How to keep clean in the flight deck during a pandemic.

Stay aware, wipe down high touch areas, Wash your hands

This is how you can keep yourself clean while being in the flight deck. The following list can be very useful not just during a pandemic but rather any time you’re working up front. We all know how important our health is to our career. We may be able to pass our First Class Medical annually, for those of us who are under the age of 40, but having to call out due to a cold or a flu, can take away hours from our sick bank. Having a lot of sick time can be very good insurance for us in the event that we need for a more serious medical problem later in our career. So it all depends on how clean you prefer to be. During a pandemic particularly with COVID-19, which can spread through the air and typically from within a six feet of contact boundary of an “affected” person, mask is required. Please check your company policy, federal regulations, airport policy, and local ordinances on wearing mask or taking other measures during a pandemic. 

Now the following list is a personal list that can be shared with others. As more information is being provided by Center of Disease Control and prevention, local officials, airlines policy, fellow aviators etc, the list can be modified as necessary. But this list can be use as a guidance to keep clean in the flight deck.


So here is the 2020 list on How To Keep Clean in the Flight Deck:

  1. Think about high touch areas before stepping onto the aircraft
  2. Be clean when you show up to the flight deck
  3. Keep your mask on until you are settled in
  4. Wipe the high frequency buttons and controls
  5. Wash your hands after you have clean the controls
  6. Keep aware of your changing environment

Now we’ll break the list down one by one and discuss it in further details. Another reminder, is that this list is meant to be used as a guidance.

1. Plan your arrival to the flight deck. Whether you are flying a small piston aircraft for leisure, flight training, flight instruction and other reasons, or, you are a commercial airline pilot flying a pressurized aluminum tube, this list can be use on a lot of different aircrafts. As a pilot, from the first day of you showing up to your flight training, preparation is key. The fact that you are reading this list, tells me that you doing just that. Now other than an introductory flight, we don’t typically just hop in an airplane and start learning. Typically some forms of ground school and a lot of preparation is involved prior to hopping in an airplane. So the same mentality of preparation can be used here. You want to think about how you’re going to arrive onto an aircraft and the things that you will be touching and come into contact with. Whether you are flying a Cessna 172 or a Bombardier 200 or a big airliner, typically when you arrive you may need to open the aircraft door, or the flight deck door. Now of course, you typically only required to open the aircraft door on smaller aircrafts as major airliner, will require a gate agent to do that for you. However, the flight deck door may require you to open it whether it’d be with a door knob or entering some type of code to get in. The next place could be the seat adjuster. Depends on how the seat was left, you may need to adjust the seat, to position your bag or to get into your seat. You may need to hang your blazer if you have a mini closet in the flight deck. Then it depends on how the aircraft was left for you, whether it has no power, ground power, ground air, or running with the APU, those are the things that you will need to consider and plan for. The list here can go on and on. With practice, you will soon come up with your own routine or flow or maybe the company has flows as part of certain checklists. Now don’t get overwhelm just thinking about this, just remember, manage what you can control.


2. The best way to control something is of course planning. But we also need to realize that we can only control what you can control. And how you can start your day by being clean coming from your house or the hotel, is how you can start control some of those factors. So to keep things clean in any setting is obviously to make sure that you are cleaned prior to arriving at such place. You can start the sanitizing or disinfecting process at home or at your overnight hotel. You can make sure your bags are cleaned before and after every trip. Make sure to wash your hands just prior to arriving at the gate. If I know my hands are clean, then I know that I have cut off the link of chains of events that could lead me to contracting some type of virus. As a professional pilot, we are all very familiar with the Swiss cheese model. We have to break the link of chains of events to maintain a high safety standard. My flight bag and my roller board are the two items that are obviously touch frequently. I also wipe down a lot of my stuff ie lanyard with company ID, my credit and debit cards, my pens, my Bose ProFlight headset, cable and cover, my security vest for the walk-around, company iPad, checklist and other items as necessary. So I show up to the aircraft, knowing that myself and my stuff are cleaned and sanitized. I have controlled the things that I can control.

3. Keep your mask on until you feel that the setting that you’re in is “clean” enough to take it off. Boeing and Airbus aircrafts typically comes with hospitcal grade HEPA filters. So chances are the air that comes out inside the aircraft is much cleaner than the air inside your own home. However, as an airline pilot, I usually keep my mask on until I have settled into my seat and have built some rapport with the crew and Captain. This way I can observe everyone and determine for myself if the environment is “ok” to remove my mask. Although, I typically keep my mask on until I have settled into my seat. Now of course you don’t have to take your mask off, you can wear it in the flight deck depends on personal preference, your colleage’s preference and company policy. However, usually, I take the mask off so that I can communicate better while in the flight deck. If your Captain or First Officer chooses to wear mask, it’s up to you whether you want to do the same. Ultimately, effective communication is key especially during a pandemic. If you are in an epicenter of infection, it is probably ideal to wear your mask at all times.

4. All the high touch areas should be wiped. From buttons to flight controls to seat belts, wipe those things down with company approved wipes or spray. Typically, the Sanicom wipes are pretty popular and are approved for use in the flight deck. Please check your company policy on the type of wipes to be used in the flight deck. You want to wipe everything that you need to touch. I wipe down the overhead panel, Mode Control Panel, center pedestal panel, the flight control, the thrust levers, reverser levers, flight spoilers, flap handles, gear handles, interior light knobs, seat adjuster handles and knobs, rudder pedal adjuster, and more. Obviously, only wipe the areas that you would be need to touch and are necessary specifically for your operation.

5. Prior to closing the flight deck door, wash your hands. If you’re like me, the nerve of being locked up inside a cockpit without the freedom to just walk out and go to the restroom, can add a small external pressure. I try to make sure that I take the time to go to the lavatory prior to departure. I’ve been doing this in my entire career in the airline which is almost a decade now. But it goes back to the logic of control what you can control. Particularly during the pandemic, knowing that my hands are clean, actually feels fantastic prior to the flight. I know my hands are clean, the area that I am occupying in the flight deck is clean, and therefore, I am ready to fly one nautical mile at a time and roughly around 0.75 to 0.78 Mach cruise speed depends on various factors.

6. As a pilot, one of the items in the decision model that we’re trained for is the evaluation process. If we notice a change, we follow up on the change to query and find out what cause the change, choose the solution to fix the problem, execute our decision and evaluate the situation. So this applies to us in regards to fighting the virus. We continuously evaluate and reevaluate the situation. There are times that I do not wear masks while I am occupying my seat in the flight deck. But in flight, while one of us is up taking a break in the back, I will put my mask on as a courtesy to my fellow crewmember who has to be upfront with me. Sometime, we have little ones saying hello to us up front. I always put my mask on for them to come and say hello to us. And of course, I carry a small hand sanitizer bottle with me.

While this is not an exhaustive list of items to follow, many more things can be added to the list. It all depends on the situation that you’re in, the individual preferences and the required protocol by the company, federal regulations and local policy. As always, please remember, control what you can control. Don’t get too overwhelm over things that are beyond your control. Plan, execute and evaluate your process, then adapt as necessary!

I hope you enjoy the short read. As always, constructive criticism and positive reviews will help other readers find this page. Follow me for more articles. Thank you!


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