Finally had my first go around!

Well, it finally happened. After over 1.5 million “butt in seat” miles in my life, I finally had my first go around just a couple of nights ago. For those of you that don’t know what a go around is, it’s an aborted landing shortly before touchdown. This can be due to any of a number of factors, including an airplane on the runway, approaching too fast, missing the runway due to limited visibility, etc.

And odd as it might be, I was quite looking forward to the day I’d finally have a go around. I was hoping it would be on a 747 or 777, where it would be pretty exciting given how powerful the planes are.

It was exciting, though unfortunately in a different way — I was at least a little bit scared!

I’m used to flying airlines with very high safety standards, though we were flying Sri Lankan Airlines from Mumbai to Colombo to Male since there aren’t that many options from India to the Maldives. The flight from Mumbai to Colombo left at 3AM and we were in business class, which only had one other passenger in it.

I was surprised by how modern the cabin was, with really comfortable seats and personal televisions.

At the same time I’m not all that familiar with Sri Lankan’s safety standards, which puts me a bit on edge when things go wrong. My friend had a Coke as a pre-departure beverage, which was served in a glass. Cool! Unfortunately the flight attendants never actually collected the glass before takeoff.

Anyway, all was normal until we were on final approach. This is a two-hour flight that leaves at around 3AM and lands at around 5AM in Sri Lanka, so I assume the pilots are pretty tired at this point in the day. I could even see the purser in the jumpseat with his eyes closed for at least a few minutes.

It was a bumpy approach and there was virtually zero visibility, so the first indication I had of our go around was when the engines started spooling up. At first I thought the pilots were just applying a bit of extra power, though when the engines stayed really loud for about 30 seconds and the gear was brought back up, it was clear it was a go around. That woke the purser up!

I was seated in the aisle seat so didn’t have a view out of the window, though asked my friend seated next to me how high he thought we were. He said “maybe 20 or 30 feet,” which freaked me the hell out of course, since that’s pretty low for a go around due to limited visibility. I suspect he may have been a bit off, but still.

Anyway, we made it the second time around without issue. Ultimately we were probably safe the entire time, though that didn’t stop me from sweating a bit (and for what it’s worth I’m a private pilot, so I really shouldn’t be easily scared).

Had it been the same situation on most other airlines I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but the combination of flying Sri Lankan Airlines which isn’t renowned for their safety standards, along with it being 5AM meaning the pilots were probably very tired, along with the limited visibility and jungles we were flying over, certainly made me sweat for just a moment.

All that was quickly forgotten when we approached the Maldives and had this view.

Comments

  1. Hey Ben,

    Safe trip! I have been following your blog for a while and there is one question I always wanted to ask you: are you concerned about the radiation you received during the flight, especially the flights that crossed the North Pole?

    Thanks,

    William

  2. I had my first go around @ SFO on a BA 747-400 a year or so ago – a little scary – woke me up too ! ..

  3. My first was 1999 on Cathay Pacific in a 747 landing in Amsterdam while on my first oneworld alliance mileage run.

    I did not know that was called a go around.

    Turned out not to be a good flight in many ways since the CX booking code did not earn miles with American Airlines and ended up earning me only 50,000 miles rather than 100,000 miles.

  4. Aug 2010 AF A320 CDG-LHR had the Go Around experience and it scared me big time. Pilot blamed it on ATC putting us too close to an OB 747.Given the confusion at CDG (aircraft change,gate changes,delays)it was just part of a bad day. Next time I’ll take the train.

  5. This has actually happened to me twice in maybe 0.7M BIS miles, the first time from a flock of birds landing on the runway, the second from wind shear.

  6. I’ve had more than a dozen, most of those when I was able to sit in the cockpit jumpseat. Most are pretty routine, where the controller tells the pilot to “go around” for an abundance of caution. It’s typically when a plane is too close to the one following, or possibly there’s a ground crossing conflict. Much less frequent is the “I don’t think we can land safely from this altitude or at this speed.”

  7. “….. we were probably safe”??? Lucky, as a “private pilot”, you should understand that if it doesn’t look right, you make a go around. No big deal. Better safe than sorry. I’d be willing to bet that the pilot on that aircraft was a non-Sri Lankan with more butt in seat time than you. He/she made a decision under circumstance(s) of which you have no knowledge of or experience with.

  8. Surprised it took 1.5M BIS miles to get one!

    Had my first go-around at LGA 2-3 years ago in a 757. We were over the concrete already (not water) landing from the north and literally 10 ft off the ground when flaps quickly went down and engines roared. Immediately we pitch and head towards downtown Manhattan. Sadly many passengers started to panic thinking we were hijacked and about to be the next plane going into a building. We kept climbing and went directly over downtown and then turned back to the north for our “go-around”. I am pretty trust worthy with pilots and their skill, so I figured that we had just aborted the landing for some reason. After we were heading north again the pilot came on the intercom and said that a plane crossed the runway right in front of us.

    Crazy!

  9. Give me a last-second go around on a low-fuel 757 any day. Got one once in a 319 that was landing at Dulles from San Jose, and it practically leapt back into the air. Take that and then add the excess thrust of a 75 — and you’ve got a ride.

  10. With my roughly 300k BIS, I’ve had 2, both at SFO, both due to insufficient following distance on clear days.

    Last weekend, on Channel 9, I heard the plane behind us get called off because they were too close to us. That one was cooler than either I was on board for because it wasn’t just due to distance, it was due to visibility. There was a thin cloud layer close to the runway, but it was clear above and below.

    Tower said to the plane behind us: “caution – wake turbulence, following company 757”,
    Plane behind us: “What’s the distance between us?”
    Tower> “You can’t see them?”
    Plane> “No”
    Tower> “Climb to 3000 feet and continue on heading 28”

  11. @Matt, was that around 8pm on Sunday? I was on UA 975 IAD-SFO and we had a go-around form a few thousand feet up. Got a nice tour of the Bay Area.

  12. I’ve been on 3 go-arounds (the official term is “missed approach”) on commercial flights.
    They’re standard operating procedure so (other than the curiosity of “why”) I don’t see what would be scary about them.

    They’re actually indicative of an INCREASE in safety. Sooo much better to scuttle a landing attempt if any parameter of the approach becomes “out of the window”.

    As an ex CFI (gosh .. 25 years ago) to a Private Pilot, I honestly hope you don’t think the need to go-around is an indication of failure. They are a fact of life. The failure is not realizing when a missed approach is your best option.

    Research these examples where not going around was the final failure (sorry I’m going off the top of my head and too lazy to look up dates):
    AA1420 at Little Rock
    AA in Jamaica (December 2009 ?)
    AA123 HNL to DFW.
    All 3 have the same basic story: weather in the area, shifting winds, wet runway, F/O stating concerns, landing continued, aircraft went off the runway.

    I didn’t mean to pick on a specific airline, but did want to point out that while overall AA’s safety record is great, their relative safety ratio is probably worse (and Sri Lanka’s better) than you think.

  13. I’ve been involved with a few, but the most nerve rattling was the double missed approach in extremely heavy fog on the west coast (I can’t for the life of me remember which airport it was). On the first one, I looked out but you couldn’t see the ground until maybe 50 feet above. It was aborted the 2nd time before I ever saw the ground. We went into a holding pattern for about 20-30 minutes before the final, and successful landing. You could literally hear a collective sigh of relief…

  14. 2 go arounds in my 600,000 mile BIS lifetime.

    1988 Take off from PBI on TW, lift off and then immediate landing before airborne. “Engine failure”

    2010 Landing at SIN coming from BOM on SQ, “too many birds on Changi 2C”

  15. Interesting that Andrew said there was an immediate landing after liftoff because of an engine failure, this is the most dangerous time to have an engine failure and the problem MUST be taken to the air after V1 (decision to go speed). I imagine the captain of that plane is no longer flying.

  16. Not too sure about your concern about Sri Lankan safety standards. They have yet to have an air crash; only incidents have been terrorist related. Better safety standards than most American or European carriers

  17. As a pilot for SriLankan i read your article with some interest and amusement, for someone doing so much travelling and having a blog you should do some research first. SriLankan Airlines has never had any fatality nor Hull lost todate and thats not something most airlines have a claim to, but as always such things are not advertised in the avaition industry. you should read as much as you write!!

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