Too often in flight training we’re taught only the fundamentals with no reference whatsoever to the skills and tools it takes to be a professional and proper pilot in command. Yes, you know about PIC authority, but being PIC also means being responsible for the comfort and safety of your passengers.
One of the ways in which we fulfill this duty (or rather should fulfill it) is through the passenger briefing. Admit it: You don’t give a passenger briefing, do you? And instructors, you don’t teach your student how to give said briefing, do you? I would say 95 percent of the pilots I fly with don’t give a briefing. Granted, many of them know I’m a CFI and probably feel I can fend for myself, but it’s a lost opportunity. And I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I don’t often give briefings either (other than how to buckle the seat belt). I should, and here’s why.
Think of your first flight in a small aircraft. It was a truly foreign world, right? This is how the vast majority of your passengers feel too. Even if you’re flying with other pilots, they don’t know or understand your skill set. So there is likely some uneasiness on their part as well. Even beyond the safety aspect, I think passenger briefings are a critical step in proving yourself as thoroughly in command of your ship. And that gives people warm fuzzies.
But of course there is also a safety aspect. And this is where the content of the briefing becomes important. Think about what you feel should be part of the briefing. Now, throw half of it away as extraneous.
The rules to a good passenger briefing are three-fold: essential information only, delivered with a calm authority that doesn’t scare the passengers. That’s it. Too often these briefings include information on engine failures and other scary prospects. This type of brief is detailed on the Ask a Flight Instructor site. The information in the post has its place, usually in times of dual instruction. But don’t mistake it for a proper passenger briefing. MyFlightBlog also raved about a particularly long briefing with the Blue Angels C-130 crew. The briefing has its place. In this case it’s a military operation during an airshow. Using a briefing like that might make you sound in charge, but I bet you’ll get the glassy eyed look within a minute. The briefing is useless if they aren’t paying attention.
Instead, take the basics of what your passengers need to know and say them proudly. To me, this information includes:
1. How to buckle and unbuckle the seat belt.
2. How to open and close the door and other emergency exits.
3. Where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it.
The only other thing you could add is potential safety issues, such as keeping children away from windows and doors, and a note about not grabbing the controls (dual controls are weird to nonpilots). Beyond that, you’ll lose their interest, and/or they won’t remember.
What about emergencies, water landings, air sickness, takeoff and landing etiquette, etc? Not needed. Let’s be realistic–you’re going to have to repeat everything you said in the event of an emergency anyway. Ask any flight attendant; passengers don’t listen to briefing instructions in times of panic. So why make them panic before your wheels even leave the ground?
The one exception to the above advice is when flying with another pilot, which I covered in a previous post. Here, some ground rules need to be laid down, including, “Don’t touch anything unless I tell you to.” Feel free to be a bit more kind if you like.
–Ian J. Twombly