the flying passenger

Passengers come in all sizes, shapes, and temperaments. It is not uncommon for a pilot to take up a friend who is ordinarily calm and relaxed, only to find that he becomes completely unnerved and panicky during some incidental flight mishap.

All of us operate at two levels: the rational and the emotional. Our daily activities are regulated by the rational forces - logic, knowledge, experience, and goal-seeking. But under this exterior, strong emotions lie dormant - fear, anger, and love, for example. Fear, or more accurately, anxiety, is the emotion most often encountered in flying. Many passengers have some vague, weakly formulated anxiety about "what might happen up there."  Then, if some minor mishap occurs, they experience a natural "fight-or-flight" response (the instinctive reaction of a human being to danger).

Obviously, though, they have no suitable object at hand to fight, and flight (in the sense of escape) is out of the question. So the anxious passenger tries to appear calm while enduring inner torment and tension. His nervousness may be apparent in chain-smoking, heavy perspiring, rambling conversation, stony silence, or other peculiar behaviour. Strangely enough, his every effort to conceal his fear and combat his growing tension just leads to greater anxiety.

If you are carrying several passengers, one of them can quickly infect the others with his anxiety. And a group of panicky passengers can be a threat to safe flight. Bear in mind that others may not be as confident in the air as you, and take precautions to minimize their discomfort and worry. Keep flight manoeuvres smooth and professional. Avoid sudden control movements, uncertainty in selecting your course or destination, requests for radio assistance, or any behaviour which might undermine your passengers' faith in your skill and self-confidence.

All the medical problems discussed previously in this handbook apply to passengers as well as to pilots. The remedial steps suggested for you as the pilot should be the same for your passengers, and should be taken before any difficulty magnifies itself.
However, a few medical situations apply solely to passengers.

Before allowing a pregnant woman to fly in your aircraft (especially if she has a history of miscarriages), have her check with her physician. The decreased pressure at altitude may be inadvisable. If a passenger has brought an infant along, the baby should either be made to cry or be given a bottle during descent to keep the Eustachian tubes open.

If a passenger shows signs of airsickness during flight, encourage him to look out the window at a fixed, definite object; the horizon, faraway clouds, or a distant object on the ground is suitable. The commonly available motion sickness medications are also useful for relieving the discomfort. Persons who are bothered with nasal congestion associated with altitude may obtain effective remedies from their physician or pharmacist.

If you are transporting a sick person, keep in mind the effects of altitude on his particular condition. Those with a history of cardiovascular or pulmonary problems should be very closely observed. Bowel obstructions may become aggravated by the expansion of trapped gas. Some types of hernia may worsen for the same reason.

Your own confidence and control of the aircraft, along with an awareness of your passengers' needs, will help insure a relaxed and safe flight for everyone.


The fact that an individual holds a pilot's license does not guarantee that he is a good pilot. Nor does the fact that he has managed to survive a number of years of flying. We all know pilots who have been living on borrowed time.

The good pilot is well trained, familiar with his aircraft, physically and mentally fit, and of sound judgment. Safe flight depends upon all four of these factors:

  • Training: Adequate training is the most important single element of pilotage. An unskilled pilot exposed to unfamiliar circumstances is a certain candidate for trouble. Skill-building should never stop. Each flight is a new training experience. Most accidents are a direct result of pilots who overstep their skills in a particular flight situation.

  • Aircraft familiarization: Airplanes, like people, take some getting used to. Each has its own idiosyncrasies and functional differences. Any pilot, regardless of his training and experience, is courting trouble if he fails to check out and familiarize himself with the aircraft he is operating.

  • Physical and mental fitness: The good pilot must remain slightly superior physically to his friends on the ground. His brain, circulatory system, lungs, eyes, muscles, and nerves must be not only in excellent condition, they must coordinate smoothly together. In addition, the pilot must be temperamentally stable and in control of his emotions.

  • Judgment: The intangible factor, without which training, familiarization, and personal fitness are of little avail, is judgment.

This is nothing more than plain common sense. A pilot's judgment ultimately determines the safety of his flight because all of his decisions rest upon it - flight planning, preflight organization, alterations in course, fuel management, ad infinitum.

   Use this check list as a guide to safe and pleasurable flying:

  • Give yourself a personal "preflight" before takeoff. Are you in top physical and mental condition?

  • If you suspect you have a physical ailment, see your AME or your personal physician.

  • If you have been under unusual physical or mental strain, don't fly. Consult your AME or your personal physician.

  • Don't fly within 8 hours (minimum) after drinking alcoholic beverages, or with a hangover.

  • Practice good physical and mental hygiene. Exercise, eat properly, and try to minimize psychological stress.

  • If you are over 35, realize your limitations.

  • Be honest with yourself and your AME about the state of your health.

Many pilots have survived years of flying without observing these precautions. But many more have not. Visit your nearest FAA GADO sometime and ask to see their accident statistics. If they seem dry and undramatic, remember that each statistic involves the twisted wreckage of an aircraft and the body of its pilot.

   Now - it's up to you!