Amid all the recent headlines about airplane safety problems, one incident has largely flown under the radar. On January 25, both pilots of a Batik Air jet in Indonesia fell asleep, leading the plane to drift off course.  

While none of the 157 passengers were hurt, and the plane arrived undamaged, it’s natural to wonder how something like this could even happen. 

According to transportation authorities in Indonesia, no one was awake in the cockpit for about 28 minutes of Batik Air flight 6723. The lead pilot’s nap was intentional and occurred after getting permission to rest from the co-pilot. But while he slept, the co-pilot unintentionally dozed off, and neither pilot responded to radio communications. 

Although napping in the cockpit is permitted in some countries, concerned U.S. air travelers may find it reassuring to know that it is strictly prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This means that sleeping in the cockpit is forbidden for any plane in U.S. airspace and worldwide flights operated by U.S. carriers.

U.S. air safety authorities recognize the dangers of drowsy flying. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found pilot fatigue a potential issue in roughly one of every five safety investigations.

Multiple factors can contribute to pilot drowsiness. Long work hours, early morning flight times, irregular shifts, and disrupted circadian rhythms can make it hard for pilots to get enough sleep. Other individual factors can also play a role. For example, the co-pilot on Batik Air flight 6723 had infant twins at home, which affected his sleep in the lead-up to the flight.

To combat pilot fatigue, FAA regulations stipulate the maximum amount of flight time for pilots. For instance, pilots may not have more than 30 hours of flight time in 7 consecutive days or more than 100 flying hours within a calendar month. The FAA also requires a certain amount of rest for pilots based on their upcoming shifts. 

On long-distance flights, the FAA does allow pilots to nap but only if they are outside the cockpit and a third pilot is on board to replace them in the cockpit. Rest times for long-haul flights are generally planned in advance to ensure that the pilots who land the plane will be awake and alert. 

During these onboard naps, pilots may sleep in a bunk area or an unoccupied business-class seat. Pilot surveys have found that these rest periods on long-haul flights are effective at reducing fatigue.  

In these ways, a pilot taking a nap isn’t out of the question for U.S. airlines, but it should never occur in the cockpit like on Batik Air flight 6723. At the same time, U.S. agencies and flight operators are aware of potential pilot fatigue and follow a range of policies and procedures to try to prevent it.

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5 Sources

  1. Hassan, J. (2024, March 10). A plane was flying with 159 onboard. Then both pilots fell asleep. The Washington Post., Retrieved March 21, 2024, from
  2. U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. (2010, June 7). Advisory Circular: Basics of Aviation Fatigue. U.S. Department of Transportation., Retrieved March 21, 2024, from
  3. Sampson, H. & Compton, N. B. (2024, March 11). Wait, are pilots allowed to sleep during flights? The Washington Post., Retrieved March 21, 2024, from
  4. Wingelaar-Jagt, Y. Q., Wingelaar, T. T., Riedel, W. J., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2021). Fatigue in Aviation: Safety Risks, Preventive Strategies and Pharmacological Interventions. Frontiers in physiology, 12, 712628.
  5. Zaslona, J. L., O’Keeffe, K. M., Signal, T. L., & Gander, P. H. (2018). Shared responsibility for managing fatigue: Hearing the pilots. PloS One, 13(5), e0195530.

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