From Tabasco to a saxophone: Pilots reveal what’s in their bag

Pilots are the most frequent of flyers. So who better to ask for packing tips?

At the end of last year, we surveyed over a thousand pilots, and one of the things we asked them was to name their must-pack travel items. This was part of our PrivateFly Pilot Survey 2017 – a detailed look at travel habits and backgrounds, and how today’s professional aviators are feeling about their jobs.

flight bag_pilot survey

Pilots told us what they always carry in their flight bag.

Pilots’ number one travel tip was to travel light – most take only a carry-on bag if they can possibly help it. Many also suggested to be prepared for unforeseen eventualities.

And when it came to naming their the three things they always pack in their bag (in addition to their phone, passport, keys and wallet), the results reflected these priorities. The most popular items were practical items including:

  • Sunglasses
  • Torch or flashlight
  • Pen
  • Spare headset
  • iPad
  • Charts
  • Gym kit
  • Spare clothes
  • Toiletries
  • Water
  • Healthy snacks

Word cloud_flight bag contents

It’s clear from the popularity of gym or sports kit, and healthy snacks, that the typical pilot is a disciplined type.

The cockpit lifestyle can easily be far from healthy if you let it – lots of sitting around, grabbing meals on the go, and an erratic sleep schedule. But many balance this out, with exercise and healthy eating.

Tabasco sauce

Some pilots carry Tabasco to spice up crew or hotel mealtimes.

In addition to a range of snacks, Tabasco and other pepper sauces were a surprisingly popular pick with a significant number.

I remember the repetition of crew meals and hotel food when I was flying more frequently. A good example of how choosing your flight bag contents carefully can pack a powerful punch, for a very small amount of bag space!


Most pilots travel light, but one said they always travel with a saxophone.

A very wide variety of other items were also listed – some more unusual than others – giving a fascinating flavour of what pilots do on their travels. These ranged from nail polish remover to Lego. Others said they always travel with pliers, fishing magazines, and even a saxophone.

The PrivateFly Pilot Survey 2017 also asked pilots about how widely they’ve travelled, and their favourite destinations. Overall the average number of countries visited was 25, but this varied according to location, with 18 the average for those in US/Canada, and 38 for those in Europe.

When it comes to favourite destinations, the countries named by most were Australia and New Zealand, with Paris the top-rated city.

See more insights from the PrivateFly Pilot Survey, including what pilots earn and their levels of job satisfaction. Or email for a PDF copy of the white paper.