Once you get your private pilots’ license, you are free to take up passengers with you as you please. While it may sound as simple as putting them in the right seat and flying to lunch, passenger management is an important part of every flight for every pilot from 60 to 6,000 hours of experience and for every flight—from a quick lunch trip to a cross-country journey.
I had a certain level of comfort after my checkride and took my dad up for a quick lap in the pattern just as I got back from where I took the test, but other people might not be so sure as to when they are ready to take up a passenger. Three main items come into play with a non-pilot in the cockpit: their readiness, your readiness, and flight conditions.
Every pilot must consider the passengers themselves. Are they new fliers? Have they been in a small aircraft before? Do they have conditions that might prevent them from being comfortable or safe during the flight? If the answer to any of these questions gives you pause, think about the impacts to the flight itself and how to make the proper accomodations to make the flight fun. If a passenger has not been in a small plane before, a 2-hour flight in 95-degree weather with moderate turbulence in the forecast might not be the best idea over someone who has flown with you before. If they easily get motion sick, remind them to look outside to get their bearings and provide ample fresh air by remembering the climate control tools the plane has available. If these problems cannot be overcome, consider changing the flight plan.
Pilot readiness is one of the most important factors before a flight. We are always reminded of our IMSAFE checklist to ensure personal readiness, but readiness to carry a passenger or take flight responsibility is an important consideration. Always remember the “E” on the end of the PAVE checklist: external pressures. Are you ready to take on the pressure that is getting you and your passenger back on the ground safely? If you are going somewhere, be ready to accept delays or have driving as an alternative solution if the weather turns bad or if the plane has maintenance issues. Do not overstep personal boundaries simply because a passenger is on board.
Of course, all of this is addressed in a thorough passenger brief. For a new passenger and for those who have flown with you before, always address key safety items such as ramp safety awareness, staying clear of the controls, and use of equipment on board such as seatbelts, door handles, climate controls and other emergency equipment. Tell them that if they have any questions or are at all uncomfortable to speak up. Remind them to tell you if they see a safety hazard such as traffic. This list is not exhaustive: if you have more you feel is worth mentioning to them, bring it up!
Flight conditions should always be looked at before a flight. If a passenger is comfortable or if they are a pilot themselves, and if your personal minimums allow it, taking someone into a 20-knot direct crosswind may be acceptable: this will likely not be the case for the novice flier. Take otherwise benign weather into consideration. Pilots may be more comfortable with turbulence than their passenger, and 6-mile visibility may be disorienting to someone expecting a clear day. Keep a closer ear for what the weather briefer tells you.
Keeping your passengers comfortable, safe and informed is the best way to get them to fly with you again and again. Being a safety-conscious pilot shows them that the General Aviation community is a safe place to be. Remember: taking passengers up means YOU are representing the entire community. Show them a safe, positive experience, and they will promote what we all love about flying!