Plane Answers: Crew rest seats and identifying pilot uniforms

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!

Ignacio asks:

Say you’re on a Boston-Paris trip. The flight is totally loaded up, so there are no free seats, neither First nor Tourist class. When it comes to rest-time, what do you pilots do? Is it possible for a scheduled flight to have no seats available?

The policy varies by airlines, but the FAA requires that a seat be provided somewhere in the back for the third pilot on flights over 8 hours. Whether that seat is in coach or business class is something that’s determined by contract negotiations. At my company, we’re lucky to have a seat in business, often with the seat next to us blocked as well.

Jocelyn asks:

Regarding airline pilot uniforms;

1. What is the difference between the different colored epaulets airline pilots wear on their uniforms. Some wear white and some wear gold, that I have seen.2. Is 3 stripes for a co-pilot and 4 stripes represents a captain?

3. Is there a 1 or 2 stripe epaulet and if so what is that rank or what do they do?

4. Does the hat have to match the epaulets i.e., gold band and gold leafs on the brim of his hat if he wears gold epaulets?

5. What is the gold or white band and why the gold or white leafs on the brim of his cap?

I never imagined there could be five questions relating to epaulets and uniforms, but I’m thrilled with the unique query.

Individual airlines can choose, often with their employees’ input, the color and style of uniform. The more modern pilot uniforms have moved to thinner stripes on the jacket sleeve for example.

Four stripes on either the shirt epaulets or the jacket sleeve are reserved for the captain, and three stripes for the co-pilot. Years ago we had mechanics who were licensed as professional flight engineers on the 707, 727 and DC-10 at my airline and those non-pilots sported two-stripes on their sleeves. There was no retirement age for these professional flight engineers, so you would occasionally see an FE in his 70’s flying the DC-10 before they were (both) retired.

Later, when qualified pilots were hired to work as flight engineers, they were given three stripes when sitting at the sideways seat.

Captains can also be identified by the ‘scrambled eggs’ on the brim of their hats and some airlines have slightly different design on the captain wings, occasionally adding a star, for example. The color of the epaulets, scrambled eggs and trim is again decided by the airline, but silver and gold are the most common examples.

I’ve seen thin single or double stripes used on the sleeves that are now reserved for flight attendant uniforms.

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. Twitter @veryjr