Can You Still Visit Cockpits On Airlines?

Reader Jacob asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum, about visiting the cockpit when flying on an airline:

Hi! I recently did a round trip ORD-SLC on American Eagle operated by Envoy in F (CR7) . On the flight back, I got in a conversion with the pilot as the crew was in the cabin. The pilot then asked if I wanted to go up in the flight deck. I happily said yes and spent a good 20 minutes up there just before the boarding door was closed. I’m writing this question as I’m wondering what the rules are on going into the flight deck in the future. Thanks!

For most airlines, long gone are the days where you can visit the flight deck inflight, and possibly even sit in the cockpit for takeoff and landing. Several years back I was on a Thai Airways flight and asked the flight attendant if I might be able to visit the cockpit after landing. To my surprise she returned 10 minutes later and said “how would you like to visit now?” I was floored, and spent about 20 minutes in the cockpit while we were enroute to Bangkok. It almost felt scandalous, given that I’m so used to the post-9/11 security mentality.

Cockpit

But even for airlines which were previously lenient about inflight visits, I suspect they’ve gotten even stricter lately, following the Germanwings crash last year. For the most part even pilots can’t freely enter and exit the cockpit inflight anymore.

To answer Jacob’s question, the good news is that for the most part you can still visit cockpits, regardless of whether you’re traveling with a little kid, or just a little kid at heart. There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It can never hurt to ask if you can visit the cockpit; just explain you’re an aviation geek and are fascinated by the plane, as the worst they can say is “no”
  • For the most part, cockpit visits are at the pilot’s discretion, so it’s all a function of how busy they are; they may be willing to let you visit before the flight, after the flight, or not at all
  • If you do get to visit the cockpit, be mindful of the pilots’ time, and get the hint if they want you to leave; some pilots may be super chatty and keep you up for a while (as was the case for Jacob), while others may only have a spare minute
  • Ask before snapping pictures, as some airlines allow cockpit visits but don’t allow photos in the cockpit

It’s worth noting, however, that the policy for cockpit visits varies by airline. For example, Qatar Airways has a strict policy against passengers visiting the cockpit, including before and after the flight. Meanwhile Emirates has a policy where you can visit the cockpit at the captain’s discretion, though only after the flight, since they’re busy before departure. Other airlines (like American, British Airways, Delta, etc.) allow them at anytime while at the gate at the captain’s discretion.

In general I’ve found US and European airlines to be extremely accommodating of cockpit visits. The same is true on some Asian airlines, though at times I’ve found the request can be lost in translation, as they’re sometimes a bit confused why an adult would want to visit the cockpit.

Then again, the requests that seem completely normal on some Asian airlines do sometimes leave even me confused. Recently in the LAX immigration hall I saw a family come up to the pilots from their flight, shake their hands, and then each get an individual picture with each of the pilots. A dozen pictures later, everyone was on their way…

LAX-Arrivals-Hall

Bottom line

Despite all the security procedures in place nowadays, cockpit visits are still very much possible on most airlines. Just be sure you ask the flight attendant first, and be ready to take “no” for an answer if the pilots are busy and/or not very social. If you are invited, be mindful of the pilots’ time, and ask before snapping pictures.

What has been your experience with visiting cockpits on flights?

Comments

  1. Please please please leave them alone before the flight and allow them to concentrate on the flight.

    After you land…go for it

  2. I’ve been fortunate enough to not only see the cockpit but sit there for the entire flight!

    First time was 5 years ago on a US flight / US carrier. The key here that it was not operating as an FAA part 122 (revenue passenger) flight. It was a ferry flight, being brought in as an exhibit at a large airshow.

    Then, last year an off duty pilot traveling on vacation overseas said his airline allowed invited observers. He said if we were ever there again he’d have my son and I up front for a 2hr shorthaul. We booked another trip all the way back a couple weeks later just for this. Well worth it!

  3. One of the best moments of my life, was a pre-9/11 JAL NRT-JFK flight. Out of nowhere, the purser asked if I would like to visit the cockpit while we were enroute. There’s something about the positioning of the cockpit and windows on a 747 that gave me a sense of awe-filled vertigo, especially as we were flying over the Arctic at the time and I could see the Earth’s curvature at the top of the world. Magnificent.

  4. “… I suspect they’ve gotten even stricter lately, following the Germanwings crash last year. For the most part even pilots can’t freely enter and exit the cockpit inflight anymore.”

    What have the airlines/FAA/etc done to prevent a repeat of that tragedy? You can’t prevent the pilots from using the bathroom!

  5. @ snic — Many airlines added a restriction where there always have to be two people in the flight deck, so when one pilot uses the restroom a flight attendant enters the cockpit. Many airlines had this policy before, though even more adopted it afterwards.

  6. @JT: I have a great picture of my daughter, then 5, in the left front seat of a United 747. We were in first class and the captain was eager to show all the kids he could find the cockpit. I was actually a little leary of bothering the pilots before the flight, but the captain offered! What a great guy – his enthusiasm really showed.

  7. Okay, hope I don’t get anyone in trouble for this.

    I flew with a certain, unnamed carrier last year LHR-RJK-JFK and back and before I flew I emailed them because I have a horrible, horrible fear of flying. They passed this information on to the flight crew and before the first leg of my journey I was called up to the plane, allowed to talk to the pilot for about 20 minutes and sit in the flight deck, and then I was upgraded to business class for the remainder of the flight. Honestly, I was absolutely blown away by the professionalism of the airline and as my flights were so reasonably priced I was happily recommending them to just about anyone at that point. Little did I know I’d fall in love with them even more.

    3/4 of my segments had spare business class seats, so I was upgraded every time bar my RJK-JFK flight. I’d dreamed of going to New York my entire life, but as excited as I was I was hugely nervous. Coincidently, that was the flight where we hit turbulence. I managed to keep it together for about an hour, but then one of the flight attendants came to see me at my seat and said “the pilot would like to see you.”

    I spent the next 5 hours sitting in the cockpit with the incredibly friendly pilots, who showed me how all the navigation systems worked, explained all of the dials, gave me recommendations of things to do in Iceland and New York and told me about their family and friends. We drank coffee, ate chocolates and they gave me a headset so I could listen to ATC.

    The coolest thing about this was when we broke through clouds and they pointed to Manhattan for the first time. I was absolutely amazed. I sat in the cockpit for the entire landing (and had to bite my lip to stop myself from screaming when I thought we were going far too fast 10 feet above the runway). Honestly, it was an incredible experience and I loved every single second of it. The staff were super kind and sweet.

    I did get a little apprehensive when it first happened because it is concerning that a pilot would just let someone into the cockpit without any information about them. I get pilots are incredibly well trained and wouldn’t just invite risk into the cockpit. These guys were exceptionally generous to me and honestly made me much, much more comfortable with flying. I will never forget it ever. Absolutely incredible.

  8. @snic That’s great! I love when pilots go out of their way like this. Who knows? It might have had a profound impact on your daughter. When she grows up, maybe she’ll be welcoming her young passengers onto her flight deck!

    I gotta wonder if it was Captain Denny Flanagan? I know he works for United. Does anyone know if he’s certified on the 747? His love of aviation borders on overwhelming. He’s a very cool guy 🙂

  9. I also had the privilege of visiting the cockpit of A380 On Etihad . This was done after the flight. This was also at the captain call.

  10. I’ve been quite a few Qatar cockpits so that’s absolute rubbish about their ‘strict policy’

  11. Got to see the Northern lights from the cockpit of a Northern European carrier last year…. amazing!!!

  12. From a pilot’s perspective, if you really want to visit while at the gate, ask the F/A. If it’s against the airlines rules, she’ll know. If not, she’ll then ask the pilots. We don’t mind visitors and we will definitely kick you out or not allow it in the first place if we’re busy. My airline encourages it if we aren’t busy. The biggest request is a pic of the kids in the seat (I usually warn them not to pull the ejection handle!) 🙂

  13. I got invited up to the cockpit a few months ago when flying AA. Was flying STT-MIA-JFK and at STT we were the first to board and when we climbed the stairs to 2L there was a small hold up. The really friendly captain was standing there and chatted with us for a minute or so as the FAs finished up the cabin. When we boarded at MIA for our flight up to JFK we were greeted by the same captain! (Although it was a different aircraft). He invited the girlfriend and I up to the cockpit and when he found out I flew with the Royal Air Force when I was younger he asked me if I wanted to help with his pre-flight checks! I got as far as firing up the APU when it was clear the FAs were wanting us back at our seats. I think the Captain wanted us to stick around for the remainder of the flight! Superb experience, one of the best I’ve had as a commercial passenger.

  14. I’ve visited the cockpit a few times, but its always been before take off or after landing.
    Not ever been in there during flight.

  15. Back in the mid 90s we flew KLM often MSP-AMS-(MSP). At that time they were running Md-11’s and 743’s/744’s. I’d ask for a tour on almost every flight and they were usually happy to oblige. I remember sitting in the jump-seat for lengthy visits while en-route on multiple occasions. More than one time I can recall the pilots smoking a cigarette and/or the other pilot sound asleep. We also had the option to take NWA but nearly always chose KLM as they were usually friendlier and let us have beer/wine on board as an american teenager :). Good memories.

  16. I sat in the co-pilot seat right after landing 2 months after 911 they were looking to make friends no one wanted to fly then. I TOAD the captain while walking by ” Beautiful Airplane ” it was a 2 month old 737..

  17. About 8-10 years ago, my brothers and I got invited to sit in the flight attendant jump seats on American. We probably sat there for the last 1-1.5 hr of the DFW-BOS flight. Among other things, we got to visit the cockpit. Definitely an experience I’ll cherish for ever!

  18. The Captain asked my daughter if she would like to see the cockpit on an AA 108 flight LAX-LHR in F [got lucky that my original award flight via DFW had an equipment change!], I think I enjoyed it more than she did, great pictures of her [11] in the pilot’s seat. The Captain [probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s showed us a picture of him and his baby daughter in the Captain’s seat on his smart phone- commenting that his daughter is 32 now. Next flight [on Emirates A380 F] I will ask!

  19. As a kid in the 1980s this was a special perk of flying as an unaccompanied minor – a trip to the cockpit while the aircraft was at cruise.

    Here in south east Asia it is still easy for a post flight cockpit visit. I am a teacher and it ‘s part of the kids’ holiday homework challenge to get in the cockpit if they are travelling by plane. Almost all the kids have but we do lay down some ground rules – ask nicely, after the flight, have some questions ready about the plane, flying etc.

  20. Around new years I was flying HEL-BKK on Finnairs 350 it was the aircrafts third flight ever and I asked if I could visit the cockpit on landing and they said it was no problem, maybe it was because we were in business class or maybe they felt like hey owed us something since my two travel comapinions entertainment did’nt work although that is accusable on a third flight but they gave us a $300 ticket voucher anyway.

  21. I Too had a bucket list extraordinaire….when occupying a seat on the upper deck of a 748, both pilots stopped by prior to entering their liar…
    Having an opportunity to say hello, I engaged The pilots, their composure thawed somewhat when I related my 0004 Concorde flight of many moons ago…which cockpit I was also allowed to visit…
    They invited me to visit the cockpit, prior to departure, and take some pictures of me, by the Co…the discussion then turned to how high the cockpit is in relation to the ground upon landing. …in my A380 simulator ‘experience’ @ DXB, During landing I felt that I was still flaring over the runway when in reality, my gear actually had contact with the Tarmac…..a memorable experience thanks to two Pilots with heart !

  22. I flew the Concorde 9/5/2003 ($3100 Rt) I brought a Polo Brit airways flight training shirt which I wear when I fly .In 2010 TWO of the flt crew (different times) came back to talk to me . I have gotten many FREE drinks and crew members ask many questions .Mach 2 is Mach 2 few Carpenters have been there .

    CHEERs

  23. I was once actually invited up to the cockpit by the captain. Must have been 11 or so at the time, flying as a UM on AA (JFK-ZRH) with my sister (3 years older than me). We had just stepped on the plane to board (we boarded before everyone else, as is the custom for UMs), but they weren’t quite ready for us to take our seats yet. We boarded through the front door, so right by the cockpit, whose door was still open. I was looking at the cockpit in curiosity when the captain noticed, and graciously offered to let me come into the cockpit. I didn’t want to be an imposition since they were presumably trying to prep for the flight, so I politely declined. The captain went so far as to say “this plane won’t go anywhere until you come see the cockpit”! He even offered to let me sit in the captain’s seat! Definitely an amazing experience, kudos to the AA pilot.

  24. My experience was in the 8th grade in north eastern India. We were on an Indian Airlines (pre-merger) that was kind of like an all Y shuttle that flew in a loop from Calcutta. I had snagged a seat in the first row and all of a sudden was asked to get up because a heavily bandaged patient needed to be transported and they needed all three seats to lay him down. Luckily I stepped into the corridor leading into the cockpit while they were situating the patient and the pilot asked if I wanted to ride in the cockpit. I was able to spend the whole flight. It was fun to watch them do their checks on the ground, cover up the windows with newspaper to avoid glare while the plane was on cruise control, and was very scared when we came in to land a runway that ended almost at the edge of a mountain lake. An amazing experience that I’ve always cherished.

  25. On a flight from Madrid my 2 year old and husband were invited into the cockpit mid flight. My soon to be 4 year old son has flown about 400k miles and the pilots love that he is an airplane lover so he is always being invited into the cockpit.

  26. Thanks to all the commenters, I think I’m going to work up the courage to ask if I can visit the cockpit when I fly to Australia later this year. 🙂

  27. Last week got pics n Captain’s seat in BA 380. Profile photo is UA Dreamliner 788. Also AA 773 & BA 744

  28. Got to go into BA’s A380 cockpit on the flight from LHR-IAD. Did that as a celebration of getting GCY.

  29. After settling into our C-class seats on a LUS A330 last year the FA sternly approached my wife and I stating that the captain insisted that we see him in the cockpit prior to takeoff. Genuinely anxious I scanned my itinerary for FlyerTalk and OMAAT inspired “irregularities” in my itinerary. Not finding any I agreed to address the captain and face the music. Upon arrival in the cockpit he to thanked us for being loyal customers (LUS Chairman and Gold) on our 6th TATL that year. They asked if my wife would like some selfies with the flight crew. Priceless cockpit photos ensued but none with me in them. Although I am not surprised.

  30. My 3 year old is a huge fan of airplanes and when we flew over Christmas, I was showing her a peak of the cockpit and the pilot not only started talking to us, but lifted her over so she could sit in his seat. We were both so excited and took a few pictures. The pilot then had a little airplane paper kit be sent back to us. This was on Southwest. It was pretty fun!

  31. My first flight into Iraq aboard a C-17 in 2006, I asked the Air Force flight crew if I could jump into the cockpit on our flight from Qatar. They choose the youngest soldier on the flight for the first half, but the. Came back and offered me the second half. I think the crew got a joke on me by having me scan the desert for SAM launches most of the flight, but as we got close to Mosul I saw the giant smoke plumes from the city (trash piles and explosions) and things got more real. The tight corkscrews we made over the runway convinced me the enemy threat on landing wasn’t inconsequential. I took some good videos of the approach and landing that I cherish to this day.

  32. Just flew QF in F on LAX – MEL a couple days ago…..we were carrying along with us a little stuffed toy bear that is being taken on trips by a group of us and photographed in various destinations for a little girl who will never have the chance to do it herself (due to medical problems). When the crew saw us photographing the bear in a First pod/suite, they were curious as to the background story. A few minutes later one of the service crew came by and asked to “borrow” the bear and our phone/camera. A short time later she returned with our items and several photos on the camera of the toy bear in the cockpit of our A380, along with the pilot’s invitation to visit the cockpit for a visit and further photos after our landing in MEL. The pilots’ and service crew’s kindness, generosity and fantastic proactive service amazed us all and instigated our instant conversion to being ongoing supporters of QF anf QF’s F-class, which takes effort in that we live in western Canada.

  33. I’m a pilot for one of the big 3 US airlines. We always welcome visitors and are happy to have you. It’s much easier if you visit after the flight but we can accommodate before as well 98% of the time.

  34. I remember getting a flight about 3 weeks after 9/11 to Orlando, the FA spilt a hot drink so took my jeans off me so they could dry in the cockpit. When they were dry the pilot invited me to the cockpit.

    Amazing looking back that I was invited there with all the extra security

  35. Lucy, thanks for sharing your experience. What a fantastic way to treat a nervous flyer!

    Re: cockpit visits, I assume it’s widely known among this crowd that in-flight visits are verboten for any carrier governed by the FAA. Perhaps worth delineating between ground vs. in-flight visits…

  36. When I was 13, my family and I went on a “Bar-Mitzvah” trip – and we were on an ELAL flight. We asked the flight attendent if it’s possible to visit the cockpit and she said “no problem”:)

  37. I understand the excitement of being in the cockpit during a flight. However, it just takes one troublemaker to take the lives of hundreds. It’s a bad idea. Nobody but pilots and attendants should be in that cockpit while the flight is operating. Before and after, while the plane is at the gate, much better. All you need to do is put yourself in the position of being on a flight where someone else is let into the cockpit and they cause mayhem and you realize that you’re going to pay for that bad decision with your life. I’m sure you’d wish that there were the strictest security. Flights are not amusement rides.

  38. I visited an Air France cockpit last year. Everyone had already boarded and the pilots (I guess) had completed all their pre-flight checks, but push back got delayed cos of weather or something like that. Got to sit in the jump seat in the cockpit for 15mins talking aviation stuff with the pilots before heading back to my seat.

  39. In the US, the FAA has prohibited inflight cockpit visits for the last 50 or 60 years, inflight. I do remember in 1956 flying Northeast Airlines from Manchester NH to New York LaGuardia, on a DC-3 I got to go up in the cockpit in flight. In 1960 I was flying an Eastern Airlines Electra DCA-LGA. The cockpit door was open throughout the flight and I asked a flight attendant if I could see it. She said I could look in but I couldn’t go in. Very, very seldom has it ever been a problem while we are parked at a gate. I do remember an AA flight engineer, just flat out tell me no, when I asked if I could see the cockpit, and on a CO flight, the flight attendant wouldn’t even ask the pilots if it was ok. I told the flight service manager later, and she reluctantly let me in the cockpit after landing.
    On the foreign airlines, it usually wasn’t a problem. I’ve done it numerous times on BA, LH, SR, AZ, CX, QF, NZ, and CP. I’ve seen sunrise out over the Pacific on a QF 747-400 SYD-LAX and a CX 747-400 HKG-LAX. On some of the Asian carriers, they won’t allow it at all. The Japanese carriers won’t even allow it at the gate, and on a recent KE flight I asked a flight attendant if I could see it after we land. She checked with the captain, and came back and told me that he wanted to let me up there, but the airline prohibits it. On a recent QF BKK-SYD flight, I asked the purser when we boarded. She said she would ask if it would be possible after we landed. She came back later and told me the captain sends his regards but it would not be possible, as it’s a long flight (I don’t find 9 hours that long) and they want to get home.
    I did fly BA 001 Concorde LHR-JFK, and of course it was no problem then.
    I’ve flown twice on EK A380 BKK-HKG-BKK. I was able to visit the cockpit after landing and on one flight the captain told me if I’m on his flight again, to let him know and I could watch the pilots do their pre-flight
    The biggest thrill I ever had was on Cathay Pacific on my flights from LAX-HKG-LAX. I had talked to an Eva Air pilot about cockpit access and he suggested I write the VP of Operations for the airline and let them know my interest. I did it on CX and I was privileged to be in the cockpit for both takeoff and landing.
    I could say more, but these are all wonderful memories I have of the past. Security has made it very difficult, and it’s too bad people who have an interest in this are denied this privilege.

  40. An Air France pilot allowed me a visit to the cockpit and we had a nice conversation. It was my first visit ever and the only reason I got the courage to ask for a visit to the a321’s cockpit was because the Captain himself was welcoming the passengers (along with a couple of attendants) as they were boarding. I am always afraid of asking the attendants first because they will probably be wary of me throughout the flight even though I pose no threat, so I asked the captain and got in without a millisecond of hesitation!

  41. Airliners are only ruined because we have allowed big corporations to decide for us and they have come to an agreement that customer input is meaningless. Part of this generations mentality that they can do whatever they want and not expect consequences because people are too out of touch with reality to stand up for themselves.

    Only like 3 really rich families own most companies of the world now.

    We have too many companies owning other companies owning other companies that have killed any progress because at this point nobody wants to be held responsible.

    THIS is not a free market system and actually prohibits one from happening.

  42. Been up in the cockpit numerous times before 9/11 including for 2 landings, For one I was stood leaning against the copilots seat on a flight in Laos. On another I was in Zimbabwe in a full harness when an emergency overshoot was called due to a plane taxiing onto the runway, the copilot began gibbering and told to shut up in good old fashioned Anglo Saxon! His role was taken by the flight engineer until we eventually landed, not sure he (the copilot) should be in the job. It was a very close call and I am glad the captain was flying it and not the copilot or we would have crash landed. However this year I was invited into a cockpit for a complete sector in the far north having been talking to the captain on a stopover. So it is still possible but far more unlikely these days, but don’t ask don’t get, they can but say NO and you need to know when to shut up and just observe.

  43. I was very fortunate to visit the cockpit in Qatar Airways – I asked the flight attendant and explained her that I’m interested in aviation – she firstly declined immediately but then she called her supervisor. The supervisor asked me to wait and to get captain’s permission; the captain said I could meet him after we land. He was an amazing person and very social and this was the first time I ever asked.

  44. I give a printed request, including a short personal bio, to a flight attendant when boarding. It is in an open envelope addressed to the flight crew and I give the flight attendant permission to read it. I do have special qualifications such as having a top secret security clearance when I was in the Air Force Security Service and I am currently an Auxiliary police officer. Also I am a retired commercial pilot and flight instructor. The crews of Norwegian Airlines are very gracious. On a charter flight from the U.S. to Punta Cana this year I was invited into the cockpit after landing. The captain even gave me a newspaper article about his daughter’s history of becoming an Aer Lingus pilot. When all the passengers disembarked the captain carried my bag off the plane for me. About an hour into the five hour return flight the cabin attendant informed me “The captain would like to see you in the cockpit.” I occupied the jump seat and the first officer even took selfies of himself, the captain, and me with my camera. My mother’s parents were born in Norway. Scratch one item from my bucket list.

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