Despite recent articles in popular magazines like Reader’s Digest, there are no “35 Secrets Your Pilot Won't Tell You” that should change the way you fly or prevent you from having a pleasant airline experience. Sensationalizing the issues for the sake of selling more magazines is a general disservice to the flying public.
Since the 1980's I have been involved in aviation and my experience tells me that understanding the so called “secrets” and being a more realistic and informed passenger is what can still make flying fun.
In my opinion this is pure Jerry Springer 101, stupid sensationalism. Watch out seat belts are going to start flying!
The amount of fuel an airline is required to carry is determined by longstanding Federal (FAA) laws and regulations. At minimum, for a domestic flight a commercial aircraft must have enough fuel to fly to it's original destination plus to an alternate airport (if required because of known or forecast poor weather at the original destination) and then for an additional 45 minutes of flying. For international flights airlines are required to carry more fuel compared to a domestic flight.
In addition to the minimum legal fuel requirement airlines carry more fuel based on weather and historical known delays (air traffic control, airport construction, etc). This is known as contingency fuel.
The final amount of fuel that is carried is agreed upon by the flight dispatcher and the flight captain.
However, this is not a simple process. Every airplane has weight limitations for fuel, passengers and cargo. On a given flight if you fill up the airplane with fuel then you can limit passengers and cargo.
Airlines work to optimize this combination sometimes using complex computations and historical data. Carrying more fuel than necessary is an additional expense. A heavy airplane burns more fuel whether the extra weight comes from passengers, fuel or cargo. Unfortunately, only passengers and cargo pay to be on the airplane. With thousands of flight operating daily this combined cost can be significant maybe tens of thousands of dollars per day. Yes, it does affect the bottom line but airlines are in business to make money and the bottom line matters like in any other business.
As a passenger, I trust the airline and it's employees to put my safety first.
The captain of my flight is the last line of defense for this to happen and he or she should not be “uncomfortable” in doing so.
The real secret here is not the amount of fuel put on the airplane but a captain that operates in a situation that he is uncomfortable with. FAA rules, company policy, common sense and safety demands that no crew member should voluntarily operate a flight in an uncomfortable situation.
The captain has final authority to operate the flight and should not do so if he or she is pressured or uncomfortable. Passengers deserve better.