In the past few days, some bloggers posted about an easyJet flight where the pilot didn’t show up, so a passenger volunteered and was allowed to fly the plane instead. Here are the different reports about the incident:
The punch line was that the passenger was actually an easyJet pilot who happened to be on vacation (well, easyJet is based out of the U.K., so “holiday”). So, of course, he was able to fly the plane.
But it got me to thinking – COULD a passenger – one who isn’t a pilot, and had no flying experience – actually fly a commercial plane?
In searching around the internet, I found a few posts with discussions about whether or not an inexperienced passenger could fly a plane, usually in the form of “Could a passenger successfully land a commercial plane in the event of an emergency?” A few people thought that with a lot of hand-holding from Air Traffic Control, if they had someone who was familiar enough with the layout of the control panel of that particular plane to talk them through, it could be done. Others said the chances of it being successful would vary on where you were (i.e. over the ocean or not, weather, etc.) But the general consensus from people who knew how to fly the bigger birds was that it couldn’t; it’s just too much to have to know or understand, especially when you get to the landing. Some people also suggested that the chances of both pilot and co-pilot being out of commission would be highly unusual, but even if it did happen, before an ordinary passenger was allowed to fly the plane, a flight attendant would step into the role.
Not surprisingly, Mythbusters did a couple of segments on whether or not ordinary people could land a plane. Here’s the one where Adam tried a few times. Unsuccessfully, I might add.
This is from the “new” Mythbusters, where they tried to land a Cessna. Granted, it’s not a commercial plane, but still…
Finally, this video shows someone with no flying experience trying to land a commercial plane on a flight simulator. However, she had a pilot directly behind her and (spoilers!) this video was her 3rd attempt – she was unsuccessful the previous two times.
However it’s not impossible – this article from 1981 is about a woman who was able to successfully land their family’s (granted, small) plane after her husband died of a heart attack in mid-flight.
So I guess it’s possible, but not super likely that (A) it would happen and (B) it would be successful.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary