Flight Training, July, 2003
About the only thing better than flying (the more obvious things excepted) is sharing the experience. Somehow, inviting someone into your world makes it seem that much more special. And thats generally the first thing we do after getting our license: the ink is still wet on our license when we start badgering everyone we know into going flying with us in an effort to show them what weve just discovered. A few of us, however, let our excitement get the better of us and start the experience off with
Waitll you see this!
There is a reason airsick bag manufactures are thriving and we dont want to contribute
to that business through our own thoughtless behavior.
The first time we do anything in life is always important, whether its our first kiss, our first solo or our first airplane ride. We carry that memory with us forever and when were taking someone for their first little airplane ride we want to leave them with a pleasant memory, not a painful one.
The number one rule of taking up our first passengers is to be as empathetic as possible. Put yourself in their place. You were there once. Try to remember what it was like to be inserted into a truly three-dimensional world where you are suspended in space by a machine that makes strange noises and has no visible means of support. Lets face it troops; it can be pretty scary. Making matters worse, part of the population views little airplanes as being unsafe and unnecessary.
The more we fly, the harder it is to remember how it was at the beginning. Take rolling into an innocent bank, for instance. Nothing the average person has ever ridden in (airliners and roller coasters dont count) would roll into a bank during a turn. Theyve never looked out the window and seen the ground out there on a wing tip. In an airliner that view bothers only a small number of people, but in a little airplane it feels like an unnatural act and many people react badly to it. To most its simply an uncomfortable feeling. To others it can set off all sorts of emotional alarms. If you dont think flying along looking over your shoulder at the ground is an unnatural thing to do, notice how some of your passengers will instinctively lean away from the turn the instant you bank the airplane. Dont laugh. You probably did it too in the beginning.
If you were to boil everything, which worries people about little airplanes down to a single phrase it would have to be lack of understanding. Assuming that this is their first ride and they are among your first passengers, then there is a major lack of understanding on their part that can be compounded by a minor lack of understanding on yours. Well get back to their lack of understanding in a minute but lets focus on the new private pilot and what he or she either doesnt understand or has forgotten.
A percentage of what you dont understand about people you are taking for a ride goes back to the empathy thing. You have to put yourself in their shoes. But sometimes thats difficult to do because you may have a basically different mindset than your passengers do, whether you know it or not.
In terms of mental make up, anyone who learns to fly is on the edge of the bell-shaped curve in a lot of areas. One of those areas is a willingness to try new things. Youre a little more adventurous than most. Theres also a possibility that you are more mechanically oriented and enjoy machines, although its not uncommon to run across pilots who dont know squat about the machines they are flying. You also probably adapt to new situations and new environments quickly. Were not pointing these things out because they make us superior beings. Were pointing these out because the mental components that came together and made you want to become a pilot dont necessarily exist within the general population. If they did, there would be more pilots.
If you were to boil everything that worries people about little airplanes
down to a single phrase it would have to be lack of understanding.
The differences in our thought patterns sometimes make it difficult for us to understand other peoples fears and anxieties. The longer a pilot flies, the better he becomes at recognizing when a person needs kid glove treatment. A brand new pilot hasnt developed that understanding yet and, even if its there, it is sometimes over-ridden by their excitement at showing what theyve just learned. Its this urge to show what you know that sometimes leads to an uncomfortable flight for a passenger.
Going back to the passengers lack of understanding: most fear or apprehension of any kind in any situation is based on a fear of the unknown. This is another way of saying they dont understand much of what is going on. If they did understand what was happening, it wouldnt be unknown and their apprehension wouldnt be as great. So, the best way to make them enjoy the flight is to work at eliminating the very cause of their difficulties, their lack of understanding. There are some things we cant cure, like a fear of heights, but we can definitely explain things in enough detail that theyll at least understand whats going on, and in so doing, fear it less.
Its not necessary a passenger know every little nit noid about the flight but a general understanding will go a long way and that can start with a gentle pre-flight briefing. You dont have to make it a formal or intense affair ( and then Ill increase the back pressure and the nose will . In fact, the more rigid you make it, the more likely it is that itll raise apprehension, not lower it. Just make the flight and what they can expect part of your normal conversation as you get ready for the flight. Tell them a little about the airplane, this is a Cessna 172 and is probably the most common, most reliable airplane ever built. It is aviations Chevy. Tell them a little about the operating environment, yeah, this is a busy airport, but Ill be talking to the tower all the time and theyll . Try to give an image of what lies ahead without resorting to a chalkboard and bar charts.
To give a better understanding of the machine, have them peak over your shoulder while youre doing a preflight. This will do two things; first, it will help them understand how the airplane flies and second, it will help paint a picture of you as being more professional. Dont forget: most of those first passengers will be friends and family, none of whom will have ever seen you around an airplane. They only know you from their social contact with you and, for all you know, they think youre a flake. Doing a thorough pre-flight with them watching should strengthen your image, which in turn will make them more comfortable with the flight.