It all started with a simple comment I made about how great boring holes was on a Saturday afternoon. My wife’s retort was, “EXACTLY!”

Had she come around? Did she just want to go flying, without the need to have family waiting at our destination? Was this really my wife, or had some alien taken over her body during the night? It didn’t matter. Truly, this was a magical day. And then it hit me. She thought the word BORING was an adjective, while I used it as a verb.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing my kids in an hour, rather than the four hour drive it normally takes. Having a purpose to the trip also makes me feel better about spending whatever it costs me (I never add it up, for fear I will be overcome with guilt). But regardless of the destination, the emotion I feel when flying, is the same every time. Bad days become great days. Good days become great days. Great days, by definition, are the days I fly.

At least for me. But not for “her”. A previous article I authored, speaks to my revelation that there are “plane” people and “non-plane” people. And not unlike the famous Seinfeld episode, you just can’t get people to change “teams” (sorry if I lost half the readership with that reference). Undaunted, I committed to finding out why.

Not sure why it took me all these years (more than 30) to ask her why she didn’t like to fly, but today was the day. Her one word answer to my question…FEAR. She doesn’t feel the fear when on “big planes” (evidently size does matter), except when encountering the big equalizer….turbulence. She confessed to feeling like the wing may fall off when we hit the bumpy air. In her mind, it’s a small plane and therefore not as strong. When I reminded her our Cirrus has a built in parachute, she admited to reading an article about why the parachute may not save your life. I’m pleased she read an article, but the author did me no favors.

The other thing she preferred about big planes is that she can’t see forward. She figures a bunch of people are looking out the front to keep her safe, so she can just look out the side. Ignorance is bliss. In our plane, it’s just her and me and everything coming at us at 180 knots. I’m still trying to figure out why she looks in her lap when we go into a butt. We can’t see anything anyway. But I guess nothing can go wrong if someone else is looking forward.

She gets more than just a little nervous when ATC informs us of traffic, or worse, when the plane yells at us “TRAFFIC…TRAFFIC”. One of the reasons she prefers to fly at night is not because it’s beautiful (although she says it is), but because it is easier to see other planes.

Lastly, I asked why she always looked down when we are about to land. She said she gets scared when the wind pushes our wing down. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Revelation #2; when the plane is established for a cross wind landing (wing lowered into the wind), she thinks we have lost control of the airplane and are at the mercy of Mother Nature. I’m not so sure she believed me when I told her it was her skillful husband applying proper cross wind technique to keep her safe. She still is worried about an inverted landing, but does feel better knowing that pilots do have some say in the landing.

So what conclusion did I derive from our little dialog? Pilots are indeed from Mars and non-pilots from Venus. As a community of pilots we need to show more empathy for the uninformed passenger. My briefings are now longer than the required topics. Before getting in the plane, I talk about how I checked the weather, the plane AND THE PILOT. In the plane, I explain what they will see, feel and hear (TRAFFIC, Autopilot Disconnect, engine sounds). Before the landing I brief what will happen and again, what they will see and hear. I do not overwhelm them with information; I alleviate fears by managing expectations.

For example, prior to landing:

“We are now going to land; a very cool phase of flight. You will hear the engine change sound as I reduce power to start a slow descent. I will make a couple turns to line up with our runway, and at some point you will hear a voice call out when I am 500 feet above the ground. We also may hear the words TRAFFIC TRAFFIC as our plane sees other planes on the ground. And oh yes, as we get close to the runway, it is not unusual for me to dip one wing slightly to ensure a safe and smooth landing. This is also a time when we should keep conversation to a minimum. Any questions?”

If you don’t set their expectations, they will set their own. Who knows what they are thinking – or worrying about? One thing for sure; their uninitiated imagination and your solid foundation in reality are probably 180 degrees from each other. We are Pilot-In-Command (PIC), and as such, are responsible for the safe execution of the flight and the comfort of our passengers. Assume they are nervous, and do not want any surprises. One more thing… make sure you know the difference between a verb and an adjective.




Marc Epner is an instrument rated private pilot who earned his rating in 1976. After a 25-year hiatus, Marc rekindled his love of aviation in 2004 and has become a part owner of a SR-22. Marc looks for opportunities to be an advocate for general aviation through presentations, writing and flying.