Are “go-around’s” in an airliner dangerous?

Nothing surprises a passenger more than when the pilots of an airliner elect to perform a “go-around” maneuver. Landings are already one of the most unsettling parts of a flight for a majority of flyers (even those who do not have a fear of flying). And anyone who has had the displeasure of being on a plane that aborted a landing and executed a “go-around,” can surely attest to the procedure’s startling and disruptive characteristics.

Why would anyone enjoy being caught off-guard by this event? Just moments earlier, everything seemed totally normal. The airplane had slowed down, the landing gear was extended, and a few seconds later everyone aboard was supposed to feel the plane settle down onto the ground. At least this would be the expectation… Then, all of a sudden, the engines roar back to life and are throttled up close to full power. The plane shakes and you are pressed back into your seat as the airplane’s nose quickly pitches upward. And for no apparent reason, the plane abruptly climbs back up into the sky, possibly even banking steeply in either direction, turning away from the runway. This seems all-the-more scary as a passenger when you aren’t able to see directly in front of the plane. Eventually, you can feel the plane level off and the engines throttles are reduced back to normal. If you notice at this point that your finger nails are dug into the armrests and you are sweating and tense, then you are definitely not alone. This is completely normal reaction even for frequent fliers and certainly the first-time or occasional flier. So, what happened? And why would anyone have you believe that the rollercoaster ride you just endured was a good thing?

In actuality, a properly executed “go-around” is a safe and common procedure. While it may startle you because it is unexpected, you should think of it as a good thing. The “go-around,” does not mean that something is wrong. On the contrary, it means that the pilots did something right: they kept you and the airplane away from what could have been a potentially unsafe environment.

Eventually, when they have a moment and are not busy flying the plane and complying with required procedures, the pilots will make an announcement over the P.A. system to explain the reasoning for why they performed the “go-around.” It is important to remember, that with a busy workload, the pilots may try to keep the explanation brief and without any technical jargon. This sometimes results in an overly-simplified, but misleading statement. Saying that, “we were a little too close to the plane ahead,” does not mean that you almost collided with another plane. Most of the time, go-arounds are initiated because of very minor spacing issues with other aircraft landing or taking off. If the plane you are flying on does not have the required minimum distance between it and the plane in front of it, then a go-around is required. It’s extremely important to recognize that the minimum required separation for planes on approach to landing is at least 3 miles! Likewise, a “go-around” may be required if there is still another plane on the runway. In either situation, it should be noted that the distance between your plane and the one ahead of you is still several miles. As such, the “go-around” is not because of an imminent collision. In actuality, there was never any real serious danger at all. The pilots are just being overly cautious and ensuring that there is zero potential for the situation to become un-safe.  Thanks to their training and procedures, you are never in any danger.

(For More Information, Check Out Part II)

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