The Adventurous And The Anxious: Thoughts On Passengers

I’ve had my licence for a little while now, and that means I’ve had some time to take a variety of passengers out flying with me now. I’ve obviously been a passenger in a plane before, but being the pilot and having a passenger is a little different perspective. Because then you’re recognizing that this person you’re taking flying is someone who cannot take over flying like your instructor could.

And believe me, they know it too. They know very well that they’re putting their life in your hands. It’s a huge gesture of trust and confidence.

Some ask lots of questions, some were very quiet. Most passengers are fairly quick to clue in when someone says something on the radio, that the pilot needs to hear it, and they stop talking. One interesting observation: when I say “Okay, I’m gonna be concentrating on landing for a couple minutes,” suddenly passengers are dead silent. In the plane, I’m the boss and most people seem get that pretty well. I’m a pretty laid back person, and don’t often take charge, so people are often surprised when I’m put in a role where I’m in charge, and have no trouble telling people what to do. People have observed that my whole demeanor changes. Being the pilot makes people in the role of passenger automatically look to you for direction, and taking that role has come more naturally that I thought it would. 

Some friends were terribly excited to go flying with me. There’s certain things (things that are still perfectly safe) that you can do with an aeroplane, that you’ll never see done in a commercial flight, like demonstrating the rudder by wagging the tail, or what our aerobatics instructor calls a “seat-belt check” (nose up hard for a second or two, then nose down hard to pull negative G’s. If your head hits the ceiling, your seatbelt isn’t tight enough.) Things that would frighten a nervous flyer, but for someone comfortable with it, can be fun. I’ve had some of my friends giggling like kids in the passenger seat.

Of course, not everyone’s happy to hear you say “Hey, you wanna see something cool?” I’ve been upfront about asking what my passengers are comfortable with, and explaining what we’re going to do before I do it, and what they’ll experience. Also, when you get your licence, your instructor is very clear on what you’re allowed to do with passengers and what you’re not allowed to do. Spins, for example. They’re an aerobatic maneuver – Harv’s 152’s are all insured for spins and we spin them in training. I’m allowed to do spins solo – in fact, as far as I’m aware, there’s no restriction on aerobatics maneuvers when a pilot is flying solo, with no passengers, as long as the plane is capable of it, you recover before 2000ft AGL, and the owner of the plane has it insured appropriately and is okay with you doing it. But you can’t do aerobatics with passengers unless you’ve done ten hours of aerobatics with someone who has an aerobatics instructor rating, or twenty hours of aerobatics solo.

Generally nobody gets caught doing things they’re not supposed to unless they crash. But quite frankly, I don’t see any point in doing anything I can’t brag about. Like, when my instructor said I should practice spins solo, even, I guess no one had ever actually said I couldn’t go do spins solo, but if I was going to, I would have wanted her to know before I did it, so that I knew I wouldn’t get a finger wag or anything. When I was taking one passenger out early on, and it was one of the ones who was comfortable with flying, and I wanted to demonstrate a stall, I even checked before hand with my instructor to make sure that would be okay.

I think I was a little bit afraid at first, when I got my licence, that my friends and family wouldn’t have enough faith in my competence as a pilot to go flying with me. I needn’t have been though – anyone who knows me, the better they know me, the more they have confidence in me. This is in fairly stark contrast to some of my family that I’m less close with, and who knew me better around ten years ago. In the last ten years I’ve blossomed as a person, and since moving to Winnipeg, made a lot of new friends, so most of my friendships are less than ten years old. There’s one main exception, and he was happy to go flying with me.

Family who knew me better before – strangely don’t seem interested in going flying. Some (a lot) of them cite being afraid of flying, some won’t even talk about it. There just seems, you know, to be a disproportionate number of people in my family who are now afraid of flying. My mother, off in Australia, tells me she worries about me flying, that I’ll end up getting myself hurt.

My husband reminds me that the people who know me, are the ones who have confidence in me, and it’s true. Nathan, as in a previous post, was my first passenger, but it was also his first time flying, so he was understandably nervous. He made sure he told me several times that the anxiousness was over the flying thing, not over any lack of confidence he had in me. After all, he was coming up with me, wasn’t he?  As much as I sometimes wonder if they’re saying “I have complete confidence in your piloting ability” as much to convince themselves, actions speak louder than words, and they are in the plane with me of their own volition.

And then there’s one friend who’s afraid of flying. She’s been on big jets, and I know that’s a lot easier for people afraid of flying to deal with. She says she has an easier time of those, considering she can remind herself that most plane crashes involve small planes. So going up in a small plane – she hasn’t quite got there yet, was how he put it. It wasn’t a hard no, though. She said maybe someday, if she can screw up her courage. And seriously, that someone afraid of flying would even consider going up with a relatively new pilot, is a huge vote of confidence.

In conclusion, taking passengers is fun. To all my passengers, I love sharing this mad little dream with you and it’s been an honour to be your pilot.


6 responses to “The Adventurous And The Anxious: Thoughts On Passengers

  1. I do that seat belt check in my old Toyota. If my head breaks through the roof I need a new car. Or a new head.

    But seriously, another interesting post, Lindsay. An individual’s growth can surprise relatives who expect family members to occupy the same family role forever.


    • Yeah. Most of the family that fits in that category looked at me like I had two heads when I said I wanted to learn to fly. It’s one of the reasons I never talked about it until a year or so ago. I knew they would react that way, and that I’d be discouraged. I couldn’t bear to have them stomp on such fragile dreams – I had to make them solid before I could tell them about it.

  2. I guess it’s an issue of absolute faith. If it goes wrong in tech support you have a grumpy customer and some pain in the ass admin, if it goes wrong in most other professions there’s cost and embarassment, if it goes wrong in the flying business…

    The behaviours you describe here are exactly what I’d expect to do. So for example if I was on a small plane and the pilot said they needed to concentrate for the landing I’d totally shut up until we were on the ground!

    I’m guessing some of the people who profess confidence in you are saying it to convice themselves, some are making it clear they want to encourage you; your passengers could be doing and saying things for all kinds of reasons, the fact remains that when they climb in that flying machine and they know that you are the only person who is going to get them back down in one piece , that’s faith in you whatever else is said.

    • Yeah, it’s completely predictable that passengers clam up if I say I need to pay attention to the plane. But it’s another thing to see it happen, and see how people recognize that I’m the boss in the plane. And there *are* laws about that. The pilot in command is the pilot in command, and if passengers don’t follow instructions, they can be fined. It’s just an interesting thing to watch happen, because I don’t have to explain this to most people. They get it. I don’t even have to be obvious, all I say is, “okay, I’m gonna be concentrating on landing for a few minutes”, and that’s all I have to say, and it’s like there’s this unspoken understanding.

  3. Great and timely post – I just took up my first passenger today – my wife, and it went really well. I think I was more nervous than she was, since it was a first and all… time to see if this training paid off haha :-). I’ll update my blog when I get my pics uploaded.

    • Congratulations 😀 That first passenger seems to be the time when it sinks in how much you’ve accomplished. I think it’s because it’s the first time that the person sitting next to you in the plane is not a pilot, and not someone who could land the plane if you couldn’t handle it. It’s one step up from your first solo. First solo is the first time there’s no instructor safety net; no one to save your ass. First passenger is the first time you are the one who’s taking care of someone else’s ass!

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