It sometimes surprises other passengers when I deadhead in the back of an airplane in my uniform. "Isn't it weird being back here instead of up front?" they ask. Well, no. Between the normal schedule and equipment substitutions, we deadhead quite alot. I don't particularly care whether I fly or deadhead; we're paid the same. I've had situations where I was scheduled to deadhead but was able to get a FO off their trip early by flying the leg, and I was happy to help them out. I've also sat in back when I was scheduled to fly.
Sitting in back does afford some good opportunities for people-watching. It's interesting to watch different persons' reactions to various maneuvers and sounds. One thing becomes apparent: there are still a lot of nervous flyers out there, and more than a few that are outright fearful. You see white knuckles clenching armrests on takeoff, the worried crane of the neck on every change of engine speed, the snap to attention on gear extention. Add a little turbulence to the mix and the mask of serenity slips from a few more passengers.
Seeing all this is a bit of a revelation. Flying is so utterly commonplace to me that I make little distinction between being in the air or on the ground - either way, I'm simply at work. It is easy to forget that for many of my passengers, flying is not at all commonplace but is an utterly unnatural act that goes against all other human experience. People can be conditioned until almost anything can seem normal - but where flying is concerned, many remain decidedly unconditioned.
Seeing these fearful flyers react to utterly normal flying made me reexamine my own techniques. I tend to be obsessed with efficiency to the point of being somewhat aggressive on the controls. As an example: if I'm taking off to the east on a Boise-Seattle flight, I will climb quite steeply until I get the westbound turn from Air Traffic Control. When they give me the turn, I roll directly to 25-30 degrees of bank and hold it. As soon I'm within 30 degrees of rollout heading, I'll pitch down to accelerate to cruise climb airspeed.
Now there's nothing wrong with this technique; it does save time and fuel. Efficiency, however, is but one consideration when it comes to airline flying. The peace of mind of my passengers must be another. If climbing at a less steep pitch or using a shallower bank angle makes a difference for a fearful passenger, that's well worth the extra few seconds and drops of fuel expended.
My cousin Amanda and her friend Eli are staying at my house right now; I have the entire week off work. Tomorrow I'm taking them flying in a C-172 if the weather is decent. Amanda hasn't been flying in a light aircraft in a long time; hopefully there won't be much turbulence for our Mt Hood tour. I haven't told her how badly flying the MegaWhacker screws up your ability to land Cessnas - but the landing comes last, so it's OK if I scare her then!
One interesting last note. Before taking Amanda and Eli up, I'll be flying with an instructor for single-engine landing currency. When I called him tonight to set it up, he found out I was a MegaWhacker FO and asked if I was the guy with the FL250 blog. That was a surprise! Thanks for the nice comments, Kurt, and I apologize in advance for my first few landings tomorrow...