The safety of airline passengers relies on a calm, controlled flight deck. So when commercial airline pilots show up to work, they have very different rules than the rest of us on the ground.
For example, pilots can request specific co-workers with whom they would rather not share a cockpit. And there’s another rule that prevents pilots and co-pilots from eating the same meals while they are working.
While the rule may seem arbitrary, there is actually very good reasoning behind it. If, for example, something goes wrong with one meal (i.e.: food poisoning), the other pilot will not have been affected and can take over duties.
The practice is not mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, however most airlines have their own rules about it. Pilots are also generally encouraged to avoid foods like raw fish before and during the flight, to avoid a situation like the one comically depicted in “Airplane!”
But even in culinary options, seniority counts. In an interview with CNN, Captain Han Hee-seong of China Eastern Airlines said that the pilot usually receives the first-class meal while the co-pilot will get a meal from business class. Although some pilots on Quora reported that a kind captain will generally let the first officer choose their meal first.
Food poisoning onboard airplanes is rare, although it has happened. In 1982, some bad tapioca pudding incapacitated 10 crew members — including the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer — on a flight from Boston to Lisbon. The flight was able to turn around and land back in Boston without further incident. And according to data from 2010, at least two pilots in the U.K. fell ill to food poisoning that year while in the cockpit, although the cause of food poisoning could have been from something eaten before boarding.