Every now and again on a slow news day news outlets will carry stories about passengers scared, fearful, terrified because their flight did a ‘go-around.’ It sounds dramatic when a TV or radio newscaster explains that hundreds of passengers found themselves suddenly rocketing upwards as they expected to land … but go-around are a common every day occurrence for a variety of reasons.
The other day while in the car with my kids, flipping through the radio station at a red light, I stopped on a news story about passengers being terrified when their flight encountered a “rejected landing” at a height of 300 feet above the runway due to weather and atmospheric conditions. The newscaster never explained what the weather or atmospheric conditions were, but it sure sounded dramatic … but what struck me was the use of the term ‘rejected landing,’ evoking images of passengers in danger and that the occurrence happened at an altitude of 300 feet.
First off, the term ‘rejected landing‘ is not an official or definable term. A rejected landing is merely the point at which a pilot decides to avoid continuing a landing that they deem to be unsafe, or an air traffic controller advises the pilot on final approach to go around. Generally the term ‘rejected landing’ is reserved for an aircraft putting its wheels on the ground, then needing to suddenly and rapidly climb at full power.
At an altitude of 300 feet above ground level the commercial flight in this news story would have been approximately 3/4 of a mile from touch down, with plenty of time for the pilots or air traffic control to determine the aircraft needed to loop around and try again … but than again with the news story not providing any details, including leaving out what flight it was … we may never know what happened.
So what is it passengers find scary about a their flight going around for another approach? Frequent traveler Matt Soleyn believes “Passengers don’t like the descent suddenly being interrupted by the pilot pulling up with maximum throttle. ” I can see where this could be disconcerting, however passengers should consider the alternatives to this …the alternative is that the aircraft may encounter less than safe conditions.
Passengers need not be afraid when their aircraft goes around. A pilot climbing and increasing power to the engines, at any altitude during the final approach, means that the aircraft is still flying and the pilot has control of the aircraft. These should be calming signs to passengers, rather than scary signs.
What can cause a go around? Weather, wind, visibility, wake turbulence from another aircraft, a foreign object on the runway, another aircraft not clearing the runway,pregnant turtles on the runway (seriously, this happened at New York’s JFK), a rouge Jeep Grand Cherokee on the way (seriously, this happened in Philadelphia), a plane coming in to high, a plane coming in to low … and many other factors that the pilots and air traffic control use to determine if a flight needs to go around and try the approach again.
Yes, aircraft needing to go around makes a nice catchy sound bite filling a thirty second to a minute news slot, but for passengers, there is nothing to worry about. If the flight you are on is flying, especially upwards, sit back, relax and watch the scenery outside the windows.