Air travel has become so routine that it’s easy to forget a plane goes through plenty of preparation in between flights. Whether you’re taking a private jet or a commercial flight, the plane’s crew can’t skip any critical steps before an aircraft takes off. Now more than ever, a clean plane is vital to keeping you and your loved ones safe. Jason Zilberbrand, President and Senior Accredited Aircraft Appraiser with the ASA, said, “Passengers are demanding airlines maintain social distancing, and combined with longer TSA checkpoints and face mask requirement General Aviation should benefit.”
Passengers trust that a flight will take place on a clean, safe aircraft—but what happens to make sure you enjoy your flight and arrive safely at your destination? The flight crew has a long checklist of to-dos.
Here are nine things that happen before plane takeoff.
1. Pilots Check the Plane
Not only do they fly the plane, but pilots must also check the aircraft before a plane can leave the gate.
You might have heard about the “Pre-Flight Checklist.” This process involves everyone on the ground crew, the pilots, and the flight attendants. Pilots walk around the plane to inspect the condition of the wheels, engines, wings, and the fuselage. The pilot also keeps an eye out for puddles that look like leaking gas or oil.
Once inside the cockpit, pilots check buttons, switches, dials, and flight instruments. They work thoroughly, to make sure the aircraft is in flying condition without delaying takeoff.
Your plane would need fuel, even if the last flight were a short hop. The ground crew connects the fuel line to make sure your flight is fully prepared with plenty of fuel for the journey.
The refueling team is trained to deliver the right type of fuel safely. While many think this is no big deal, you might be surprised to learn fuel contamination happens often. The estimated amount of fuel must account for the time it takes to taxi to the runway, idling before takeoff, and flight time.
Have you ever had a flight delayed because of catering? It might seem like a silly delay, but your flight can’t take off without restocking. Even if your airline doesn’t provide free snacks, most flights can’t leave the ground without enough snacks, first-class meals, and beverages required for the length of your flight.
During the preparations before takeoff, the catering crew arrives and restocks the aircraft with the required amount of food and beverage items.
Stopping the spread of germs has never been more important for air travel. As soon as the previous passengers deplane, the cleaning crew cleans the plane and removes all trash.
The crew clears away trash collected by the flight attendants and debris left behind in the seats. They also wipe surfaces and clean and restock the bathrooms. All galley areas receive a wipedown, as well.
Deep cleaning takes place after the plane’s last flight of the night. Following that flight, the aircraft receives a thorough cleaning from top to bottom in preparation for the first flight of the next day.
5. Load the Luggage
If you wonder why there’s a cutoff time for checked luggage on a flight, it’s because the luggage crew has a big job to do!
While cleaning, fueling, and restocking take place, others on the ground crew load checked luggage into the belly of the plane. They must move quickly to arrange luggage on the plane to balance the overall load within the plane without delaying the flight taking off.
6. Connect Power and A/C
While flying, the aircraft’s engines provide power for all electrical functions and the air conditioning system. However, while on the ground with the engines off, the plane needs auxiliary power throughout the preflight processes.
Ground crews connect the plane’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to electricity to keep the lights on while passengers deplane and board for the next flight. The APU also makes it possible for pilots to work through their Pre-flight Checklist to confirm that the plane is in safe working order.
7. Confirm the Flight Manifest
Gate agents review the flight manifest to confirm the passengers who have checked in. They also assist anyone who needs a seat reassignment. Gate agents communicate with the flight crew about any passengers who have special needs for the flight.
8. Board the Plane
Pre-flight preparations continue as passengers begin the boarding process. Flight attendants help keep passengers moving toward their seats. They help stow carryon luggage and run through their checklist of procedures.
When every passenger has their seat, pilots and flight attendants work through the flight preparation checklist. They close and lock doors and confirm that all passengers fasten their seatbelts and raise tray tables for takeoff.
After the flight attendants make sure everyone is safe in the cabin, they communicate with the pilot that the plan is ready for airplane takeoff.
The pilots and ground crew push the aircraft away from the gate to taxi to the runway. During the taxi, flight attendants run through the safety announcements and confirm that passengers are ready for the flight.
Pilots communicate with the flight tower to receive instructions for takeoff. Air traffic controllers watch your plane taxi the runway and help guide your pilots in and around other flight traffic. They also watch the weather and stay in communication with your pilots as they assess weather conditions, confirm the runway, and touch base on the flight path to your destination.
When it’s time for your aircraft to take flight, the pilots point the nose of the plane down the runway and pick up speed to push the aircraft into the air and off the ground for takeoff.
Plane Takeoff Is a Team Effort
It might feel like you’ve waited a long time to board the plane for your flight. Once onboard, it can feel like another eternity before everyone finds their seats, and the flight finally takes off.
It takes a well-coordinated team effort to prepare for plane takeoff quickly, efficiently, and accurately—without sacrificing safety. Whether you own a plane or you’re a frequent flier, you can trust that the preparation time it takes before your flight is well worth it.