The Frightened Passenger

A passenger overcomes her fear while over the Grand Canyon.

She was from England, in her mid to late fifties, thin and tall. She had some difficulty with her headset and I helped her out. She didn’t tell me she was nervous. She didn’t have to. I could tell by the way she grasped her seat bottom as we took off.

We were on north traffic in and out of the airport. North traffic, for a North Canyon tour puts me on a zig-zag course over the forest northwest of the airport. The first two turns are sharp turns to the left. I’m allowed to bank up to 30° with passengers on board, and the first turn, at the Moki, needs it. As we turned and the helicopter leaned to the left, my passenger leaned to the right. I was a bit more gradual with the second left, but she leaned all the same.

The passenger clung to her seat bottom, staring straight ahead. I was just starting to wonder if she’d ever let go when she became interested in the view of the canyon, which was coming up on our right. She released her seat and began fiddling with her camera. She snapped off a picture or two and then I was making a turn to the right and she was holding onto her seat for dear life again.

This happened throughout the flight. She’d release the seat to take a few photos, then grab on again as I made a turn or some mild turbulence bumped us around. I’d seen people like her before and I knew she was okay about the flight. I tried to ignore her, since she was a bit distracting. She really broadcasted the helicopter’s minor movements to me — movements I usually had no real control over.

At the end of the 25-minute flight, I came into the airport with one last sharp left turn. I set down at my helipad, throttled down to idle, and turned to thank the passengers.

My frightened passenger was all smiles. “I was so scared!” she shouted to me. “Thank you! Thank you!” And then she hugged me tightly — a difficult task, given that I was strapped into my seat, wearing my headset, and not expecting it. She thanked me a few more times for good measure, saying how wonderful the flight had been. She shook my hand, too. I told her she made my day.

And then she was gone, rejoined with her friends outside the helicopter, telling them how great she thought the flight was.

So if anyone asks why I’ve taken on a job that pays a fraction of what I make in my other job, I can tell them about the frightened passenger and the big hug she gave me when we landed.

What do you think?