Flying right seat

Soon after earning your pilot certificate, you’ll fly with another pilot. If you’re like me, you’ll split the rental cost or the fuel, and each fly one leg as you go in search of the perfect airport hamburger. It’s like weekend nirvana, right? Maybe not.

Flying with another pilot in a single-pilot airplane is something not taught during the private pilot training. It’s mentioned briefly in the realm of aeronautical decision making and situational awareness, but other than that, it’s ignored. The process seems simple enough. One person flies from the left seat, and the other person sits in the right seat. The problem is that pilots can’t keep opinions to themselves. Try it sometime. It’s harder than you think. So inevitably the person in the right seat ends up flipping switches, messing with the radio, critiquing technique, or in the worst case, grabbing the yoke or depressing a rudder pedal.

Here’s some advice to maintain your flying friendship:

1. If you are the person in the right seat, do nothing but enjoy the ride. This means no critiquing, no touching, and no grunts, sighs, or other disparaging noises.

2. If, as a right seater, you just can’t sit still for the ride, ask before you do something. For example, if I’m in the right seat of another person’s airplane, I’ll ask permission even before scaling the map on the GPS, or helping with the transponder.

3. Never, unless you feel your life is in imminent danger, grab the yoke. And please use a high standard for imminent danger. Most hard landings are harmless.

4. As the pilot flying in the left seat, be courteous to your airplane-loving passenger and offer to have him operate the radios and navigate.

Flying in sync as a crew takes hours upon hours of practice and a lot of specialized training. But when done well, it’s a thing of beauty. I recently flew with a friend who’s bulk of experience is with the airlines. He knew what to do and when to do it. I didn’t have to ask him not to touch anything, and he knew from his training that radios and navigation were appropriate tasks for him. I learned a lot from him that I’ll apply the next time I’m in the right seat.

It may seem trivial, but proper recognition of who’s doing what in the cockpit is a safety issue as well as a major annoyance. So be sure to establish it all before starting the engine, and everyone will be happier.

–Ian Twombly

  • Eduardo del Valle

    Thank you very much for this clear and wise advice. It is very helpful!

  • David West

    Great advice. As you noted, pilots in the right seat just can’t keep their mouths shut…so I can’t possibly let “immenant” go by without a comment. Just as every pilot should check every available resource, every writer should always make use of spell check. The word you wanted is “imminent”.

  • Ian Twombly

    Thanks for keeping us honest David.


  • Laura Jean

    I just had to add that it’s even more challenging when the other pilot is your spouse. My hubby and I both fly and it’s a challenge to deal with the other opinions sometimes, as well as biting my tongue when I’m in the right seat. But it’s a fun date to do a $100 hamburger with one flying there and the other flying home.

  • BillE

    DO NOT fly right seat without instruction!!! I just landed my 182 last night for the first time from the right seat. I am a near perfect lander from the left seat. But frim the right, the hand-eye coordination with the gas and yoke is totally different. It porpoised so severely that it did $30,000 of damage to the aircraft. Broke the front wheel seal, bent the firewall and airframe, caused sheet metal damage, broke the 2nd nav system, twisted the airframe so the left door no longer opens. It will take 6 weeks to three months or more to fix, maybe longer because Cessna has to manufacture the firewall or pull one off the production line for an aircraft they are trying to build and sell. Oh, and did I mention insurance won’t cover right seat accidents unless you are a current flight instructor? You’ve been warned.

  • East Hotel

    Great advice. That’s a small thing that starts the most important theory of CRM starts…