Even if you are a private pilot who just likes to take friends and family for flips on the weekend, it is important for their safety, and yours, that you brief them properly. However, this can be awkward, and is especially dependent on the type of person that is your passenger.
Take your Mother for example – first of all, you’ll probably be lucky to get her into the aircraft with you in the first place, and then giving HER instructions is going to feel a bit weird, because despite your age, she is probably still ‘instructing’ you in some shape or form! In front of friends, you may be concerned that telling them about safety undermines your skills as a pilot, or actually induces fear in those already teetering on the wrong side of small aircraft theory. The main point is, that giving a passenger brief is a legal requirement, not just a courtesy, and NOT giving one could hold you liable should something go wrong. I believe that keeping it light-hearted will keep the worry-warts from fearing instantaneous death, and by making your passengers feel that they are important will go a long way.
A very useful acronym (derived and adapted from the FAA), is ‘SAFETY’. Super easy to remember and it will give you a good flow of what to say. Also, remember to adapt your language to suit the least experienced passenger:
S – Start by telling your passengers how to get into their seats, adjust for legroom if possible, and make sure they are comfortable. Next up, just like the airliners do, show them how the seat belts work and adjust accordingly. Advise that passengers should remain seated for the duration of the flight with seat belts fastened. If anyone smokes, remind them that smoking is not permitted on board, especially if you are flying an older aircraft that proudly displays ash trays next to seats.
A – Location of air vents is especially important if you have sweaty or queasy passengers – demonstrate how to open these. Take your passengers on a little ‘aircraft tour’, being sure to show them the importance of not touching certain controls.
F – Fire extinguisher. This is important for you as the pilot, as having a passenger with the ability to handle the fire extinguisher in the case of an emergency, can certainly reduce the workload. However, for the fearful passenger, they may now have the vision of going down in flames! Tell them, that it is more probable that you may need it to put out someone’s bad cooking at destination, but making sure that they know the location, how to operate it, and a command ‘word’ for its use.
E – Here is the important one – emergencies. Another sensitive topic, but absolutely necessary! Show your passengers where the exits are, how to open and close doors, in the unlikely case of an emergency. Equipment is also often over-looked. Show your passengers how to adjust headsets and volume, making sure that you can hear everyone, and that they can hear you.
T – Talk – I like this one a lot. Before taking off, it is a good idea to explain to passengers (especially those flying in a light aircraft for the first time) what you will be doing, what the weather conditions are like (can you expect turbulence?), and what exciting things there are to see en-route. Conversely, you also need to encourage your passengers to talk to you – for example, if they start to feel air sick, they should let you know as soon as possible, rather than turning various shades of white and green! Having a couple of air-sick bags in the seat pockets is always a good idea. Secondly, using your passengers as extra eyes and ears can only add to safety. Encouraging your passengers to listen to the radio calls and try to understand what is being said and where the other aircraft are can provide an interesting challenge. Keep it fun, and offer a coffee at your destination, to the passenger who spots another aircraft first! Another important thing to mention to your passengers is to keep quiet when you are making a radio call, or when other calls are coming through. A good way to do this is by providing a signal that indicates that everyone should keep quiet – I find that a raised hand works well, and is visible to all. Lastly, T for toilet – make sure everyone has been to the loo, and remind them that there are no ‘facilities’ on board
Y – This is for your passengers – ‘Your questions’. Ask your passengers if there is anything that they want to know, and encourage them to enjoy every minute, after all, it beats sitting in traffic, and the views are far better at 7000ft!
So next time you take some peeps flying with you, remember your SAFETY brief J