Unlike in the airline world, where the cockpit door is closed to a cabin full of strangers, business aviation fosters an intimate relationship between passengers and pilots. And if the pilots execute a bumpy landing, they will see their passengers, again and again. They can’t just leave the cockpit door closed at the end of the trip.

This intimacy may prevent your pilots from telling you all they wish they could say. But they don’t want to break the code of cockpit confidence, which ironically, could jeopardize your safety. What are the six most common errors passengers – and pilots – commit?

1Pushing: When the CEO comes onboard and announces, “we absolutely have to be at our destination by a certain time,” absolution must be granted to your pilots who arrive late due to weather, mechanical issues, Air Traffic Control (ATC), air space congestion, or other factors outside of their control. Although pilots spend our lives learning the intricacies of aviation, a significant portion of each journey is in the hands of outside forces. Pilots’ primary duty is to provide a safe flight, and we can’t do that by cutting corners on safety.

2“Cinching”: Flying looks so easy and wow, look at that view! Yes, we pilots have the best office in the world, but we’ve worked long hours for many years, often sacrificing personal and family time to obtain the experience, training, and ratings we need to earn your confidence. If it looks like a cinch, it’s because of all the effort and time we’ve put in to achieve proficiency.

3 Hovering: Pilots love to talk about flying. We enjoy showing passengers what we know, but when the CEO or other passenger parks in between the cockpit seats and spends significant time talking to the pilots, it is diverting their attention away from the tasks at hand. And since many pilots are introverts, it can be tiring to entertain passengers.

4“Greasing”: While en route, pilots are quietly dealing with mechanical issues, communication with ATC, navigation technology, and weather, but our entire worth often is judged on the landing. Crosswinds, gusty winds, short runways or runways contaminated with ice, snow, or rain all require “firm” authoritative landings. The number one BizAv accident is a runway excursion, in which the aircraft goes off the runway unintentionally. That’s often because pilots feel pressured to try to “grease” – that is, to make smooth – the landing for our passengers. The smoothest landing is not always the safest course of action.

5 Craving: Bagels and lox sounds like a simple request. But if you’re the pilot on a layover in a small airport in Mississippi, and your passengers call and insist on gluten-free bagels with all the timmings an hour before departure, that pilot may quickly discover that it’s not so easy to find. Precious preflight time will be spent explaining to too many local people what lox is. Yes, your pilots want to please you, but please be reasonable with requests, especially when you’re away from home base.

6 Magical thinking: There are certain times of the year when the jet stream is howling, and not in the direction you need to go. Even when passengers inform the pilots they don’t have time to stop for fuel, pilots are not able to upload magic fuel inflight for that day.

It’s tough for a pilot say “no” to the person who signs his or her paycheck. Over time, and under trying circumstances, egos – both pilots’ and passengers’ – sometimes can impair safety. Remember that you hired your pilots not only for their logbook hours, but for their judgement, and because you can trust them with your secrets.

Always allow your pilots do their job, so you can continue to do yours. BAA

From the front desk of an FBO to the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner, Erika Armstrong, author of A Chick in the Cockpit, has experienced everything aviation has to offer. She is the owner of Colorado-based Leading Edge Aviation Consulting.


  1. Great article. All that should be common sense – a shame someone has to tell people to be decent and understanding. But I’m glad you did! Also, just snagged a copy of your book off Kobo.com. Looking forward to it 🙂

  2. Jim Buchanan, CAM, 25-year business aviation professional and NBAA Certified Aviation Manager Governing Board member

    Erika: I just read your article “Cockpit Confessional” in the November/December 2018 Business Aviation Advisor magazine. Your six points were spot-on for the intended audience of the magazine. As the audience incorporates more members of the “Access Economy” your message bears repeating so they become informed consumers of business aviation.

  3. Hey Erica,
    Great insight and guidance with your commentary.
    We always aim to please out customers, Exec’s, but are we doing them any favors by bending over backwards to please them, certainly not. Safety first and sound judgement is and always has been the theme we all need you remember.
    Well done!


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