Given a choice, I would fly a major airline although I do not feel any less safe on board a regional carrier. Major airlines tend to offer better creature comforts but on short haul flights you may not have a choice.
I am disappointed when airlines put some of these smaller aircraft on long distance routes.
Going from Newark (EWR) to say Minneapolis (MSP) for me is far more comfortable on a 150 seat aircraft instead of one with 50 seats.
At least once a year pilots are tested on their knowledge of the airplane they operate. In addition, they must demonstrate proficient skills in various procedures including emergency maneuvers.
This is done every 12 months except for airlines that require pilots in command (Captains) to do so every 6 months. Not by any means a presidential physical but airline pilots are required to be in good general health.
To facilitate good health and safety, limitations are placed on the amount of hours a pilot can fly per day, week, month and per year. Additionally, rest requirements are imposed during the work day by contract and federal law.
The airline tracks pilot flight and duty times but ultimately it is up to the individual pilot to determine his or her physical ability to continue flying safely. Not every 8 hrs of flying is the same everyday.
A short night at a noisy hotel after a long day of flying around thunderstorms can leave a pilot not feeling quite up to par for a 6:45 am flight.
A fatigued pilot can compromise safety and there are mechanisms in place at most airlines to deal with such situations without penalizing a flight crew member. In my opinion, a delayed departure or canceled flight is much better than one flown by a fatigued pilot.
Once in the air you can not just pull over if your head starts doing snap rolls. Flying an airplane safely requires alertness that cannot and should not be stimulated by “Red Bull”.
Jokes are occasionally made about pilots being drunk or too tired to fly. Despite previous newsworthy lapse in judgment, pilots are prohibited by law from drinking at least 8 hours before flying. Contractually, this can be even more restrictive.
Any accusations made as a joke or otherwise may lead to your flight being canceled.
Only an insane pilot would continue to fly with such accusations and that would be nuts.
Most pilots will leave the flight deck for immediate drug and alcohol testing, it is an issue that is not taken lightly.
Interestingly, pilots are also restricted on what medications can be taken and are prohibited by time limits from donating blood or scuba diving before reporting for work.
These are just some of the issues and safeguards in place for the men and women that will be flying you to your family and friends.
Now that you know a little about them, next time I will tell you about how they fly those magnificent machines.