Airline pilots are required to sit in the cockpit for quite a considerable amount of time during their day. For example, during the preflight, climb and descend portions of the flight, there are many events going on in the cockpit that requires both pilots' attention. The amount of time they are required to spend sitting in the cockpit is, surely, longer than that of a passenger on the same flight.

How do they relieve the physical stress/discomfort and other physiological issues associated with sitting for a long time? For example, during cruise, is it normal for one of the pilots to unbuckle the seatbelt, get up and stretch his legs in the cockpit? Do they do some simple exercise for a few minutes during the turn around?

Note: This question is not about how pilots deal with the mental stress of boredom in a long flight. This is about how they deal with the physiological discomfort associated with remaining in the sitting position for a long time.

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    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Dec 7, 2017 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ Related: How do long-haul pilots cope with boredom? $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Dec 7, 2017 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'm putting this as a comment since I retired in 1999, and post-911 the rules may have changed. Anyway, my practice was to get up every couple of hours and at least go into the upper deck (747), and I'd always take at least one tour around the main deck cabin. If the flight was 10+ hour flights I usually do two tours. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Dec 8, 2017 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ "The amount of time [the pilots] are required to spend sitting in the cockpit is, surely, longer than that of a passenger on the same flight." Well, the passengers are usually forbidden from sitting in the cockpit at all. *baddum-tsh* $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ More seriously, though, I'd say that pretty much all passengers spend essentially the whole flight sitting down, except for trips to the bathroom. Especially given that there's a relief crew on really long flights, I'm not convinced by your reasoning that the flight crew have to sit more than passengers. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2017 at 23:18

2 Answers 2


I was on an EMB-145. The longest flight we usually had were 3.5 hours so my experience doesn't compare to Trans Pacific routes. As a crew-member I could get up to use the restroom, but there wasn't enough room to stand on the flight deck. You learn to sit different ways (one leg under you) to makes adjustments. Then the other leg under you later and so one. Some sort of seat Yoga I guess you could call it. My strategy was to walk, walk, walk, and stay off the plane as long as I could between turns. Your body adapts to the environment after awhile regardless of your body being in great shape or not.


I piloted 4 hour flights without much physical issue. There was noticable mental fatigue as they were single pilot operations with a complex flight plan, having a copilot will help a lot with that part.

Pilot seats are much better than passenger seats, both in basic shape and adjustment. Pilots also have rudder pedals and many hand controls so there is inherently more movement than one will get as a passenger, individual limbs and leaning this way and that. When I first started pilot training I also had to start exercising because I actually had fatigued muscles after two hours of flying maneuvers.

Everybody, both crew and passengers are required to be seated upright with seatbelts during taxi takeoff and landing phases.

In cruise with two pilots one pilot may leave their seat for several minutes, depending on altitude the remaining pilot may be required to wear an oxygen mask to reduce risk if an emergency occurs. Regulations change with the type of operation and country, but some operations require at least 2 people in the cockpit at all times though this can be one pilot and one cabin crew.

On very long flights there will be 3 or 4 pilots on board with 2 flying and they may rotate about 3-5 hours. The aircraft equipped for such very long flights also have a room with beds for both pilots and cabin crew. The exact length of flight for adding a third pilot and shift rotation detail is dependent on the regulating country.


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