Perceptions

It’s pretty common for the family and close friends of a pilot to consider that pilot “the only one I’d feel comfortable flying with.” It’s no different with my family and non-flying friends. (Those friends of mine who do fly know better!)

My wife is my No. 1 flying groupie. We’ve been flying together for 16 years and she knows she can express any concerns she has.

Rarely do I get a negative comment, but one day she said something she’d never said before: “You didn’t seem as comfortable or as sure of yourself as you usually are. Was something wrong?” Wow! That was a 2-by-4 experience. You know what I mean: as if you were hit in the head with a 2-by-4.

What led up to her comment? Recently, I had checked out in a Robinson R22 helicopter at Southeastern Flight Services in Louisburg, N.C., so I could rent it from time to time. Immediately after that I went to the Robinson factory to attend a pilot safety course. When I returned, I was anxious to fly the R22.

My original plan was to make a solo flight during the week, before a weekend jaunt with my wife to enjoy the fall color changes. However, the weather was IMC all week and cleared only in time for the weekend. I like to go slowly on a first flight to get a routine down and a checklist that works for me developed (I always make my own checklists).

When my wife and I get into our airplane, my flow is established. I get through the pre-takeoff routine pretty quickly, following up with a checklist review to be sure I didn’t miss anything.

The difference in the R22 flight was that I progressed more slowly through the checks, while developing flow triggers and patterns that worked for me. I wasn’t uncomfortable or nervous, but I was cautious and systematic, working out a routine I could count on. The fact that it took us longer to get started and flying got her attention.

Once I explained the reason for the extended ground time, she understood and we were off again for more fun.

This reminded me of an important aspect of flying. Perceptions are everything in passenger comfort. I do not believe that a passenger should be deceived if something is amiss, nor should we hurry through a process for the sake of “looking good” to our passengers. But I do believe in open communication and reassurance when necessary.

People who know us well can read us well — and they are probably watching us closer than we think. Because my wife and I have been flying together for so many years, I never thought of giving her a heads-up that the start and pre-takeoff checks for this flight would be slower than she’s accustomed to with me. That’s all it would have taken.

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