Handling Passengers Part 4: Sickness

Many people are susceptible to air sickness. In fact, it is a common fear that people have about flying.

The reality is that air sickness can affect anyone. As a student pilot you may have felt naseaus or dizzy practicing ground reference maneuvers or steep turns.

As you gain more experience flying you tend to get used to it and naseau becomes more rare.

However, your passengers have not become used to it and could become sick even on the calmest of days. Here are some tips to handle this situation.

Preventing Sickness

One of the best ways to keep your passengers from getting sick is by not mentioning it to them. Air sickness is often mental and it can be triggered by thinking about it.

However, you can look for subtle clues that someone is on their way to feeling bad.

  • Are they talking less?
  • How about their body language? Do they look frozen like they are trying to keep it together?
  • Ask, “how are you doing?”, or “So what do you think of this whole flying thing?” to try to get an idea of their sickness without triggering it.
  • Taking pictures through a camera can often cause symptoms to be especially vigilant if you passengers are doing this.

Handling Sickness

If a passenger reports that they are sick

  • Give them a bag, just in case. You should always have a bag, but if you don’t then offer them the window.
  • Tell them to look at the distant horizon. This can quickly clear up motion sickness and help your passenger to feel calmer.
  • Get some air flowing. Open windows or vents and give them some fresh air.
  • Fly gently. This is obvious but deliberately fly gently. If the air is bumpy use your turbulent air penetration procedure for best results.
  • Land the plane. Get back to firm ground so they can get out and feel better….this flight is over.

I have been extremely fortunate in all of my time flying to never have someone throw up in the plane. I have flown with people who began feeling sick and the steps above always made my passengers feel better. However, if your passengers are suddenly feeling ok again, I do not recommend continuing the flight. It won’t take much for their symptoms to kick back in.

Runway Width Illusion

There is a fairly common illusion that can make landing more difficult at unfamiliar airports, especially at night. The illusion occurs because we tend to get used to a certain runway width.

When approaching a runway that is narrower than you are used to, you may feel like you are higher than you really are.

This happens as a simple matter of perspective. Your brain uses the size of common objects to interpret your distance to them. However, runways are not common because every is a little bit different. Your brain sees the narrow runway and thinks it is a runway of normal width, only farther away.

Of course, this can be very dangerous as you may contact the runway unexpectedly while you believe you still have some distance to descend. You may land in a flat or even nose down attitude. I have seen students suffer from this illusion many times. Typically, they realize it about one second before touchdown, when I grab the yoke and pull until the plane is in the correct landing attitude.

The illusion also works the other way too. If you are approaching a wider than usual runway it will appear to be closer than it really is. This is not as dangerous as a narrow runway, but still worth avoiding.

As I said above this illusion is far more common at night when it is difficult to see and the runway lights provide most of the information about your height.

How to avoid this illusion

There are several parts to avoiding this illusion.

  1. Briefing. When flying to any airport you have a duty to become familiar with all information relevant to the flight. This includes the width of the runways you expect to land on. Don’t just ignore this detail.
  2. Know the illusions. This illusion is very common at night. It is something you should be prepared for and looking for as you approach any runway at night, especially a narrow one.
  3. Correct immediately. If you believe that you may be experiencing this illusion during landing, correct immediately! Don’t wait to be sure. Just pull back on the yoke to landing attitude and either go around or touch down. If you were wrong, and you really are high above the runway it is often better to go around.

Memory Aid for Nav Lights

Airplane navigation lights are set up to help other aircraft identify your relative direction. A set of nav lights includes:

  • A red light on the left wing
  • A green light on the right wing
  • A white light on the tail

Here is the only memory aid I know for remembering which color is on which side:

“The green light on a traffic light means go which is the right thing to do”

It is kind of muddled up and doesn’t really make sense but I find it to be adequate for remembering that green is on the right.

Do you know a better memory aid for this? Please email me: jeff@schaeferflight.com and I will share your ideas for this one.

Handling Passengers Part 3: Loud Passengers

Every year my home airport hosts a Fall Flying Festival and I always volunteer to fly passenger rides. These rides are given at a steep discount and they are always very popular.

To handle the demand the pilots shut down at a predetermined spot on the ramp and stay in the seat while loaders get the passengers switched out.

One year I reached the last flight of the day and two young children, probably around 8 years old, were placed into the back seat of the 172 I was flying. Takeoff went smoothly and I could hear them talking amongst themselves over the intercom. Soon they discovered that they could make loud noises into the microphone and startle each other. Continue reading “Handling Passengers Part 3: Loud Passengers”

The Landing Gear can’t be Retracted on the Ground


The landing gear is an amazing system built to take the stress of landing and handle side loads while turning.  A retractable landing gear is even more amazing because it also has the ability to fold up into the plane and reduce drag.

The landing gear is controlled with a simple up and down handle. But what happens if you put the handle in the up position while parked on the ground? Continue reading “The Landing Gear can’t be Retracted on the Ground”