Plane Answers: Do jets have keys, my first airline flight and overwing exits

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Lee asks:

Hi Kent -

Two items, please…

Silly question here, but I’ve always wondered, does a typical jetliner have “keys”? You know, like you have keys to the car. And is the same true for a 757 or 767, whatever?

Believe it or not, Lee, they do have keys, but only for the cockpit door. Fortunately they’re standardized, so we only need to carry one key. For security reasons, this key doesn’t open our ‘bank-vault’ style door inflight.

Also, do you remember your first REAL solo? You know, when they handed you the “keys” (maybe) and said, “you’re the man today.”

And not in some Cessna or tree-topper. When you got that big break after you were hired by one of the big name commercial airlines. You were behind the wheel of your first big jetliner taxiing across the field and made that final turn only to see a mile of runway in front of you knowing it was up to you to get 50 tons of flying brick in the air.

What’d all that feel like?


Since airliners are flown as a crew with two or three pilots, for me, it never really felt like my first solo flight did. There’s just nothing to compare to that experience; it’s one that I’ll always remember.

I do remember just a few things from my first flight in an airliner. It took two hours to taxi our 727 out of Newark airport and I was amazed that any airline could make money with such long takeoff delays. Fortunately, I’ve never had as long of a taxi since.

But really, I can’t recall anything else on my first flight at a major airline probably because it really wasn’t entirely different from flying a smaller aircraft. It was exciting at the time, and I’m sure I was awash in the new procedures I had just learned, but I can’t say flying a 12,000 pound airplane is that much less exhilarating than flying a 500,000 pound aircraft. The same is especially true when transitioning from, say a 737 to a 777.

Oh, I do remember that there was no hotel room for me that night in Indianapolis, so I slept in the hotel’s conference room instead. But the flight itself was a blur.

Patrick wonders:

On the little card that shows what to do in case of an emergency the little pictures show the little cartoon guy putting the door on the seat. Wouldn’t this get in the way? Why not just chuck it out the opening?

I wondered about that as well. Some aircraft have two over wing exits next to each other, so it may be preferable to place the door on the seat (I would use the one behind or in front of the exit row) rather than risk hitting someone who is already standing on the wing outside.

Also, keep in mind that it’s more common to have those over wing exits used in an evacuation that may or may not have resulted in any damage to the airplane. I’m sure those doors are hugely expensive in that case.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.