How did the Soviet Union keep airline pilots from leaving the country?
It seems like it would have been pretty easy to do since the pilots are already in the air. And I would guess at least some flew close to the borders.
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For commercial flights, the USSR had a "Political Officer" (KGB agent) on the plane in much the same role as Air Marshals today, just the other direction - they kept the pilots from hijacking the aircraft. The system would have also insured that the flight crew's family were safely at home in Mother Russia when the pilot was abroad.
Military aircraft were kept at home by the simple method of small fuel tanks. The MIG-19 was once described as a plane that "goes nowhere, and does nothing, very quickly". Sure, they had decent range with external tanks, but a good number of Soviet-era fighters could realistically declare a fuel emergency right after takeoff.
Civilian pilots had a quite comfortable life. Flying high-tech gear has an attraction in itself, and the propaganda did what it could to strengthen patriotic spirits. There were not many reasons to defect if you did not mind the nonsense in the papers but appreciated to be part of a privileged class. And everybody knew that defection would have dire consequences for all relatives left behind.
The same is true for military pilots, and on top the Russian air defense was organized quite differently from NATO's, thus military pilots flew almost by remote control. This went as far as using radios which had only a dozen of pre-set frequencies. The pilots did not know the frequency, they just pushed the button with the number they were told by ground control.
The premise of the question, that pilots in the Soviet Union needed somehow to be "kept in" as if they wanted to leave, is simply false.
Also simply false is the inference in drawn in the the answer (currently accepted as correct!) about the role of "Political Officers".
Life in the USSR was frankly horrendous for many people: certain ethnic minorities, those who belonged to national or political groups that had fought and lost battles with the ruling classes, dissidents - but funnily enough, these people didn't often get to become airline pilots (or airline staff, or diplomats, or functionaries who got to travel across international borders as part of their work).
People who got to travel in those ways were already part of a trusted, privileged elite.
In a few words: what kept pilots from defecting from the USSR was that, on the whole, they didn't have a reason to want to.
Specious explanations don't need to be invented.
The people who wanted to leave because they were suffering dreadful privations and restrictions at the hands of the Soviet state weren't allowed to leave their towns, have telephones in their apartments or own typewriters - they idea that they might be allowed to pilot airliners is just a joke.
The notion of that airline pilots might be seeking to defect as a matter of course is honestly risible, however nicely it might harmonise with a certain Cold War narrative.
You can see how bogus the reasoning is: if the "Political Officers" were there to prevent defection, do you imagine they had one assigned 24 hours a day to each member of an international flight's crew on their overnight stays outside the USSR? It's nonsense.
The system would have also insured that the flight crew's family were safely at home in Mother Russia when the pilot was abroad
Sure, the families of dissidents and refuseniks were effectively deployed as leverage. But people like pilots?! It's just not the case. For the most part, Russians posted abroad were posted with their families when appropriate, just like everyone else.
As I said, life in the Soviet Union could be quite ghastly if you were on the wrong side of things, but there's really no need to recapitulate stale old Cold War propaganda to try to paint a picture that is worse than the reality was.