What happens before takeoff? A look at commercial flight preparation procedures
You've boarded the plane, stowed your carry-on and strapped on your seatbelt. But what's happening behind the scenes? There’s a long list of flight preparation procedures to be completed before takeoff, including route planning, cleaning and maintenance checks. While airlines do their best to work quickly, this checklist takes time to accomplish as flight attendants, mechanics, caterers and pilots work together to ensure your trip goes smoothly. Don't have the time to wait? You could always charter a plane instead – when you fly private, most procedures are completed before you arrive.
Three weeks prior to departure
Flight preparations begin weeks before you board, as airline dispatchers decide which aircraft and crew-members to send on each journey. Of course, unforeseen circumstances can sometimes necessitate last-minute changes, which can cause delays at the airport. Dispatchers are responsible for making sure all legal requirements and FAA regulations are met. They must consider airspace conditions, flight duration, weather, crew hours, flight plans, the amount of fuel required and more.
Calculating the amount of fuel for each flight is more complicated than it sounds. A commercial jet needs enough fuel to reach its destination, plus extra in case it has to land at a different airport. However, sending a flight with extra fuel “just in case” isn’t the safest choice, as too much fuel in the tanks can make landing more difficult. Dispatchers are trained to balance this complicated equation.
Day of departure
Sometimes an aircraft has a night off before its next flight; other times, it needs to be turned around immediately. With the latter, the crew acts fast to avoid any potential delays. Just minutes after a jet reaches its gate, baggage handlers, cleaners, caterers, mechanics and refuelling technicians arrive to prepare it for its next trip.
Cleaning staff make a sweep of the aircraft, picking up any rubbish, sweeping the floors, brushing off seats, thoroughly cleaning the bathrooms and replacing the blankets, pillows and soap. For most airlines, a deep clean takes place after the final flight of the day. That way, the plane will look shiny and new for the next day.
While the cabin is being cleaned, the catering team restocks the galley and bar. Caterers pack trolleys just before the flight, including any special meals that passengers have requested, and load them onboard before removing empty trolleys from the aircraft.
While this is taking place, aircraft mechanics go through a checklist to ensure the commercial jet is in good working order before takeoff. The inspection includes a cockpit check, system checks and a walkaround examination of the aircraft’s exterior. During the walkaround, crew members check tire pressure, brake wear, lights, antennae and other elements. They also look for any visual damage to the wings, fuselage and engines.
The cabin crew meets prior to departure to discuss the step-by-step plan, either on the aircraft or in a meeting room at the airport. During this time, crew-members receive a flight plan document, weather reports and all additional information. The captain informs the crew of the anticipated flight time and any expected turbulence, while flight attendants go through the passenger manifest to ensure any passengers with special needs are tended to appropriately.
Just before departure, fuelling trucks are dispatched to fill the aircraft with the pre-approved amount of fuel and baggage trucks load checked luggage onboard. During this time, air traffic controllers watch the weather and flight schedules to decide when the flight can be cleared for takeoff.
When it's time for passengers to board, flight attendants stand at the entrance to welcome everyone onboard. While they do this to be friendly, they also use this time to ensure there are no unruly passengers or sick individuals who might be unfit to fly. Flight attendants help passengers find their seats and stow their carry-on luggage. Flight attendants check the cabin once more to ensure the plane and passengers are ready. Once pilots get clearance from air traffic control, they're ready to take flight.
All year long
Today, airlines and aircraft manufacturers do more than ever before to minimise flight delays caused by mechanical problems. Commercial airlines have a staff of engineers to maintain all aircraft, who know which parts need to be checked or replaced based on each plane’s flight hours. If an aircraft doesn’t meet all its requirements, it doesn’t fly.
Aircraft manufacturers have worked to make the engineers’ jobs easier. For example, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a high-tech computer that reports any issues the aircraft might have as well as suggestions on how engineers can fix it.
Want to avoid flight delays? Your best chance of departing on time is to charter a private jet. Flying private allows you to take off just minutes after arriving at the airport. Contact us at Air Charter Service to learn more about travelling by private jet charter.