Plane Answers: How common are go-arounds and how can I sit in the jumpseat?

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Jason asks:

Hi Kent,

I enjoy your articles, keep up the good work.

I travel frequently for business and also drive past a major international airport every day on my way to and from work.

The other day while passing the airport I saw a plane abort the landing, pull up the gear and go around. It reminded me of a similar experience I had flying a few years ago, as well as several aborted take-offs I have had!

So I was wondering, how common an event are they? And what is the most common cause for an aborted landing?

Thanks Jason.

Aborted landings, or ‘missed-approaches’ as we call them in the states, are somewhat common. When I flew the 737-800, I was amused by the number of missed approaches we had to fly. Since the airplane was rather fast on final approach, controllers who sequenced us in behind slower airplanes with less than three miles were often surprised to see how much faster the airplane was than the older 737s. If we came within 2 1/2 miles on final, a go-around would often be called for by ATC. This happened five times in the three years I flew the 737.

This hasn’t been an issue at all in the 757 I’m currently flying.

We occasionally have to go-around when an airplane hasn’t cleared the runway, or hasn’t taken off yet as we’re descending through a few hundred feet.

Also, if we don’t see the runway on an instrument approach that’s not being flown as a Category III autoland approach, we’ll have to go around and try it again or fly to our alternate airport.

Finally, if we just happen to be too fast or too high or both, a missed approach is called for. The FAA has been very concerned with unstabilized approaches, and now that we have a reporting system that records and sends all the parameters associated with the black box aboard the airplane to the company, pilots are encouraged to go-around if the airplane isn’t on speed and on the glide path with the final flaps selected by 1000 feet above the ground.

At our company, we have a ‘no-fault’ go-around policy. If it doesn’t look right, it’s much smarter to come back and give it another try. No one at the company will question the decision to go-around in that case.

Aborted takeoffs are much more rare. I’ve yet to experience one in the past 19 years of commercial flying, other than in the simulator during recurrent training.

Dwight asks:

Hi I’m not a pilot yet but I’m going to be attending the Delta Connection Academy this July. I was wondering what do you have to do to get the “Jumpseat” and can regular people request the jumpseat.

And a second question: After the pilots arrive at the gate and shut down the plane what does he/she do after leaving the plane? Do they go to another flight if he/se has one or do they usually just go home?

There are two types of jumpseats on an airplane. The flight attendant jumpseats, which are reserved for flight attendants generally, or the cockpit jumpseat. Neither jumpseat is available to the public, though.

Other pilots are afforded the opportunity to ride in the cockpit jumpseat for free when trying to get to or from work or when traveling somewhere for pleasure. There are a number of layers of security, especially after 9/11, which verify that the pilot really is employed by the company they say they are. The jumpseat is also available to FAA inspectors who regularly ride in the cockpit to check up on an airlines compliance with procedures.

After you finish your Delta Connection training and you’re on the line, you’ll find yourself in plenty of jumpseats, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to share the view from the pointy end on Cockpit Chronicles and through the photos and video on my site.

At the end of a flight, a pilot will either race off to catch another flight departing at a different gate, or they’ll go to the hotel before continuing their trip the next morning or, if it happens to be the end of their trip, they’ll go home.

Often times, home isn’t at the city where they’re based, and the pilot will have to ride on a jumpseat or in the cabin home to the city where they live. A good percentage of pilots commute to all parts of the country. I have friends who have commuted from Anchorage to Chicago, New York or Miami, in fact.

Personally, I prefer to live within an hour driving distance from my home base of Boston.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.