Let me just put it out there that I am a horrible backseat flyer. I have always been one and will always be one. I accept this fact. From my earliest memories of flying I can remember checking out everything from following the preflight routine with the pilot by looking from the terminal window and making sure that everyone performs their duties to the fullest - well to the extent that my nine year old self could comprehend. Once boarded I would look over the cabin to see if everyone was seated after acknowledging the Captain and First Officer, announcing my presence to them and following up with watching them complete their re-flight duties.
Once seated I would take advantage of my row seat (I always bugged my Mom to get a row seat) to ensure that everything “looked good” in the cabin. Lastly, on some flights we could even listed in to ATC/Tower/pilot communications. Apparently, the arm rest FM radio offered passengers the opportunity to listen in on radio traffic - ah, the good ol’ days. I was mesmerized and enamoured by how quickly everyone spoke and how coordinated it was.
Fast forward to my 36 year old self. Now as a pilot myself and seasoned passenger.
I still catch myself performing the same duties with the addition of being able to track and monitor our progress through applications like ForeFlight and FlightAware. We have lost the ability to have a hardline to listen in to ATC, however, websites like ATCLive continue the fun.
On the surface being a backseat pilot might seem like a negative, someone constantly looking over the flight’s operations, but when you approach it from the perspective of continuous learning it becomes apparent that performing these actions carries some benefit. Following through these steps to a walk around of an aircraft proves beneficial because it keeps your head in the safety game even when you are not PIC. It allows you to see a seasoned pilot as they make their way around the aircraft. For me, I think of my own plane and how I perform my own checks and do a little comparison as I follow them visually from the terminal.
In the cabin I am relating everything back to the checks and procedures I take on my own aircraft. When carrying passengers I always ensure that they are secure, feeling well for the flight, and ensure that they are aware of the exits. Looking in the cabin I am reminded that no matter what certificate you hold, being mindful to take your time and to perform all needed routines is important to complete while stationary.
Lastly, listening to the radio via WiFi keeps your mind fresh when you enter and exit through airspace. Listening how calls are handled is important and remembering not to be lazy provides a safety layer for all of those who ride the sky.
Being a backseat flyer is not a bad thing when you put it all in perspective. We are constantly learning and we utilize each other to help do so. Being mindful not to be in the way, but merely watching and mentially applying what you see to apply it to your own mission is a great way to stay safe and potentially pick up some new knowledge. So, on your next flight don’t hesitate to be a backseat flyer. Whip out your tablet and smartphone and track your flight path, listen, observe and learn. Till next time, stay safe, stay thrifty.