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First-time flyer? The 13-point plan when taking a friend airborne…

Taking a friend who has never flown in a light aircraft needs a good deal of consideration. Follow these 13 top tips to make the flight a success… 

So you want to take a friend flying? Just what exactly are the sort of things that you should you think about before setting off? I’m assuming your friend has not flown before in a light aircraft. As a former Chief Flying Instructor with Aerobility, I have taken thousands of people flying – here are a number of pointers that will help with the all-important flight.


Be prepared

Make sure you are well prepared for the flight. First check all the documentation is in place:

  • Release to service
  • Hours remaining
  • Valid insurance
  • Weight and balance calculated
  • Performance calculations, etc.

It is down to you as captain to ensure this is all checked and correct. It is good to explain the process and it will give added assurance to your friend. It’s also a good time to explain that we will be wearing headsets / helmets, something that may be a surprise.


Short flight first

For a first flight it is better to carry out a quick local trip of around 30 minutes and in good weather. If your friend feels ill, is actually ill or gets too worried, then you can easily turn back and land. Once back on the ground and having a drink they can recover quickly. Do not try again on the same day! It will only lead to further disappointment and you won’t want to clean the inside of the aircraft. 

3Travel sick?

I ask a passenger if they get travel sick – if ‘yes’, then be on your guard. It is also worth asking if they have any medical conditions that you need to be aware of; some conditions may involve you, such as your friend carrying an EpiPen. You would need to know how to apply the EpiPen and land as soon as possible to get medical care.

4Explain the plan

Explain the flight plan to your friend – do they live nearby? Can you safely arrange to fly over their house? That will depend on the airspace; non-pilots would have no idea about restrictions. Most air traffic units are very helpful to get you into their airspace provided you call them and ask before take off (I would not try into Class A). 

It is also worth discussing speed and height with your passenger. I’ve had some strange requests – such as don’t go too fast or too high. It is worth explaining that speed and height are good for flying – and mention the speeds you will be using.

5Check the aircraft 

OK, you’re ready, weather is good, permissions sorted, completed the necessary documentation and have a plan. Time to check out the aircraft again and it’s good to get your friend involved. Explain what you are doing. It is something that 99% of car drivers would not do before driving so they may be surprised and reassured that you are doing a thorough pre-flight check.

6Into the aircraft

The aircraft type and the mobility of your friend will determine how difficult or easy it is getting on board. I have had people hurt themselves just slipping off the footrest on a PA28 so don’t assume it is as easy for them as it is for you. 

Once sitting in the aircraft ensure they are comfortable, show them how to put the harness on and off. Ensure that you explain the door / cockpit locking / unlocking mechanism.

Complete the rest of the mandatory safety briefing and explain that they will need to keep their hands and feet off the controls and brief them on emergency scenarios. 

Now, time to start up. Depending on their level of interest, you could show them the checklist and again involve them in the checks.

7Silence please

Help your passenger to put on their headset and explain that there will be times during the flight where you will need them to be quiet as you will be talking or listening to the radio. A pre-prepared phrase such as ‘transmitting’ or even ‘quiet’ should be discussed to prevent you missing an important R/T call. Of course, you just ask ATC to ‘say again’ if you miss some of it.

8Here’s what’s going to happen…

Explain what you are doing before you do it. For example, “I’m going to push the throttle forward, the engine will get louder and we will go faster down the runway until I pull back on the control and lift the nose slightly and the aircraft will then take off. 

“We will not see much through the front windows – only the side ones. We will keep in this attitude until we reach our planned altitude and then level off – when I will reduce the throttle and the engine noise will reduce.” Often the change of engine noise is a bit of a concern for your passenger!

During the flight the most amazing part for a new passenger is the take-off – to see the ground get further away and then realise you are in the air. This is also the time that nerves may be at their worst.

I’ve had a passenger grab the controls at this point more than once! Plan what you’d do if that happens. Usually, a reminder or just moving their hands off is enough. Luckily most passengers love the experience and they will thoroughly enjoy the flight. 

Remember to keep the flight as smooth and gentle as possible. The aim is for your passenger to feel relaxed, safe and enjoy the flight.

9Be ready with the sick bag!

Around 10 to 15 minutes into the flight is the illness danger time. If they go quiet or keep swallowing, that’s a sure sign that things are not going well. If they confirm they are feeling airsick then give them a sick bag. Ideally you have opened it before handing it over. 

Open any DV window and increase ventilation. Ensure that their microphone is lifted up over their head as you don’t want the microphone messed up! Head back to your departure airfield and if necessary, let ATC or other airfield traffic know you have an unwell passenger – this should streamline your landing without delay. 

Keep talking to your passenger and let them know that you will soon be back on the ground. Often a passenger who feels unwell can make it back to the ground without actually being sick.

10Point out ground features

For most flights your passenger will be feeling fine and you can carry out your plan. Point out various ground features which will keep them involved. 

They may want to take photos which is always fine. Set up slow safe cruise configuration to allow you to fly slower safely. 

Finding their house from the air can be a real challenge; look for any prominent ground features – church, sports fields, town centre, major roads, etc and then ask them where their house is in relation to that and then try to identify their area. This is where your preparation before take off will be a bonus!

11Back in the circuit

Of course, 99% of all flights go without a problem and you and your passenger(s) have a wonderful flight. The main issue is then keeping them quiet enough for you to get airfield landing information and complete your R/T calls.

Again, don’t forget to describe what you are going to do before you do it – it is often a puzzle to a non-pilot as to why you are flying around the runway.

12After shutdown

After you have shut down then help to remove headsets and undo their harness. Assist in disembarking and beware of any trip hazards.

If you have to tie down and cover the aircraft, it is very useful to have your passenger help out. However, if they are feeling ill then just escort them back to the clubhouse / café.

13Review the flight

Once back in the clubhouse / café then it is time for a chat and a drink with your passenger to review the flight, look through photos, answer questions and of course plan the next flight. 

The next one can be longer – a landaway is always a nice flight for a passenger – especially if there is a good café / restaurant on the destination airfield. I’d recommend checking that it will be open before you set off!

Hopefully some of these thoughts will be useful next time you take a friend flying. It is very rewarding to share your love of flying with friends and can remind you of when you experienced your first flight and why you are hooked!

Remember to read the CAA’s safety sense leaflet 02 which has some very useful information, focusing on the legal side, your responsibility of taking a passenger flying and some essential advice.


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