The beauty of brevity

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

  • http:[email protected] Don Eck

    My briefing includes: “If you see anything you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to speak up-you may notice something important that I haven’t seen yet. This includes other aircraft. If you see any aircraft that I haven’t pointed out to you, show it to me.” Many times a passenger is in a position to observe other aircraft better than the pilot, and everyone onboard has a vested interest in collision avoidance.

  • Cary Alburn

    I agree with Ian’s short list–but some people need a longer list. In my ancient airplane, I have some modern equipment with flashing lights that come on, not so much as warnings, but as indicators of time to do something. Almost every airplane has a flashing indicator for the transponder. I have learned that most non-pilots see the flashing lights and think something has gone wrong–and of course, if something has gone wrong, then a crash must be imminent.

    Also, the controls of most airplanes are completely foreign to most non-pilots. You steer with the pedals? You change the throttle with your hand? Why does the engine sound go down when you turn that knob? Why are you regularly adjusting that thingy on the floor? Why do spend so much time looking at that gauge while adjusting that knob? Is something wrong, to make all that fiddling necessary?

    Every person is different, but in my preflight briefings, I try to encourage new passengers to ask, if they don’t understand something either I’m doing or the airplane is doing.


  • Dan Valiga

    Good short list. The one I always add relates to sterile cockpit procedures. “When I raise my hand, I’m going to talk on the radio and you (passengers) should not be talking at that point.” People get excited when they ride in planes and like to talk about what they are seeing – it just doesn’t need to be broadcast and shouldn’t interfere with ATC/non-towered com work.

  • Rob H.

    1. This is your seatbelt, it latches and unlatches like this. You must wear it for taxi, takeoff, and landing, however I recommend that you wear it at all times.

    2. This is how you open and close the doors and windows, in an emergency I may ask you to open it before we land, this is normal in an emergency.

    3. These are my flight controls, do not touch them for any reason unless I ask you to.

    4. Please do not touch any of the switches in front of you, unless I ask you to.

    5. This is where the fire extinguisher is located, incase of an emergency, this is how you detatch if from its holder, pull the pin, and spray at any flames, avoid spraying into either of our eyes or mouths.

    6. More importantly, this is where the SICSACs are. If you feel like you are getting motion sick, tell me right away, and get a SICSAC ready just in case.

    7. Finally, please do not talk to me during takeoff or landing, as I will be busy keeping us safe, also if you hear me talk on the radio, please do not interrupt, it is important that I hear what ATC is telling me.


  • Larry M. Diamond

    I have used ABCCDE for 30 years and almost 4 years as a CFI.
    A – Look for Aircraft
    B – Belts(seat belts) how to get in and out
    C – Controls (Do not touch unless I tell you)
    C – Communications (Sterile cockpit during takeoff and landing)
    D – Doors (How to get in and out and how to open and close)
    E – Emergency
    I have never had anyone feel more anxious or say no thanks yet. Last I will ask for thumbs up if feeling good and thumbs down if sickness is coming(sicksacs are supplied).

  • http://aopa richard caso

    I particularly liked Larry Diamond’s ABCs. This is about as succinct and elegant a briefing as I’ve ever heard. Could I humbly add another C for comfort (air vents, lights, seat adjustments, etc)