clean shaven pilot

The Surprising Reason Why Pilots Are Always Clean-Shaven

Have you ever noticed that male pilots are almost always clean-shaven? If you’ve flown before, you might have picked up on various peculiarities and protocols that come with air travel. There’s a good reason for this often-overlooked detail, and it’s not just about maintaining a professional appearance.

Air travel is full of unique features and practices, often for very specific reasons. You might wonder about certain procedures, like what happens if a passenger dies during the flight or why there are small holes in plane windows.

These quirks and features are carefully designed to ensure safety and efficiency. However, one of the most intriguing and lesser-known rules pertains to the grooming standards of pilots.

pilot beard
Ever see a pilot like this?

One such regulation, perhaps surprisingly, is that pilots are not allowed to have full beards.

A spokesperson for American Airlines explained to Thrillist: “We do not allow pilots with facial hair to be on active duty.” But why is this the case?

The reason is not just about appearance; it is a critical safety measure. The spokesperson continued, “It’s actually safety driven. Safety is one of the biggest, most important things in our industry.”

In the event of an emergency where the cabin depressurizes, oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. For these masks to function correctly, they must form a proper seal against the face. A full beard can interfere with this seal, potentially preventing the mask from fitting properly.

While passengers might manually hold the mask in place, pilots must be able to rely on the mask staying secure without adjustment. A 1987 safety review highlighted the risks: “Bearded passengers might expect some deficit in oxygenation following a decompression that could lead to varying degrees of hypoxia (a condition where the body does not receive enough oxygen).”

The review further stated, “The deficit in oxygenation might not be severe enough to be life-threatening, but could cause loss of consciousness.” Needless to say, remaining conscious is essential for pilots in command of an aircraft.

The safety review also assessed pilots’ performance and found that facial hair did indeed impact their effectiveness when using oxygen masks. It concluded, “Three popular TSO-approved crewmember oxygen masks equipped with mask-mounted regulators were tested to determine if a decrement in performance would occur as a result of the presence of facial hair.”

“The data resulting from these tests indicated that a decrement in performance does occur when facial hair is present along the sealing surface of crew oxygen masks. This decrement is proportional to the amount of facial hair present, the type of mask worn, the suspension system associated with the mask, and the exercise level to which the individual is subjected.”

Understanding the serious implications of this, it’s clear that the rule against beards is far more than a mere aesthetic choice. It’s a critical safety protocol that can make the difference between life and death in emergency situations.

So, the next time you see a clean-shaven pilot, you’ll know that this seemingly simple grooming rule is actually a crucial part of ensuring everyone’s safety in the skies. It’s a fascinating insight into the meticulous attention to detail that goes into making air travel one of the safest modes of transportation.

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