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Training Tip: The passenger effect

Like most student pilots, you probably can’t wait to pass your checkride and take a special person flying. Perhaps you have pre-screened them, satisfying yourself that they will enjoy the experience.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

One advantage general aviation pilots enjoy over our working-pilot friends is that mostly we can pick our passengers.

That must seem like a luxury to commercial flight crews these days as the recent uptick in airline activity has been accompanied by a surge in unruly behavior back in the cabin.

The FAA, noting “a disturbing increase in incidents” in 2021, had initiated 80 enforcement cases by July 13, has issued stiff fines, and has not hesitated to publicize the problem, going so far as posting online a “Zero Tolerance for Unruly and Dangerous Behavior Toolkit” including a video of kids giving behavioral advice to adults and an assortment of social media memes, all to help break the fever.

It can be a fine line between cutting loose and loose judgment. You, however, cannot take refuge behind a locked door to the flight deck, so it’s important to guard against even well-meaning passengers becoming distractions.

A passenger looking out the window may suddenly inquire about a certain landmark down below and suggest dropping down to take a closer look. Don’t take the bait.

Despite your finely honed passenger briefing and discussion of sterile-cockpit protocol, someone may tap you on the shoulder during a critical flight phase and ask permission to take off a seat belt—ever notice how little attention such briefings get on airline flights? (This regulatory rendering in rap proved an exception.)

You’ve toughed out your share of turbulence in training, disdaining smoother air for learning’s sake, but for nonpilots, tiny bumps or light chop can be upsetting and an ill passenger demands quick decisions.

Educate your front-seaters on what they can and can’t do with their hands and feet: Brake/rudder pedals, push-to-talk mic buttons, window latches, and door handles can have almost magnetic attraction.

Probably the oddest occurrences I’ve experienced with passengers involved a right-seated sightseer in a Cessna single who inexplicably pulled the bright red mixture control to the idle cutoff position—I reset it immediately and continued flying the airplane—and a hyperattentive child of an instrument pilot I was instructing who during an IFR departure threw a backseat tantrum because his pilot-parent was talking on the radio and not to him.

Nonpilot passengers on training flights: Let’s tackle that topic another day.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Communication, Training and Safety
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