Fear of Flying: What is a ‘Go-Around’?

Inside the São Paulo/Guarulhos International A...

You may have experienced this in the past, or possibly will do in the future. You are on the final approach to your destination, the landing gear is down, and you are looking forward to getting some fresh air. Suddenly, the landing gear is retracted, and you shoot back up into the sky.

A flight attendant will say something along the lines of the following over the PA system;

Ladies & gentlemen, for operational reasons the captain has decided to climb back up rather than continue with the landing. This is a completely normal procedure, and the pilots will give you more information shortly. Please stay in your seats with your seatbelts fastened.

This is what’s called a go-around – and it can be quite scary if you do not know what is happening. Never fear, I will now explain it. If it happens on a future flight you can impress your friends, family, or fellow passengers with your explanation!

As the flight attendant has told you – it IS completely normal procedure. It really is not a lie when we say that. We are not keeping information back from you!

There are various events that could lead to a go-around, including;

  • Landing checks not completed in time
  • The flight attendants have not secured the cabin in time
  • There is an obstruction on the runway
  • Air Traffic Control give priority to an aircraft behind (for example, there may be a medical emergency on-board which requires immediate treatment – therefore all other aircraft will clear out of the way)
  • Weather worsens (wind may get stronger etc)
  • A missed approach – the captain may initiate the go-around if at any time he feels the approach is not perfect or unsafe in any way.

Firstly, it’s important that I share with you why the initial public address announcement comes from the flight attendants and not the captain. It’s always nice to hear the captain’s calm voice in this situation, but he is far too busy to speak.

A go-around involves talking to ATC with regards to the direction they are going to fly. The sky above airports are always going to be busy – and this quick decision to go-around requires quick action to keep us a safe distance from other aircraft. I’m sure you’ll forgive the captain for concentrating on keeping us safe rather than talking to us.

As soon as we are safe, you will hear from the cockpit – and you will be given the reason for the go-around.

NOTE: In exceptional circumstances, you may not hear from the pilots until we have landed depending on workload. Be rest assured though, that they will ALWAYS talk to you if they have time. If you do not hear anything IT DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING IS WRONG.

So, what will you hear and feel during a go-around?

Firstly you will hear the landing gear retract, and then the engines will become louder as they are set to full power to provide the thrust needed to climb.

Following this, the aircraft will suddenly start to climb. Be aware that the force felt will probably be more than a standard take-off due to the sudden change of direction.

It’s likely you will be pushed back into your seat. Do not fear though – it really is completely normal. Please do stay in your seats at this time. We will be landing soon enough.

I hope that helps. Go-arounds are relatively rare – but completely normal. Personally, I have experienced just 3 in approx 3,000 flights.

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2 responses to “Fear of Flying: What is a ‘Go-Around’?”

  1. I’m a pilot and was curious about people’s fear of flying, so I checked this site out. Great information. I can also back up what is said about go-arounds. Perfectly normal. Although it may be inconvenient, it usually means that it was safer to go-around then try to continue the landing. That’s definitely the case if something is on the runway (like another jet taking off or an animal). If ATC tells the pilot to go around, he/she has no choice, and it’s usually for a good reason. If the go-around is initiated by the pilot because he/she didn’t like the way the landing was progressing, you should actually feel good about that. Accidents happen when pilots try to push a bad landing. They may be too high or too fast to land safely, or the weather may not be cooperating at that moment and the pilot would rather give it another shot than push the landing. This is a good thing. He/she is safety conscious and would rather inconvenience the passengers for a bit than risk their safety to get on the ground sooner.

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