How Can Pilots Make Their Passengers Comfortable In Flight?

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Original publication date: April 23, 2023
Last Updated: February 9, 2024
Author: Max Skyler
Topic: Proficiency
Number of Comments: 0

Once you get your private pilot license, you no doubt will be looking to share your love of flying with your family or friends. You’ve got the bragging rights to having joined the ranks of an exclusive community of aviators. So it’s only natural that you would be itching to show off your newly minted pilot license. Before you take your first passengers flying, it would behoove you to take the steps necessary to ensure that your passengers’ first flight with you is comfortable.

As a private pilot, you can make your passengers comfortable by preparing the airplane, setting proper expectations, communicating with them before and during the flight, carrying out all flight maneuvers with your passengers’ comfort in mind, and by maintaining a calm and confident demeanor.

You no doubt want to make sure that your passenger’s first flight with you is a memorable one. But you want to make sure it is memorable for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Flying in a single-engine trainer aircraft may be no big deal for you since you are used to it, but it may be a novel experience for your passengers, so you need to be sensitive to any apprehensions they may have. You want them to walk away from the flight looking forward to flying with you again, not dreading it.

As a private pilot, your first priority may be to fly the airplane. But equally important is ensuring the comfort of your passengers. This is absolutely essential to providing a positive flying experience for them. They may not be accustomed to flying in a confined airplane. Here are 18 tips on how to make your passengers comfortable.

1. Communicate with your passengers before and during flight.

Passengers look to the pilot for assurance that they are in good hands. Therefore, it is imperative that you communicate with them.

Before the flight, provide them with a briefing. Brief them on the same things that you yourself would brief yourself as a pilot:  

  • path of your flight
  • landmarks that you will be flying over
  • what altitude you will be flying at
  • your cruising airspeed
  • expected time of arrival

Encourage your passengers to feel free to ask any questions or to voice any concerns they may have, at any point during the flight.

Do alert your passengers that you may need to communicate with air traffic control at times, and that you request them to refrain from talking when you do so.

2. Set the ground rules as Pilot in Command.

As you are the pilot-in-command, it is important to set the ground rules of the flight. It is also important to set your expectations of them as well as what they should expect from you.

Some examples of ground rules might include:

  1. The passenger sitting in the front seat should never touch the controls, unless otherwise directed by the pilot-in-command.
  2. Passengers should refrain from talking to you when you are communicating with Air Traffic Control. Perhaps as pilot-in-command, you can give your passengers a signal that they need to keep their voices down or they should keep silent, when you are talking with ATC.
  3. Passengers should keep their seat belts on during the take off and landing phases of flight.
  4. Passengers shouldn’t do anything that could distract the pilot or which could jeopardize the safety and comfort of other passengers on the flight.
  5. Passengers should inform you if they are feeling uncomfortable at any point, so that you, as the pilot, can make arrangements to divert to an alternate airport, if needed.

3. Prepare the cabin for your passengers.

Make sure the cabin is clean and organized. Ensure that the seats are comfortable and that the seatbelts are functional. If there are any issues with the upholstery of the seats, you may want to address them. If you are flying a 40 year old trainer aircraft, your passengers may not feel very confident about flying in an aircraft that has ripped seats.

Clear the baggage area, so that your passengers can store any luggage and personal belongings.

Ensure that cabin heating and air conditioning is working properly, and that you know how to adjust the temperature, prior to the flight.

4. Help your passengers board and disembark the aircraft.

Getting into and out of an airplane can be challenging, particularly if it is a low-wing aircraft which only has the door on the passenger side of the plane.

Move the front seats forward for them, to help them get into the back row.

Show them how to buckle and unbuckle their seatbelts.

Show them how to step up onto the wing or onto the steps to get into and out of the airplane, if it is a low-wing aircraft, or directly offer your hand to help them climb up or step down, as appropriate, especially if they have mobility issues.

Load their luggage into the baggage compartment of the aircraft for them.

5. Calculate proper weight and balance before flight.

Asking passengers how much they weigh can be a sensitive subject for some, but as pilot-in-command, it is absolutely essential that you do not skip over this very important preflight step. This is your chance to make a proper go-no-go decision. The last thing you want to do is overload your aircraft and thus meet with uncomfortably longer than expected takeoff and landing rolls that could make you (and your passengers) nervous.

6. Get your passengers involved in the pre-flight process.

One way to get your passengers comfortable with the overall flight experience is to help demystify the whole process of getting the aircraft ready for flight. Get them involved in the pre-flight process so that they can see for themselves what is involved. Explain to them what makes airplanes fly and the concept of lift. This will give them a higher degree of confidence and allay any trepidation they may be experiencing about the flight.

7. Share Your Excitement With The Passengers.

Talk them through what you are doing. Explain to them how things work, what you are about to do next, what you need to look out for. Show them familiar (or unfamiliar) landmarks on the ground. Suggest to them points of interest that they can take pictures of. This will help generate buzz and excitement, which will uplift (no pun intended) everyone’s spirits onboard the flight. 

8. Empathize with your passengers.

While your priority is to fly the airplane, you do need to be attentive to your passengers needs. You should check in with your passengers periodically to see how they are doing, if they need anything, or if they have any concerns. 

Be sure to respond promptly and professionally to any questions, requests, or concerns that they have. Do not ignore them, being fully engrossed in your flying.

Be patient and understanding with respect to your passengers. Keep in mind that some passengers may be nervous about flying. So it is imperative that you show empathy and understanding toward them, in order to help them alleviate any anxiety they may be experiencing.

Do not let them feel like they are being claustrophobically being “held captive” in the airplane, being forced to “deal with” their anxiety. Talk to them patiently and empathetically. 

As a worst case scenario, if you do need to divert to the nearest airport, plan to do so. Or at least plan to cut your flight short and return to your departure airport.

9. Get your passengers involved in flight management.

While legally your passengers cannot assume any type of responsibility for the flight, you as the pilot-in-command, can gauge your passengers’ interest in getting involved with the flight experience and flight management.

Obviously you as the pilot-in-command are solely responsible for the safety and operation of the flight, but getting your passengers involved can make the experience more meaningful.

For example, have your passengers help you keep an eye out for other aircraft and alert you if they spot any.

Have your passengers help you look for specific landmarks. Of course, these are not FAA-sanctioned roles, but you can “informally” have your passengers “help” you with these, to help keep them engaged.

10. Let your passengers touch the controls.

Legally, you cannot allow your passengers to operate the aircraft independently. Having said that, it is not uncommon for private pilots to let their passengers get a “taste” of flying, by letting them touch the yoke and input basic, limited control movements.

For example, you might let your right-seat passenger execute a climb or a turn, or maintain level flight. This of course cannot be done with the pilot-in-command fully cognizant of what the passenger is doing, and without being directly ready to take the controls at any moment.

11. Provide essential amenities for your passengers.

Amenities in a single-engine airplane are clearly not the same as those that would be offered on an airline. But generally speaking, as the pilot, you will want to do whatever you can to ensure that your passengers are comfortable.

Make sure that your passengers have access to food, water, pillows, or anything that you think might help them feel more comfortable during the flight.

  • Ensure your passengers have access to food and drink, and napkins, if they should need it.
  • Keep blankets and pillows available to the passengers, if it will help them feel comfortable.
  • In case any of your passengers are feeling nausea, keep bags available, just in case!

12. Provide your passengers with noise-canceling headphones.

The engine in a propeller-driven aircraft can be extremely noisy and can cause great discomfort to passengers. Not to mention, it is almost impossible for the pilot and passengers to be able to hear and speak to one another during flight, with the blaring sound of the engine.

Therefore, noise-canceling headphones are a must for passengers. If the aircraft you are flying has headphone jacks on the right-hand seat or in the back row of the aircraft, make sure your passengers plug their headphones in. Show your passengers how to adjust the volume on their headphones a well.

And be sure to test the radios as part of your pre-flight checklist! The pilot and passengers should all be able to speak to one another and be able to hear each other, with the headphones on. (The pilot of course must still be able to hear and communicate with air traffic control or other aircraft.)

13. Reschedule if weather is below personal minimums.

If the weather is below your personal minimums for carrying passengers, cancel the flight.

You must establish personal minimums not only for yourself solo but also for carrying passengers, which could be a different set of minimums.

Just because you can legally fly under certain weather conditions, doesn’t mean that you should. And this is especially the case when carrying passengers.

14. Avoid turbulence if at all possible.

Proper flight planning is absolutely a must, when it comes to carrying passengers, and taking their comfort into consideration.

As a trained pilot, you may be accustomed to handling turbulence, and it may not be so much of a jarring experience for you. But for your passengers, even the slightest bit of turbulence can be absolutely terrifying.

While even the most seasoned airline pilots cannot completely avoid turbulence 100% of the time, it does behoove you, as a private pilot, to do your best to plan the route of your flight so as to avoid any specific routes or any specific altitudes where turbulence has been reported, or where the conditions of turbulence are likely to occur.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that you obtain a detailed and comprehensive weather briefing before your flight. Wind gusts, wind shear, and winds aloft, are things to take into consideration.

If the weather is generally conducive to producing turbulence overall, then you may want to think twice about even flying at that time at all, and then plan to reschedule to fly with your passengers at another time.

Having said that, you would be wise to brief your passengers on what to expect in the event that you encounter turbulence. You want to assure them that it is not 100% avoidable, and that turbulence is, in fact, a normal part of flying, and is not something to be overly concerned about.

15. Remain calm and exude confidence at all times.

Perhaps the corollary to a discussion on turbulence is that you, as the pilot-in-command, must remain calm and you must exude confidence at all times, during the flight.

In the event of a predicament, such as turbulence, your passengers will be looking to you for assurance. Therefore, you must give them a vibe that you are in full command and control over the situation. You must demonstrate competence, calmness, and level-headedness, even when under pressure of inclement weather, congested airspace, or any other type of challenge that you may face during flight.

This will not only help allay any fears or concerns that your passengers may have. But it will also help you to remain focused as the pilot-in-command as well.

16. Execute smooth and shallow banks, climbs, and descents.

As a trained pilot, you may be accustomed to unusual attitudes. After all, every pilot must practice stalls, steep turns, and unusual attitudes as part of their training.

Having said, these maneuvers may be extremely uncomfortable and may be disconcerting for your passengers. Whether your passengers may be prone to motion sickness or not, it is always a good idea to keep any attitude changes as smooth as possible.

Therefore, you should plan for smooth climbs, smooth descents, and smooth banking turns. Avoid any abrupt or rapid control movements. Ease into and out of every turn. Ease into and out of every climb and descent.

Plan to execute shallower turns, which means that you will inevitably be turning at a slower rate. 

Plan to execute slower climbs and descents, which means that you will inevitably be climbing and descending at a slower feet-per-minute vertical speed.

You don’t want to pull any high-G maneuvers!

This also applies to taxiing as well! Don’t be aggressive when taxiing on the ground either!

17. If something unusual happens, let your passengers know.

While the last thing you need is for your passengers to panic, you also do not want to be dishonest with your passengers. If something goes awry during flight, they may figure it out or pick up on it. So, you, as the pilot-in-command, would need to determine when would be the best time and the best manner in which to communicate this fact to your passengers.

For example, if you are experiencing engine trouble, or if you are lost, or your radios are no longer working, or you are about to run into adverse weather, you will need to level with your passengers at some point. But you must do this erstwhile continuing to maintain calm composure and and exude a confident demeanor at all times, so as to instill patience and confidence in your passengers.

18. Your landings must be flawless.

You will be judged by how well you nail your landings. No matter how uneventful your entire flight will have been, if your landing is bumpy, you impose a side load on it, you balloon, or you skid, your passengers will remember your flight for that.

In fact, their future impressions of general aviation will be shaped by how smoothly you are able to land the airplane. If your landing is rough, that could very well be enough to scare them away from ever wanting to ride in a single engine airplane ever again.

But if you execute a perfect landing flare, keeping the nose off the ground until the stall warning indicator beeps, or you are able to apply just the right amount of crosswind correction on a windy day, you could end up with happy passengers who will look back fondly on their flying experience with you, and will in fact look forward to flying with you again.

Max Skyler

Max Skyler is a Private Pilot with nearly 200 hours of total flight time under his belt. He is a freelance writer for Flying is not his day job. (He's into computers.) But flying is among his passions and hobbies. He just passed his instrument ground school course, and is getting ready to take the IFR written exam as we speak, in early January 2024! He hopes to earn his instrument writing within a year. We've brought him onto our team to share his insights on all-things general aviation, with our community of readers. Let's wish him good luck on his instrument written exam!

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