Angel Flight Experience


Pre-takeoff checklist
Mar 2, 2005
Seattle, WA
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I fly pretty regularly with passengers, both VFR and IFR, cross countries too. Every once in a while I feel a little nervous, or just sort of amped up before take off. I usually find that just flipping the audio selector to pilot isolate takes care of this because I can concentrate 100% on flying and forget about passenegers. Don't really know why, but it seems to work. 99% of the time it isn't a problem.

Yesterday I flew an Angel Flight out of Seattle across the mountains in IFR. A 5 year old girl and her mom were in the back, and didn't want to use headsets. Though they had never been in a small plane, she said she wasn't nervous at all and wasn't worried about turbulance or air sickness. For some reason, I was just a little nervous having them back there, I'm not a parent, so I guess I was worried about how the child would do. It may have shown a little at first, but after take off I was just fine, and I think conveyed a total feeling of calm and relaxation.

The take off was very bumpy and windy, and it didn't smooth out. Infact, it got very bumpy over the mountains and in the clouds. Since the mom wasn't wearing a headset, I had to take mine off, turn around, and ask how they were doing with this. The look on her face said it all, she was a bit freaked out. I told her not to worry about the bumps, explained how the weather bunches up over the mountains, and that I would ask for a higher altitude to get out of the clouds into smoother air.

So I did get up to 11,000 and out of the clouds, and the trip did eventually smooth out, but I feel bad about the whole experinece. I sure hate to give a first time experience like that. I guess I should have done a much better job explaining the weather, and the bumps before take off. I did tell her that it would probably be bumpy for the first bit, but that it was nothing to be concerned about. I also said to tap me on the shoulder if she was uncomfortable at all and we would find a place to land.

What else should I have done? From now on I will ask for a mission assistant whenever there is space, let hem deal with passenger concerns. I just wish the flight had gone a bit better for them.
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Aprehension, anxiety, fear, or other heightened emotions can be controlled with knowledge. Knowledge puts one back in control of the situation. A short pre-flight pax brief about the wx would have been a good call. Knowing what to expect would have calmed her. That would be when you say, hey, our route includes a short hop over the mtns and we'll probably get bounced around but it will smooth out as we climb in altitude. Heck, knowing that she may have even been looking forward to the thrill.

You could have also slowed down. You were there, you'd have to make the determination if that was a viable option.

Now, about you taking off your headphones.... If that was out of the norm for you and you already were aprehensive about this first flight, why do you do something to increase those emotions? SOP, by the book, by the numbers, stick to the plan, all are valuable because they remind us how important it is to stay in control; conversely, how easy it is to get out of control especially with anxious pax aboard.

I am very empathetic to the experience you described.I know hindsight is always 20/20. I have had some similar experiences years ago flying charters with people who have never flown before. There is a great saying and it is; "All the best laid plans can go asunder at anytime". I had a trip when I was young 18 flying a couple to their weekend home and yes the weather forecast went out the window and I had to land short of the destination.Is it amazing how the weather forecast can never be trusted. I felt terrible for I felt I had failed to complete the flight. Well long story short the passengers appreciated the fact I was very cautious. They asked the chief pilot for me to fly them. I felt that I had let them down but they were glad that I did what I did.

The mention of taking a "Mission Assistant" is great. When I have flown on Angel Flights I always have a copilot or I fly as one for it just makes the trip so much better for all. Single IFR is hard enough and to add the complexities of an Angel Flight can make the trip into a "Trip From Hell".

Thanks for your post and I hope the next Angel Flight is a good one for you. Keep Flying

John J
I don't have enough time yet to do Angelflight, a few hours short, so consider the qualifications of the person rendering advice. With that caveat...

I think I would at least plug in a headset back there, even if they didn't want one. That gives you a communication avenue if something goes south. And I would probably also warn them that not wearing a headset can put them at risk for some hearing damage, as it is so loud. Considering the loudness factor in the skyhawk that I regularly fly, I would really prefer that any passengers wear a set.

The mission assistant sounds like an excellent idea. I have some training with dealing with distracting passengers, courtesy of my 6 year old. But still it would be good to have a co-pilot who knows and can explain "the score".

Jim G
Mission assistant is the answer. Single pilot IFR with someone you don't know on their first small plane ride is asking for trouble. I also would have tried to convince them to use the headsets. Tell them you have the most comfortable headsets money can buy, or whatever it takes to get them to wear them. If they refuse, then at least the MA will be there to help. I have one coming up with a couple of deaf kids. No problems with headsets there.