New or Reluctant Passengers: Try to Accommodate Their Fears

A smooth, easy flight beats a thrilling ride every time.

First-time passengers in light airplanes can be a skittish breed. You never really know how they'll react. Hero types sometimes dissolve into ashen-faced putty. Shrinking violets sometimes prove to be the most adventurous, pressing you for steeper and steeper turns.

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize when someone is less than enthusiastic about going for an airplane ride, whether it's a jaunt around the pattern or a time-saving cross-country business trip with a colleague. They don't want to admit they have misgivings about strapping themselves into a tiny machine that will take them a couple of miles above Mother Earth.

It's to our benefit as pilots to go the extra yard in recognizing potential passengers' fears, and doing our best to make their flight with us as pleasant as possible. One way to do this is to include your passenger in the flight planning stage as much as possible. If it's a long trip, show them the routing and explain how you've accounted for weather and other contingencies. Most often they will be impressed with your thoroughness.

For first-time passengers, you could include them in the preflight walk-around; but avoid over-detailed explanations of components such as the pitot-static system. Just explaining that it allows the instruments to do their thing ought to be enough. If your passenger is more deeply interested, they'll ask. The walk-around is a good time for a brief explanation of how all the control surfaces keep the airplane aimed where you want it.

You might talk them through the cockpit checklist; but again, not with too much detail. It could take half an hour to explain how all the flight instruments work, and you came out to go flying, right?. As you taxi out, you might find that passengers are interested in how the airplane is controlled on the ground. Sitting in the front seat and rolling along the pavement is still comfortable for someone who's never experienced flying light airplanes.

As for takeoff and the flight itself, it ought to go without saying that you should keep it smooth and easy. Part of the strategy involves picking the right day-or time of day, such as early morning or evening when the air is still. Snappy maneuvers might be fun for you, but they rarely appeal to first-timers. And don't count on them to let you know when they're not comfortable. It's not in their nature to admit feeling green. One common mistake is circling over your passenger's house in steepening banks that increase G forces to the point of nausea.

Some people will take to flying with you like an otter to water. But some will simply never be comfortable in the air. Still, if you conduct your flights with professionalism and respect for their feelings, they can probably appreciate flying's benefits, even if they inexplicably refuse to become addicted, as you have.