Preflight Your Passenger, Too!

February 4th, 2014 by Amy Laboda

I know you preflight your airplane before you fly. I know you even preflight your flight, by creating a flight plan of some sort (even if it is sketched on a Post-it or punched into your iPad app for a run around the neighborhood). You think over the length of the runways you intend to use, and, at the very least, ballpark the amount of fuel you have, versus what you need, and weight and balance on your intended aircraft. That’s in the good book, the FAR/AIM, and we all have to do it.

But did you know that preflighting your passengers is also in that book? And why not? According to NTSB data, the best thing that ever happened to passengers who survive aviation accidents worldwide was that passenger safety briefing they heard at the very beginning of the flight. They say, to a man, that in the midst of the chaos of the event they remembered something from that safety briefing, complied, and lived. Simple as that.

Airlines know it. In fact, airlines these days are so sure that the passenger safety briefing is an effective tool that they have handed the task of keeping the briefings interesting enough to grab passenger attention over to marketing. The results are some pretty funny passenger safety briefings—some kitschy enough to garner mention in the New York Times and go viral as YouTube videos.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to hire an ad agency to create a passenger safety briefing that will have your precious cargo chuckling as the buckle up, but, hey, most of us do fly with friends and family, and we do want them to survive any incident or accident that might happen. And if you are one of those pilots who is absolutely positive that an accident could never happen to you? Well, then, consider the passenger safety briefing as a means for getting your passengers to become a helpful part of your crew.

A typical GA aircraft briefing card.

A typical GA aircraft briefing card.

Sure, you could create a pre-fab card, as some companies have done, and just tell them to read it, but extensive data shows that the best safety briefing is a demo. So, show them how to buckle and unbuckle their seatbelt, how to adjust the seats (upright for takeoff and landing for a better egress). Make sure passengers sitting by a door or emergency exit are capable of opening the door (and in the case of a light airplane where doors sometimes pop open in flight, how to close it!). Point out the location of the fire extinguisher and first aid kit, and talk about how to use them, too. Got oxygen onboard? Go over it with your passenger, and mention what hypoxia looks like and feels like. Tell your passenger that you don’t want idle conversation during taxi, takeoff, approach and landing, but that you do want to be notified if they see conflicting air traffic. And make sure they understand and can demonstrate to you how to operate any passenger entertainment system you might carry onboard, so that you won’t be called on to operate it, distracting you from your real mission of flying the airplane.

Finally, vary your script according to the mission. If you are flying overwater, be sure t0 demonstrate the use of personal flotation devices (you’ve got them, right?). Got a raft? Designate a capable passenger to make sure it comes out of the airplane with them, as you’ll be pretty busy. Flying over mountainous terrain? Carry a survival kit, and again, designate a passenger to make sure it gets out of the airplane with you.

As much as we like to think we fly for our own pleasure, many of us, I’d say most of us love sharing the experience with others. You might think that a thorough passenger briefing will frighten a newbie to private flying, but my experience has been just the opposite. My passengers tell me that the briefing is empowering, and that having the information it imparts makes them feel safer, because they know, if there’s a problem, they can contribute to the solution.


Amy Laboda

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Dave Beaver

    While I understand that this article is about GA, I’ve always wondered why commercial aviation doesn’t take this idea further than just a briefing, and offer “how to get out of the airplane” classes to their frequent flyer customers. They could take selected frequent flyers through the evacuation part of the cabin crew training (offer them free flights to the classes), and turn them from liabilities into assets. Having someone sitting in the emergency row seats who had operated the overwing door a couple of times in a non-emergency situation and knew what to expect HAS to be a win if you need to evacuate the airplane.

  • Randy Boone

    Excellent article Amy!
    I would like to add a couple suggestions if I may. Briefings are great, but may not fully convey the cognitive learning process needed for a successful water ditching. Take it a step further. Tell them what to do, show them what to do, but the greatest tool is having them demonstrate it themselves. This completes the cognitive learning process.
    A passenger briefing will usually take you about five minutes or less, whereas a egress drill on the tarmac will take about ten minutes. Have everyone strap in and call a egress, bail out, or whatever. You will be amazed at how difficult it is to get more than two people out of the aircraft (Keystone Cops comes to mind). Now do it carrying survival equipment and a life raft and life vests on.
    What this does, is it allows the crew to realize that not everyone can go out the door at the same time. It shows them that if in the back seat, they may have to wait for two others to go out first (timing). It shows them that the life raft is fairly bulky and they may have to experiment on how it comes out (ahead of you or behind you). It shows you how easily the opened seatbelts can snag you, It teaches you crew coordination whereas once you get out, you should stay at the exit and assist others out and so on. I would recommend a egress drill at the beginning of each extended stay trip and at least once a year with family members.

  • http://AOPA Afellow

    If you project more information into the discussion than what the author discusses you will instill fear into your passengers.
    Hopefully you have invited these “guests” out for a fun enjoyable afternoon of flying and not a crash course on how to survive an airplane wreck.

    Keep it simple and brief.

    Commercial aviation doesn’t have classes on “how to get out of the airplane” for the same reasons restaurant don’t include direction on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on the front of menus.

    Remember folks; your going to be performing a skill that has been successfully accomplished for over 100 years. Use those skills assertively and nobody’s going to have to kick out a plastic window.

  • TomCo

    I would add to the briefing… directed to the adult in the right front seat… that he/she has to get completely out of the plane in order for his/her two kids in the back seat to exit.

    When they right seat passenger knows the pilot will get the kids out they are more willing to aid the process rather than complicate it blocking an exit trying to save the family.

  • TLA

    I always make an emphasis to show the back seat passengers (especially kids) how to open the doors. It’s pretty obvious to the right seat passeneger who just closed the door, but I would hate to have a the back seat passengers survive a crash and not be able to get out if front seat passengers don’t make it.

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