Flying is simply too good to keep to ourselves. Whether it’s a friend, family member or neighbor, bringing a passenger along is a great way to make your next $100 hamburger flight more fun. It’s also a wonderful way to welcome a new person into the amazing world of aviation.
But with that fun comes some responsibility. For most non-pilots, it’s a big step to go flying in a general aviation airplane – filled with excitement but also fear. We need to respect that, and do everything possible to make flying less stressful. That means flying in good weather, being smooth on the controls and landing as soon as it’s not fun.
Sometimes, though, it’s the little things that matter most. A great example is the words we use in the cockpit. Talking is a great way to dispel some fears for a new flyer, so I make it a point to discuss some of the most commonly asked questions before and during a flight. But be careful here: casual statements can have a powerful effect if you’re not thinking.
Here are five things you shouldn’t say in the cockpit when you’re flying with passengers. Trust me, I learned these the hard way.
- “Fire!” One day, while droning along over central Georgia at 7000 ft., I noticed a huge forest fire off the left wing. When I excitedly pointed it out to my non-pilot passenger, I only said “Fire!” My friend assumed I meant the engine was on fire, and looked at me with panic in his eyes. Note to self: the correct phrase is, “Look down at the ground and notice the forest fire.”
- “I think we can make it.” Passengers don’t like to hear doubt from their pilot. Whether you have 50 hours or 5,000 they assume you know exactly what you’re doing. So instead of wavering, summon up your best airline captain voice and declare confidently that “we’ll be landing in 10 minutes.” Better yet, if you only think you can make it, you probably need to reconsider what you’re doing.
- “Uh oh.” Another one that is loaded with meaning you probably don’t intend. I said this once after dropping my pen between the seats in a Cessna 210. Hardly an emergency, but my right seat passenger (who had been dozing) bolted upright. Better to say nothing at all.
- “I’ve never seen that before.” This is one we’ve all thought before, but it’s best to keep this as just a thought. Engine gauge start acting a little odd? GPS flash a message you don’t recognize? Pay attention, and find out what the root cause is, but do it in a very calm and thoughtful way. Again, the idea is to make your passenger feel like you can handle anything (we pilots know it’s a lie).
- “Watch this!” Far too many pilots think their passengers are looking for a thrill ride when they jump into the right seat. They’re usually not. Showing off with steep turns, stalls or buzz jobs will only scare your flying companion, and “watch this” is how many of these bad ideas start. You’re not on stage when you’re flying.
When it comes to flying with passengers, the best advice is to be boring. Simply leaving the ground and seeing the world from another perspective is exciting enough for most non-pilots; there’s no need to push the envelope or add stress.
In other words, don’t be like the pilots in Monty Python:
Any mistakes you’ve learned the hard way? Add a comment below.