Jumpseating on a 747

747-400 - Author's collection
747-400 – Author’s collection

An interesting part of flying for an airline is “jumpseating” (or “deadheading”) to and from work. Jumpseating is the airline equivalent of hitch-hiking. As a professional courtesy, air carrier pilots are allowed to hitch a ride in the cockpit (or cabin) of other carriers. Thanks to our ability to jumpseat, many pilots live in a different city (or country!) than their home-base. My airline also uses our empty jumpseats to transport crews to and from different cities when necessary. Although I live in the city where my base is located, not all of my trips start and finish here. Last month, my two weeks of work finished up in Hong Kong, so the company scheduled me to ride on the upper deck passenger area of one of our 747 freighters.

This huge jet has 8 business-class style seats available for company pilots, mechanics, administrators, and pilots from other airlines. The 747 also has two bunks that are used for crew rest when long flights require more than two crew members.  On shorter flights, the jumpseaters can usually use them. The galley is equipped with several small refrigerators, a coffee machine and a convection oven. For an over water leg like this one, the galley is stocked with plenty of food and beverages to keep the crew and passengers happy.

Upper deck of a 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter)

Now, Hong Kong to Anchorage is a long ride – almost 10 hours when you include ground delays. If feels even longer when you aren’t working. The company provides food, but entertainment is up to us; my iPad is always loaded with a spare book and a couple of movies for jumpseat entertainment. I was dreading this ride because I was pretty tired and I don’t sleep well on airplanes (which is good when it’s my turn at the controls).

Entertainment on a freighter
Entertainment on a freighter

I boarded the aircraft with several other jumpseaters and introduced myself to the captain, asking for a lift home (we always ask the captain for permission to ride).  He welcomed us aboard, reviewed the 747 emergency procedures, then graciously invited us to make ourselves comfortable. I like making myself comfortable,  so I walked over to the passenger area comfort control panel to bump the temperature up a bit.  I haven’t spent much time on our newer 747-400’s (I’m a 767 guy) so I took a close look at the panel. It has several switches and indicators for things like lights, temperature and galley water quantity.

And then I spotted it… My ticket to nine hours of deep sleep. On the bottom row was The Button: “Air Supply.”  Nothing induces sound sleep better than classic Air Supply chart busters like “Lost In Love” and “Every Woman In The World.” You can imagine my disappointment when I clicked the button and… nothing. No Air Supply, no sappy 80’s love songs. It was a very long and sleepless flight.

I never did figure out what that button did.


  1. Again it’s always good to hear from a pilot’s perspective of how things work in the business. Good article as always Cap’n Hoke.

    • Hi Patrick! I was on a 747 again yesterday but couldn’t get any shots of the cargo hold because it was FULL! Next time I get the chance, I’ll take a few pics during loading and update this article with them.

  2. AIR Supply. Allows crew to turn down the air on an unusually loud and chatty group of jumpseaters or FAA rider.

    767 crewmembers riding on 747 should strip pads off seats and stretch out on floor to feel right at home. Bunks will seem too comfortable and will not afford restful sleep to a true FreightDog.

  3. That’s so funny! It’s like the Ryanair joke: “Soon they’ll be charging you for your oxygen supply.” I thought this post was going in a different direction: that you could ‘limit’ your air supply to help you sleep.

  4. Hi Ken,

    Re. asking a captain to fly on his or her aircraft, are you aware of any incidents or events where the request was denied and the story around it?

    Thanks for writing your blog, it’s given me many hours of high quality internet procrastination.

    • Occasionally a request is respectfully denied. One example would be on long flights where a small cockpit can become crowded and uncomfortable with extra people. Some captains will limit how many jumpseaters will be allowed to ride.

  5. Ken, I’ve been flying the 747-400’s and -8’s for 13 years and I have no idea what that button does either…..

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