It’s hard to piece together exactly what happened up there, but as the story was related to me years later by the passenger, a flight that started out as a pleasure ride with a pilot friend fell fearfully apart after the individual flying decided to have a little “fun” at her expense.
Her fright at the unexpected and extreme maneuvering came through vividly as she shared the experience, and it was obviously not the first time she had recounted it, leaving me to wonder how many times the story—and the impression it created about pilots—had been spread around.
Not all such stories require an intervention. It pays to listen carefully to what is being said to try to separate the reckless rides from those given by pilots who simply may have had to respond to an emerging scenario. As an example, another passenger’s story of a departure from a coastal airport that “nearly put us in the clouds” may have been perfectly legal and orderly, despite a dramatic telling. CFIs, take note that more discouraging were several stories told by past student pilots who took a lesson or two but quit after the instructor did something of the clowning-around variety that destroyed their confidence in those of us who teach. One person said he assumed all instructors do things like that. Embarrassing.
Aviation pays a price when someone in a position of trust can’t resist the urge to take gratuitous risks. If you have ever invited someone to fly with you and the individual has declined without explanation, perhaps an experience like those described underlies the refusal.
It is a joy to introduce nonpilots to aviation and give them a memory that will last a lifetime. Once you earn that privilege, don't abuse it. Word gets around.
Can pilots discourage the irresponsible few from performing scary antics with passengers? Share your thoughts at AOPAHangar.com.