Besides flying the plane and talking to the person in the other seat, what other forms of entertainment are (also legally) available to pilots while on the job?

I'm thinking of 'activities' like reading, listening to music, watching a movie, or... playing a flight simulator game on a laptop.

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    $\begingroup$ They can play traditional word games with each other youtube.com/watch?v=xJSey8HRUhU $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Apr 16 '17 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ It is the moment when at LHR ATC calls in "YourFlight , clear for straight in approach. You are number one." $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Apr 16 '17 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ The last thing made me remember the FSX: Steam Edition Trailer. $\endgroup$ – Noah Krasser Apr 17 '17 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ "playing a flight simulator game on a laptop" What could possibly go wrong? $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 18 '17 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ @VladimirF My little eye spies something beginning with S... :D $\endgroup$ – Crowley Apr 18 '17 at 10:49

I am not aware of any legal requirements, but rules may differ according to the country of jurisdiction.

Generally it is up to the company that a pilot works for to establish their own rules to cover "in-flight entertainment" in the flight deck. Most companies do not allow it. It has been my experience that the rules are generally ignored and common sense rules are used instead.

During non-critical phases of flight, pilots will often read newspapers, books, iPads etc. Many will do crossword puzzles or Sudoku. A few will even listen to music or watch a video, but it is pretty rare.

In 40 years of flying, I can't recall ever seeing a pilot play a video game or flight simulator.

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    $\begingroup$ The thought of a pilot playing a flight simulator while flying a plane made me laugh. $\endgroup$ – Tyzoid Apr 16 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ I can't even imagine a pilot confusing the game and the real life :D $\endgroup$ – Gallifreyan Apr 16 '17 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ Seeing this: avherald.com/h?article=4219f00f&opt=2560 one could argue that there need to be some sort of entertainment to keep them alert and awake $\endgroup$ – Brilsmurfffje Apr 17 '17 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Tyzoid Anecdote: some 20 years ago I used to play the PC game “Wing Commander” to the excess. After a long gaming session I took my car to run some errands. There was some obstacle on the road, I cannot remember exactly, perhaps it was just a slow car or something. So just pulled on my car's steering wheel to hop over that other car. :-D Fortunately I realised my mistake in time and pushed the brakes. Apparently I was still completely engrossed in the game. $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Apr 17 '17 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Tyzoid: "OMG flying 747s is SOO boring. I'm'a play my 737 sim, lemme know with it's time to start landing checklist..." $\endgroup$ – loneboat Apr 17 '17 at 21:52

For Part 91 flight operations, many pilots will listen to the radio or music. I have often listened to songs on my iPhone music library fed through an aux jack into my headset. And many IFDs and integrated GNSS navigation systems often offer XM weather and XM Radio services through subscription that pilots will use to listen to XM radio, as this SR-22 pilot making a flight out to Camarillo, CA does.

One older option, if the aircraft is equipped with a functioning ADF, is that, since NDBs broadcast in the kilohertz range, pilots can tune an ADF into AM radio stations and put it through to their headsets using the audio panel. The ADF needle will point in the direction of the AM radio transmission tower for that station. AM stations that are tracked this way can be used as a supplemental navaid in VFR operations but are not approved as terrestrial navaids for IFR operations.

Use of visual entertainment such as movies, television programs, video games, etc., is not allowed for a flight crew as they are required to maintain visual scanning outside the aircraft, if able, for situational awareness and collision avoidance.

I can't speak for Part 121 or Part 135 operations but I'd venture a guess that such activity is frowned upon by employers during flight operations. But I'm sure many a 747 or A380 crew over the Pacific at FL410 with another 9.5 hours to go before making Kingsford Smith Intl will listen to the radio or take turns watching outside of the aircraft while the other flight crewmember reads a book or relaxes.

It is important to limit these activities to low workload phases of the flight such as long stretches of cruise in low density airspace and maintain a sterile cockpit during attention intensive phases such as takeoff, departure, approach and landing. I will only listen the the radio in cruise and use is terminated at least 10 minutes before a planned descent begins. A pilot should do a realistic self assessment of his/her flying abilities and refrain from the use of these things if they have difficulties with multitasking or are easily distracted from the airmanship tasks at hand. Use of entertainment products during emergencies is unacceptable as well.

  • $\begingroup$ Imagine the only Navaid in your vicinity is the transmission tower of a radio station you hate and the audio button in your cockpit broke... $\endgroup$ – Noah Krasser Apr 17 '17 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ As long as you're not using your ADF to tune in the football game $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 17 '17 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ I can't speak to current practices as I retired in 1999, but as one who who spent a lot of time in 747s above FL350 over the Pacific and inbound to to Kingsford Smith, your sentence about taking turns watching outside did not apply back then. We never maintained an outside watch. Any weather ahead would be picked up by the radar long before seeing it meant anything, and you basically cannot see other aircraft. That is not to say we never looked outside, but simply that there was no safety requirement to do so on a regular basis. $\endgroup$ – Terry Apr 17 '17 at 20:03

Having been a couple of times at the flight deck myself I have seen and asked pilots a similar question. The pilots have to routinely monitor the instruments so playing a game reading a book or watching a movie imposes a high risk on "forgetting time" so the pilots I spoke did not do this. They spend quite some time on the flight monitoring part, communicating with ATC and OCC adjusting their course. Then you have the occasional flight attendant visiting the flight deck who stays for a chat or brings food. Newspapers are also read and provide food for conversations and if there is enough staff they can make a short walk though the cabin.

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    $\begingroup$ well of course, that's what they SAY... $\endgroup$ – user371366 Apr 16 '17 at 20:33

Interesting question.

I work for an In-flight Entertainment company and none of our in-seat video systems have ever included anything for the pilot to interact with, other than the PA-system. With the PA-system they can entertain themselves with knowing that they're pausing all passenger entertainment for the duration of their prolonged speech.

Now for our new WiFi based entertainment systems, there's nothing to stop a pilot with a PED (Portable Electronic Device) from connecting to the entertainment system like a passenger. Personally I would hope a pilot would never do this.


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