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Stripes on pilots' uniforms - that's what they mean

From TRAVELBOOK | January 22, 2021, 1:44 p.m.

Pilots in uniform look impressive to most people. Particularly attentive passengers will have noticed that the uniforms differ in some details - for example in the number of stripes. But what does this actually mean? TRAVELBOOK asked experts.

It is the status symbol of every pilot: whoever controls an aircraft wears a uniform, visible to all - and on this there are epaulettes with stripes. But have you ever noticed that not every uniform has the same number of stripes?

Pilot Patrick Biedenkapp, who regularly reports on his work on Instagram and on his blog, explains: “The stripes stand for the rank and at the same time for responsibility. The number and width of the stripes can vary with airlines, and there is no uniform specification. "

The captain has four stripes on his uniform

In general, however, the following applies: The captain or pilot in command of a machine always wears four stripes, which indicates that he is responsible for safety and also has the authority to make decisions and give instructions on board.

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The co-pilot and first officer have four stripes on their uniform

Biedenkapp continues: “The co-pilot or first officer wears three stripes. On ultra long-haul flights, for example, he represents the captain during his rest break. There is also a variant in which one of the three strips is wider. This implies a higher level of experience. ”In individual cases such a first officer, who was just at the beginning of his career, only wore two stripes - this indicates that he has less experience than a three-stripe co-pilot.

Markus Wahl, President of the “Vereinigung Cockpit”, adds: “There are airline-specific features, such as a second officer at Cathay Pacific, who then only wears two stripes. These indicate that the person still has to learn the processes. ”At Lufthansa, there is also the rank of Senior First Officer, who can be deployed on ultra-long-haul flights, for example.

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15-20 years to become the captain

Wahl also reveals how much time and effort it takes to earn the maximum number of four stripes: "To become a captain, you need an average of 15-20 years of experience - that's 10,000 to 15,000 flight hours." Train the flight simulator, make regular visits to the doctor and carry out monitored training flights - then you have a chance for captain training, in which the learning progress is again checked under the supervision of experienced employees. This training could take another six months to three quarters of a year.

Robin Kiely, Head of Communications at Ryanair, explains where the stripes on the pilot's uniforms come from: “They have historical reasons. The pilot uniforms of the passenger airlines are based on traditional military and naval uniforms, with the stripes representing hierarchical ranks. ”The number of stripes is an internationally standardized standard,“ occasionally with small differences for long-haul operators. ”The caps and jackets of airline pilots could also be used contain certain details that indicate differences between long and short journeys.

Here again the status overview for the stripes on the uniform:

  • Four stripes: captain
  • Three stripes: co-pilot or first officer or senior first officer
  • Two stripes: First Officer with less experience or Second Officer, airline-specific
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