Commercial flying mistakes to motivate

This week I flew commercial to San Jose for a trip to Cisco Headquarters for business and I had the opportunity to listen in to the flight deck on my flights out. Some airlines patch the ATC radio traffic into one of the audio channels at the seats which I think is awesome except for when the flight attendants cut into the feed for their announcements.

Discover what mistakes I observed on this commercial flight after the jump.


I flew to San Jose via Denver from Kansas City and even from back in the seats from Kansas City to Denver I observed a couple of IFR mistakes. First, I must admit that it has been almost 4 months since I have been in the cockpit and in order for me to fly IFR legally, I would need to do an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC). However, I will add that I am instrument rated and do hold my flying to high personal standards.

Flight RoutingRouting was (WLDCT2 SLN J24 OATHE DANDD5). Weather in Kansas City was good; temperature in the fifties, but gusty winds out of the East due to an incoming low pressure system. Departure was runway 9 and departure instructions were to fly runway heading (090). Rotation was fine; at about 4000 feet the tower gave right turn to 110 which was acknowledged by our flight crew. I instantly realized we were in an aggressive right turn and I thought “wow, we only have a 20 degree heading change; this is kind of steep; but what to I know about flying a 737?” Generally turns in large jets always seem more aggressive than in smaller GA aircraft due to the larger wingspan. I thought maybe I misheard the call but suddenly realize we are back in a sharp left turn probably back to about 110. This just as ATC gives us right turn to 220; back to the right…

On the climb, ATC gave us FL 210 but repeatedly the flight crew kept saying FL 230; not sure if their clearance was to expect FL 230 or what, but I could tell ATC was confused. I guess the issue was resolved when ATC gave us FL 320 before we arrived at FL 230, or 210; what was the heading again?

The weather system moving in was stronger than I had expected because the flight crew said we had a 120 knot headwind right into the nose. It added 38 minutes to our normally 60 minute flight to Denver.

The Kansas City Center sector handoffs were pretty boring but things got interesting as we got about 100 miles outside of Denver. Denver weather was 28 degrees and moderate snow, 1/2 mile visibility, RVR was 3000 feet at touchdown point. We were given the ILS 35L and were IMC from 13,000 feet to about 2000 feet. Our landing was uneventful, however, I did hear a commercial airline go “missed” just before we changed to ground frequency. I think this was the first time I’ve heard a commercial flight go missed approach while yet another flight flew through the localizer. ATC was already stressed but in my opinion doing a great job!

As any IFR pilot or student would read the details from this flight, there were a couple of mistakes made on the departure out of KMCI but probably not outside anything we’ve done before ourselves. However remember accidents rarely are because of one single mistake, but rather several smaller mistakes or problems. Keep a level head, think about what you are going to do before you do it and when you have a bad day in your IFR training or flying try to unplug after your flight and playback the flight in your mind and take mental notes of what could have gone better. Then work on them next time you are up.

These mistakes were minor and were corrected however had it been a different airport or different airspace, flying through an assigned heading or flying a wrong assigned altitude could put you in the headlines! Listening in to these mistakes gave me a renewed passion to get my IPC completed and get back “in the system.” Don’t ever settle for your current level of flying proficiency and take every chance you can to learn from others — even if it is just a business trip on the airlines.

Author: Michael Whaley

I am a Private, Instrument Rated, pilot living in the Kansas City Metro area with my family and Siberian Husky. I work as a Network Engineer supporting data and voice infrastructure components here in Kansas City. In my spare time I fly.

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