A retired police inspector who allegedly took the photo of the pilot told The Daily Record the captain went into the aircraft’s restroom to change out of his uniform before returning and taking a nap in a seat for 90 minutes.
While travelers may not always see a pilot taking a rest during a flight, the practice is not a cause for concern in cases like flight United 161. In fact, pilots are actually mandated by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations to take rest periods for certain amounts of time.
In the case of the United Airlines flight, which departed from Newark, New Jersey to Glasgow, Scotland on Aug. 22, United Airlines operates the aircraft on this route with a cockpit crew of three, an airline spokesperson told Travel + Leisure.
Under federal aviation regulations FAR 117, pilots are required to take rest periods outside of the cockpit during long flights, with aircraft that have three pilots on board rotating to allot each pilot the required amount of rest time.
Rest requirements typically kick in on flights of eight hours or longer, but since the airline had three pilots scheduled for this trip, the pilot was complying with standard protocol when taking his rest, the airline spokesperson confirmed to T+L.
“The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority,” an airline spokesperson said. “On trans-Atlantic flights such as the flight between GLA and EWR, our pilots are required by the FAA to take a rest break.”
The reason why passengers ended up seeing the pilot taking a nap on the flight is because it was operated on the smaller Boeing 757-200. While larger planes allow for airlines to have separate crew rest areas above the forward galley, mid-sized planes like the 757-200 will often have one of the lie-flat seats reserved for crew rest purposes. This is the case for United, as the airline reserves one of its 16 lie-flat business-class seats on board the aircraft specifically for crew rest.
There are three different classes of crew rest areas, as defined by the FAA. Class 1 rest areas include bunks, typically located above the passenger compartment, class 2 areas include lie-flat first or business class seats that are typically separated from passengers through the use of a curtain, and class 3 specifies seats on the cabin or flight deck that recline at least 40 degrees and provides leg and foot support.