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It is generally considered that giving a captain's briefing when flying passengers in a light aircraft for recreational purposes is a good thing to do. I'm asking about flying people who may not be used to light aircraft, such as friends and family (as opposed to other pilots, who we often fly with).

In general, I give a few pieces of information:

  • What will happen on the ground
  • When to avoid talking (i.e., when it looks like I'm listening intently and noting something down, when we're approaching to land)
  • Where we're going, what will happen during the flight
  • What to do if they feel unwell

Then there is the bit I'm going to ask about; people are used to hearing about "emergency exits", and evacuation procedures etc. when flying on an airliner, so I usually consider it prudent to supply the same sort of information about a light aircraft emergency:

  • How to open the doors if jammed by damage
  • To get out as soon as we come to stop
  • To move as far away from the aircraft as possible, even if I am unable

However, I'm starting to wonder if this sort of information would be scaring the bejesus out of my inexperienced passengers. In the next couple of years I'd like to fly my kids who are still fairly young. I definitely do not want to make it a scary experience for them when the time comes.

How do other light aircraft pilots approach this conundrum? Be safe, and supply the important information while possibly scaring passengers, or avoid the "nitty gritty" of an emergency knowing that it is a rare occurrence indeed?

It strikes me that I could provide this information if the time comes to make an emergency landing, however knowing my own limitations I know that if that time does come, I will probably be too overwhelmed with aviating to be thinking clearly enough to provide the important information.

What is the "right" amount of emergency briefing?

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    $\begingroup$ Good question! Hopefully, by the time you're flying your kids around, your wife will have enough experience in the air with you that she can by your "flight attendant" and handle the flight safety/emergency briefings, and, should the need ever arise, the in-air, "Daddy's super busy right now, Susie, so I'm going to tell you what you need to do" announcements. I would think that teen/adult passengers should be able to handle a little bit of head's up, "Just in case something should go wrong" information pre-flight. If they can't, you may not want to take them... $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Oct 3 '16 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question - I think it's all in the tone and the little details. You can convey the same information with a friendly "If we encounter any problems I'll....." vs "When we have an emergency...." etc $\endgroup$ – Dan Oct 3 '16 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ I do the same. Spot on! $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Oct 3 '16 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan its a good point, but I have zero chance of getting my wife in a light aircraft. Not her thing. I managed to once, there were 3 pilots and her in there. $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Oct 4 '16 at 7:33
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It sounds like you are covering the safety material you need to from a regulatory and good sense approach. Trying to convey an emergency exit briefing during an emergency is not going to work, you need to give it all at the beginning. If you get an engine fire on startup you need your passengers to be ready.

I find that people appreciate that you give a briefing as it shows a bit of "professionalism" that re-assures them, rather than scaring them it shows you know what you are doing. I do cover the same material, and I usually do it slightly tongue and cheek in the similar manner as a commercial airline. For example when I talk about emergency exits I point to the doors to the left and right, then say something like "if there is an exit behind you then things really have gone wrong". That's just my personal style, there's no hard fast rules on it. If people decide not to fly with you after your briefing maybe you are going about it wrong though.

The approach I take with small children is different than that which I take with adults. The first flight in a light airplane is a very novel experience for anyone, with kids I explain what the experience will be like a lot more than adults. An adult will understand what you mean by climb usually, but saying "the airplane will lean back a bit and we will go up" makes more sense to a little kid.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 People know and acknowledge that place do have incidents (and accidents), good passengers want to know what to do in case of emergency. And if not, you don't want them as passengers in a GA plane. $\endgroup$ – yo' May 29 '18 at 12:43
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If you're flying in the UK at least, then it's not only a good idea but required for legal flight. The PIC must brief the passengers on where to find, and how to use:

  • the emergency exits,
  • the safety belts or harnesses, and
  • the oxygen equipment and life jackets, if you have to carry them

The same applies under ICAO Annex 6 is your flight is international.

In particular, if your aircraft has kick-out panels, it's a good idea to emphasize those. Most passengers won't be used to them, and in the unlikely event that they're needed, you may not be able to explain at the time.

As you say, most people nowadays have some experience of flying on airliners, so they'll be ready for and expecting this. If you take your kids on commercial flights, you can (try to) draw their attention to the safety briefing there, so they'll be more ready for your briefing. That might be easier said than done, depending on their age and how nervous they are.

With kids, hopefully they'll start out excited rather than scared. (If they're more scared than excited, you might consider leaving it a bit longer before introducing them to GA flight.) In that case, I think you have to appeal to their sense of adventure. You don't have to draw attention to what you call the "nitty gritty": the most likely emergency where the passenger would need to know this information is a forced landing in a field, and even if that happens, the most likely outcome is that you all walk away safely. You can warn your kids that if something goes wrong with the aircraft, you might have to land in a field, and that would be scary, and this is what they'll need to know.

With your own kids, you've probably had similar talks with them about how to call the paramedics, what to do in a fire, how to deal with strangers, &c. You'll know by now what tone works best with them, and how to convey that what you're saying could be really important but probably won't happen at all. Make it clear that your passenger briefing is the same kind of talk, not something new and scary.

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