True, these days pilots spend only a short amount of time with their hands on the control column or stick. But that does not mean we aren’t controlling the airplane throughout the entire flight. Our hands might not be steering the airplane directly, as would have been the case in decades past, but almost everything the airplane does is commanded, one way or the other, by the crew. The automation only does what we tell it to do. On the 767 that I fly, there are multiple ways to set up and command any routine climb, descent or change of course. Meanwhile, more than 99 percent of landings, and a full 100 percent of takeoffs, are performed manually.
Exactly what I'd tell you when you ask me, "Isn't it always on autopilot anyways?" Great Op-Ed by Patrick Smith.