There are a good few misconceptions about the first officer’s job. So let’s clear some of these up…
First Officer Mathias Iwersen
When we talk to family or friends, we first officers often have a particularly difficult task: explaining that many of the widespread assumptions about our work are just not true. Some of my favourite questions here: “Oh, you’re a co-pilot. So when do you actually get to fly?” or “So as a first officer, you just sit there and watch the captain work, right?”
As my colleague Thierry explained last month, the truth is that first officers fly the aircraft just as much as captains do. They’ve both been fully trained to do so, and are equally capable of safely conducting a flight. On a normal day with, let’s say, four flight legs, the cockpit crew will generally divide these up so that the captain and the first officer are “pilot flying”, as we call it, on two legs each. The pilot flying is responsible for steering the aircraft and programming the autopilot, while the “pilot not flying” will handle the radio communications and will monitor the pilot flying and assist them as needed.
“Same same but different.” Ever since I have been a SWISS flight attendant I have often heard this saying and I use it myself with increasing frequency in connection with inflight service, flight destination or passengers on board. From the point of view of work routine, there is no real difference between a flight to Barcelona and one to Hamburg. Depending on the meal cycle, the same snack and the same beverages are served, and the duration of both flights is about one hour and in most cases the aircraft used is the same type. However, every flight is in fact different because of the people involved – cabin crew and passengers. My awareness of where the flight is headed most often comes into focus at boarding. Although the board announcements by the maitre de cabine and the information shown on the cabin screen indicate our destination, it is the passengers, with their language, body language and behaviour, who really make it clear. On a flight to Barcelona, for example, the passengers are typically young, lively and in the mood for fun. Flights to Düsseldorf are characterised by passengers travelling on business who know exactly what they want: quiet, two drinks and space for their roller trolley. For me, the real classics are the flights to Moscow: demand is particularly strong for the goods on the duty-free trolleys.