Quoting Smartt1982 (Thread starter), "when is the best time and best way (if at all) to ask about a look in the flight deck?"
Smarrt1982, well, it depends. You can visit the flight deck either before the flight departs the origin airport or after arriving at the destination. Here's what it depends on . . .
If you go to the flight deck before the flight--during the boarding process--often the crew is busy working on preflight procedures; programming the Flight Management System; or conducting pre-flight briefings. If they are not busy, it is an excellent time for the crew to give you a briefing on the route of flight, the aircraft, the enroute weather, or anything else you may be interested in. Keep in mind, the pilots will be thrilled to know you are interested in their aircraft, but they may not be able to devote their full attention to you and you may feel your visit to the flight deck is rushed.
You can always visit the flight deck after landing at your destination during the deplaning process. However, keep in mind, depending on the situation (for example, a New York based crew of an American Airlines flight arriving at JFK
), the pilots may have already left the aircraft and while you will have plenty of time to look at the flight deck, without feeling rushed, it is possible that none of the pilots will be there to talk to.
If, however, you are flying BA
, the chances are good the pilots will still be there, waiting for all the passengers to deplane; and then proceeding to customs/immigration with the cabin crew.
I just re-read your post, "I am flying with UA from Heathrow to Newark." In this case, the crew will probably be based at Newark (a former Continental Airlines crew) and the pilots may leave the flight deck as soon as their post flight duties are complete to get through customs, and go home, or to catch another flight if they "commute" to and from EWR.
In this case, you may want to visit the flight deck before departing Heathrow. And, if you feel rushed, just say, "I know you are kind of busy right now, would it be OK for me to come back after we land in Newark?"
When you get on, just inform one of the flight attendants--sometimes it helps if you talk to the lead flight attendant or purser--that you are interested in a visit to the flight deck. In this "post 911" era, it is possible the flight attendant will ask, "Why do you want to see the flight deck?" then just be honest and state you are very interested in aviation, you would like to be a pilot someday, and/or this is your first flight on the particular type of aircraft. Be enthusiastic about your desire to see the flight deck.
Also, if the pilots have the time, they love to visit with airplane enthusiasts and, time permitting, will talk your ear off about the airplane, etc. Do not be concerned you will annoy the crew; you won't!
Finally, there is nothing wrong with the term "co-pilot." You don't need to apologize to anyone for using it--perfectly good aviation term. In the United States, however, the common terminology is "Captain" and "First Officer" when dealing with commercial aviation and "Aircraft Commander" and "Co-Pilot" in the military environment (i.e.,C-17, C-130, KC-135, for example).
As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with the terms "stewardess" or "cockpit" although these days of political correctness you most frequently hear "flight attendant" and "flight deck."
Have a good trip.
e38[Edited 2012-07-12 20:15:46]
[Edited 2012-07-12 20:22:23]