Air-tiquette for guests aboard a private flight in a small plane
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Diary of an aircraft owner
By Paul Jansen
Ownership has its privileges: One nice thing about owning a plane is you can invite friends and family to join you whenever you feel like it. You do not have to worry about their acceptability to members of your club, whether the club insurance covers them, or whether there is someone else waiting for you to return the plane thus preventing you from extending your stay on the spur of the moment.
My first guest on my Piper Warrior II was, of course, Marjorie, my wife. In quick succession, I brought up my brother, Peter, and special friends and business partners, Sally Loh and Shirley Tan.
9M-PRJ was also a chariot for charity. I volunteered it twice for joyrides for disadvantaged children in the Johor region in Malaysia. The sheer joy on their faces as I took them up for the first time in their lives was infectious and stayed with me for days after.
This opportunity to give others a novel experience continues to drive me to throw out invitations at the drop of a hat, ever since I bought the PA28-161 on April 23, 2011. And almost every club member has been aboard my plane on short rides in Singapore and Malaysia and long-distance flights to Thailand and Indonesia.
After three years of this, I have found that the responses to the flights on 9M-PRJ are as varied as the personalities who accepted my invitations. In one memorable case, a business acquaintance, Paul Leow, boarded with trepidation because of a history of airsickness. He practically threw up on our short sortie from Senai to Malacca airport because of turbulent bad weather. But, with encouragement from me, went on to overcome his motion sickness and get his Private Pilot’s Licence, fulfilling a lifelong dream which he had been previously convinced would remain a fantasy.
I have been tickled, excited, annoyed, and even angered, on my flights with guests and realise that what would help make the flight enjoyable for both Captain and Guest is probably an understanding of what is ideal behaviour for a passenger.
Owners of cars face similar situations. I have offered lifts to people with their own cars who have readily accepted my invitations but would not reciprocate. Worse, they would keep quiet during the ride or play with their phone, making no attempt to engage me in conversation.
But a guest’s behaviour in a plane can affect the ride in more significant ways than just annoying the owner. So I thought I would make a stab at an etiquette list for people who get invited on a private flight. Call it Air-tiquette.
“Paul’s Pax Protocol”
1. You are a Guest. Your Pilot/Owner is doing you a favour, not the other way around. Say “Thanks” at the beginning of the flight. That is not a bad exchange: one word from you for the hundreds of dollars it is costing him to take you up.
2. Be punctual. Your Pilot/Owner has taken into account weather, traffic schedules and route lengths when picking a departure time. Your tardiness may result in a long delay for take-off or even cancellation, which affects not just you, but everyone else along for that trip.
3. Be courteous. If you are one of several Guests, do not jump into any seat you like. Let the Pilot/Owner decide who goes where. The place of honour is usually the Right Seat, up front which the Co-Pilot occupies. It has the best outside view. But it also allows you a closer look at how the Pilot/Owner controls the plane, which is why he may offer it to someone else who has expressed a desire to learn to fly, even though you are his bosom buddy.
Courtesy extends to watching your weight too. The typical General Aviation four-seat plane can usually carry about 200 lbs of luggage if the passengers are of average girth. Before you pack your complete Louis Vuitton set or buy a tonne of souvenirs on the way back, check with your Pilot/Owner what you can bring. In any case, less for you is more for him.
4. Cleanliness is Godliness. When you whip out a chocolate bar mid-flight, expect bits to fall on the leather seats and floor, attracting a very different (uninvited) type of guest. Beyond hygiene, a carelessly thrown wrapper or packaging could be moved in turbulence. It could then get snagged somewhere unexpected like the rudder pedal and pose a threat to lives. Ask for permission if you want to snack and bag and trash your left-overs.
5. Participate in the flight. The Captain is undoubtedly in charge. Physically and legally. But he will appreciate any help you can give. For instance, inform him if you see another plane or bird nearby or heading in your direction (yes, there are blind spots from the pilot’s seat), or if something lights up on the instrument panel which he may not have noticed.
On one flight, just as we were about to taxi to the runway, rear passenger Kevin Shanmugam gently asked: “What’s that smoke?” That is when I noticed the grey wisps coming from the multi-socket charger beside my leg. The fix was a simple matter of unplugging the device because Kevin alerted me in time. I want my guests to have warm memories of their flight, but not that warm.
6. Share the joy. Do not expect your Pilot/Owner to provide in-flight entertainment. Let him know if you see something that is interesting to you, so that he knows that you are enjoying the experience (and he may even do a diversion for you). Sitting woodenly and staring out the window may be something you do at home, or to impress your friends with the depth of your meditations, but it will spoil the mood for your friendly plane owner.
7. Watch your health. You will be in close quarters with the Owner and the other guests. If you are not well, get a rain check. If you are well but suffer from a fear of heights or motion sickness, highlight this before accepting the invitation or boarding the plane. I carry a good stock of sick bags but need to put them within easy reach of the person likely to need it most. Drinking and diving do not sit easy with flying too. So if you have been bingeing or have just come from a deep sea excursion, let your Pilot/Owner know.
Also, a small plane can be a greenhouse in our tropical weather. That and the small cabin means you may be closer to your pilot friend that you have ever been in your life. If you sweat a lot, there is no harm in using a deodorant stick. It will save your friendship.
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