GETTING food poisoning in any situation is an unpleasant experience. But imagine getting it at 35,000 feet in the air, and having hundreds of passengers’ lives depend on you.Understandably, that would be the ultimate nightmare. It has been said that pilots and co-pilots consume different meals in order to avoid the unfortunate situation of simultaneous food poisoning. Is this true?
“I’ll have what he’s not having, please?” While food poisoning on flights is rare, they are not unheard of. On a 1982 flight from Boston to Lisbon, some bad tapioca pudding incapacitated 10 crew members - including the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.
According to a New York Times article from 1984, at that time, there was still no recommendation about what pilots should or shouldn't eat. Another incident was a Concorde flight in 1984, where nearly all the passengers onboard (and several flight attendants), contracted salmonellosis.
A total of 120 passengers across British Airways were affected and had to be treated while onboard - one passenger even died from complications. The pilots, however, turned out to be fine.
While guidelines for in-flight crew food consumption vary from airline to airline, these days, it's conventional practice for the pilot and co-pilot to eat different meals to prevent situations in which both become ill and unable to fly.
In a Facebook post from 2021, Malaysian Airports wrote: “Most pilots and co-pilots do not eat the same type of food during a flight. They are advised to eat different types of in-flight food because if the food served is contaminated and causes food poisoning, it would not pose a threat to the other pilot and jeopardise the safety of the flight. Should one of the pilots fall ill due to the food, there is still another pilot to assume command of the aircraft.”
Some airlines even have a system in place of choosing what meals the pilots eat, based on the seniority of the commanding pilot - first-class for the pilot and business class for the co-pilot. While it does seem like an over-the-top measure, it is reassuring that airlines are taking these precautionary measures to ensure passenger safety.