Two pilots in the cockpit of an airplaneThough disturbing, Wednesday’s incident involving the Northwest Airlines flight that flew past its destination of Minneapolis, is not shocking.  Passengers often wonder how pilots stay awake during their long flights and what kind of standards and regulations are enforced to make sure that they are getting the sleep required to fly safely.

This past summer, USA Today reported that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) does not require sleep disorder screening for those responsible for operating transportation vehicles such as planes, trains and subways. That’s despite the fact that drowsing at the controls has actually led to many tragic accidents.   While in some cases the crew could simply be affected by lack of sleep and too much time spent at the controls, it would be comforting to travelers to know that someone is paying attention to the risks posed to all of us by pilots and engineers who may be suffering from sleep apnea that’s robbing them of the sleep they need.

One recommended solution is to allow naps in the cockpit.  This initiative is currently being pushed by the domestic labor unions, because it can eliminate problems caused by lack of sleep by giving the pilots an opportunity to get the rest they need to be as aware and alert as they need to be.  For years people have been touting the benefits of the “power nap” and some companies, like Nike, encourage them at work.   So why not allow them in the cockpit?


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