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As has been recently advertised (in here, here, here also), a recent British Airways flight from London City Airport destined for Düsseldorf mistakenly flew its passengers to Edinburgh instead.

I'm a layman in terms of aviation, but I (and I'm sure many more do) do see aviation as a strictly regulated area full of double-checks, double instruments (even 2 pilots!) to make sure an airplane is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing.

Perhaps mine is a rather car-centric view, but I can't imagine starting the engine of the car without knowing clearly where I'm heading, which landmarks, roads (and so on) I'm supposed to pass by during the route.

TL;DR:

Must (or should) both pilots know where he airplane they are flying is going to? Or do they simply follow an approved flight path?

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    $\begingroup$ In reality that flight was not operated by BA, rather it was a flight contracted from BA to a 3rd party. The pilots received information to go to Edinburgh and that's what they executed: this probably because of a mistake that happened in the chain of control. The only thing I am wondering is what they said on the PA $\endgroup$ – Afe Mar 26 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Afe A simple call from the pilots: "Our estimated flight to Edinburgh is 1-hour and weather is fine there" should suffice! $\endgroup$ – gmauch Mar 26 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ I was on a flight once where the pilot said, "Just checking everybody on the plane either wants to or has to go to [small backwater town]." $\endgroup$ – Greg Hewgill Mar 26 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ The suggested "duplicate" question, discussing Gross Navigation Error checks, is about a separate topic. That's about getting off of the course you intended to fly. That isn't what happened in the referenced incident; the crew landed at the airport they intended to land at -- no navigation error occurred. The error that did occur was elsewhere in the process, & no check for navigation errors would have caught it. Close the question as "goofy" if you want, but it isn't a dupe. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Mar 27 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ If you're a limo driver and you're told to go pick up some kids and take them to prom at a local high school, you wouldn't have any reason to question whether your dispatcher might've told you the wrong high school... $\endgroup$ – A C Mar 27 at 21:10
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The pilots in this case did know where they were going: Edinburgh.

BA said a paperwork error was to blame, with the pilot following orders from Germany, where WDL’s head office had filed the incorrect flight plan. The pilots flew according to the flight plan they were given, and ATC happily routed their plane along that flight plan as well. The pilots had no reason to suspect the flight plan was incorrect, and safety was never compromised.

The dispatchers involved could use improvement, though.

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    $\begingroup$ Would a reference improve this answer? $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Mar 27 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ added reference $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 27 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ So the pilots aren't always aware of what the passengers' tickets say? Never really thought there'd be a knowledge gap there. $\endgroup$ – BruceWayne Mar 27 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @TemporalWolf - I'm just thinking in this specific case, I wonder if the pilots said "Welcome aboard your flight to Edinburgh.", and ...nobody said "Uhhh, what?" before takeoff. $\endgroup$ – BruceWayne Mar 27 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Various articles indicate passengers realized something was wrong when the pilot made the pre-arrival announcement. No mention of a pre- or post-departure announcement, so either one wasn't made or nobody noticed the mismatch. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Mar 28 at 3:45
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For commercial flying, yes both pilots should know where they are going and the general direction/course they are flying but they do in-fact follow an approved path and are subject to ATC vectors. The reality is that pilots who fly short haul may fly numerous flights in a day to various destinations with limited time in between flights to regroup. Flight plans, load sheets and planning may very well be done by a dispatcher and simply handed to the crew when they arrive at the aircraft. It is possible to get confused, typically there is some navigational programing or FMS input that would force the pilot to review the path. However confusion like this has occurred before as was the case with Varig Flight 254 which simply entered the wrong heading into the autopilot and ended up lost and low on fuel.

In the case of general aviation this may be less of the case. While generally you take a small plane up to go from one place to another there are those that pull the old cub out on the weekend and just go fly around the area to do some sightseeing. This is more just for the joy of flying...

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