Hygiene in the cockpit..

Flight training is a very dynamic environment, especially in the context of the on-going attempt to stem the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) though social distancing and avoiding large groups. There are some takes aways for flight training as well.

As much as an advocate for in-person group ground school courses as I am, it’s a good idea to avoid those gatherings for the time being. The guidance from the CDC and medial leaders is to avoid group settings, a simple concept, though it is disruptive to our routines.


Peter and I on a flight a couple of winters ago in his Piper Challenger. There isn’t a ton of room, though it is comfortable, so being conscious of our hygiene is critical. Of course the other challenge is the heat control, I like to fly with little to no heat while Peter likes it toasty. But that’s a blog post for another day…

The classic one-on-one of flight training presents another challenge, while this isn’t a large group, it is two people in a confined space for an extended period of time. Students and renters, make sure you inquire what you flight school is doing to “keep it clean”. Based on what I’ve seen online many flight school operations have been proactively encouraging all staff and customers to engage in additional hand washing and hand sanitizing opportunities as well as having implemented an enhanced cleaning regiment for the aircraft, especially commonly touched surfaces such as yokes, throttles, and switches to name a few. Most importantly if you expect you’ve been exposed to the virus or if you have any symptoms it is prudent to not go to any scheduled flight lessons.

I would like to go beyond the obvious here when it comes to Coronavirus and look at everyday tips for student pilots and flight instructors when it comes to hygiene in the cockpit. A flight lesson is a teaching and learning session, aloft, during which most of the senses are stimulated and needed for both the student and the instructor to excel. Whether it is sight, touch, hearing or smell they are all critical. I suppose taste isn’t utilized as much, but I digress…

So here are three tips from my experience, teaching students to fly:

  1. Check your breath. A flight instructor friend of mine would always carry breath spray or mints with him, and would always utilize one or the other before a flight. He was conscious that he didn’t want his breath (not that he ever exhibited bad breath in the years I worked with him) to be a distraction for his student. This goes both ways, during a flight lesson, the bad breath of a student could be equally as distracting for a flight instructor. So regardless of your role – flight instructor, student, or just a  friend giving another friend an airplane ride, check your breath before you get in the airplane.
  2. Sneeze away. Have you ever had someone with you in the airplane sneeze? The spray (think Coronavirus concern) isn’t the worst part, usually, it’s the defining sound that comes barreling through the headsets based on the hundred-mile an hour exhale passing by the microphone boom less than an inch from your co-pilot’s mouth… So, if you have to sneeze, turn away (towards the window) from your student or flight instructor, and sneeze into your arm. A crafty pilot can do this in such a way that with the motion of turning towards and lifting the arm, the microphone boom can be pushed away, so the sound will be muffled by the arm and shirt as opposed to being directed immediately into the unsuspecting microphone boom.
  3. Use deodorant. Remember you likely can’t detect your own scent because your sense of smell is use to it, it’s essentially your own baseline normal. Aside from when I’m covered in the smell of fish, or seaweed when the fish aren’t biting, after a long night of fishing I often am unable to smell myself. However, I am conscious that in a confined space I am prone to sweating as a big guy. To defend against this I apply ample deodorant/antiperspirant that I know is capable of keeping me fresh. Again, whether you’re the instructor or the student, it’s not going to be enjoyable experience if the focus isn’t on the subject at hand – learning or teaching the craft of flying the airplane, but is instead on “dealing” with the terrible scent associated with your flying partner. Thus, I don’t recommend cutting the lawn all morning and then showing up to the airport for a flight lesson in the afternoon without showering in-between…

The final tip is to communicate openly. I would frequently query my students about the learning environment and let them know I wouldn’t be offended if they provided legitimate feedback, I would say that it’s even okay if you want to tell me I stink… At least then I’d know! Seriously, there is no way your student or your instructor will know about something they are doing that is distracting and takes away from the valuable and expensive learning opportunity unless there is open communication. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. So remember, be conscious of your hygiene in the cockpit, and remember, wash your hands!

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9


One thought on “Hygiene in the cockpit..

  1. Pingback: It’s an odd time… | Review Before Flight

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