Aborted Landings

Q: Just prior to touchdown, our flight powered up and aborted the landing. We flew around, banking at much more severe angles than usual, approached a second time and successfully landed. They told the airport was attempting to squeeze out too many departures. It was very unnerving. Does this happen often and do you think the airline was hiding something?

First of all, nobody was hiding anything. Secondly, what you experienced was something so non-threatening that the crew had mostly likely forgotten about it by the time they’d reached the curb outside the terminal. Whether you call them aborted landings, missed approaches or go-arounds, they are nothing to sweat. Now and then, for any of various reasons, spacing between airplanes falls below the minimum requirements and a plane is required to execute the procedure you experienced. This does not, by any stretch, imply that you were close to hitting another plane. (These events have a way of becoming, “We were just about to land, but another plane got in the way and we had to zoooooom over the top of it!”)

The flying around at severe angles part was nothing more than your plane maneuvering in order to rejoin the approach pattern. A plane being vectored back into a pattern may indeed make a few sharp turns or climb steeply to expedite its cause. Or perhaps it just seemed that way, as your nerves were already frazzled by what you perceived was a dangerous or unusual situation.

I don’t like hearing that passengers are so put off by something so innocuous. Your crew owed you more than some folksy spiel about the tower trying to “squeeze out too many departures.” I suspect people prefer a more professionally soothing explanation than a downhome shucks-it-was-nuthin’.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.