Pilot Inspection

Q: What are pilots looking for when they walk around the plane prior to departure? Watching this procedure from the terminal, it doesn’t seem a very in-depth inspection.

Money, usually. Loose change, jewelry, that kind of thing. Or reading graffiti that the workers sometimes leave on the more grimy panels (“VOTE NO” is a common one around contract time).

Actually, the walk-around inspection is a supplemental, for-the-record sort of thing done in addition to the more serious checks performed at various intervals by the maintenance staff. It’s essentially a superficial perusal and not a whole lot different from checking your oil, tires, and wipers before a road trip.

Much of the more technical preflight routine takes place out of view, in the cockpit, where different systems are put through tests before departing. Mechanics and pilots each have their own procedures to run through, before and after every flight


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.