit visits – like Amer’s – pre-departure or after landing. With fewer impressionable young ones getting that formative glimpse behind the curtain, some industry experts worry that the current pilot shortage may worsen.

At the suggestion of one of its pilots, in 2016 British Airways introduced View From the Flight Deck, a photo app loaded on pilots’ iPads for taking pictures of travelers visiting the cockpit. “As pilots, we love flying and naturally want to share that with everyone, so we all enjoy welcoming customers up to the cockpit whenever possible,” said Captain Charlie Maunder, head of the airline’s flight operations. The app automatically sends the picture to the traveler with a custom graphic displaying stats from the flight.

Most agree that the best time to check out the cockpit is after landing. “Occasionally pilots might be too busy before a flight, but afterwards there is almost always time,” writes British Airways B747 pilot Mark Vanhoenacker in Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot. “Parents often take pictures of their children in one of the pilot’s seats, and no parent has yet declined my offer to take a picture of them in the seat, too.”

Other airlines have turned to video to offer a behind-the-scenes look inside a pilot’s office. In 2015, KLM debuted Cockpit Tales, a three-part video series that shows Captain Michiel van Dorst and First Officer Ernst Rensink demonstrating autopilot, crossing the Atlantic and landing at the beachside Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Martin.

After airing its two-part ITV documentary, easyJet: Inside the Cockpit, easyJet reported a direct boost in job applications and visits to its career website. In the two hours that the episodes were broadcast, more than 28,500 visits were made to the airline’s online career page, compared with 7,000 in a similar two-hour period.

“I am delighted to see so many people were inspired by the show, resulting in record visits to our careers pages and an increased number of actual applications,” said Brian Tyrell, head of easyJet’s flight operations. The airline also offers Little Traveller’s Log Books, which contain fun facts, stories about pioneering aviators, a full flight log and a space for the Captain’s signature.

In response to popular demand, American Airlines re-introduced kids’ wings in 2016. Aspiring cadets traveling with the airline can once again be “pinned” by flight crew carrying the plastic silver wings, which bear the American Airlines insignia and the title Flight Crew.

“I think it’s great to get customers engaged with American Airlines while they’re young through kids’ wings,” says pilot Jay Lawson. “I hope as we interact with them, we begin to inspire the next generation of pilots and flight attendants.”

 

Katie is a writer for APEX Media, based in Toronto, Ontario.