Can a Passenger With No Training Be Talked Through Landing a Commercial Jet in an Emergency?



There are few things more dramatic than the idea of an airliner’s flight crew being stricken and a non-pilot having to take the wheel and land the plane. Fortunately, that’s never happened in real life, but could it? A non-pilot wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to work the communications radios, let alone fly and land a jet. There’s a 0% chance of a successful outcome in that scenario. To put the issue to rest, planes really can’t fly themselves. Yes, there’s the autopilot function that could take some of the work out of a petrified passenger’s hands, but is there an autoland? Actually, there is. The tech company Garmin developed autoland technology for smaller planes that’s supposed to take control of the plane if it detects the pilot is unable to fly. In that scenario, the system will choose the best airport and runway to land at based on its current location, fuel state, weather, and so on. Then it will navigate a route to that runway and land on it, while avoiding terrain and obstacles and communicating with other pilots and air traffic control. While that’s all well and good, none of that applies to a commercial jet. If there’s one takeaway from this article, it should be that nobody has ever had to land a commercial jet, and it’s just as well, because a pilotless flight in the real world probably wouldn’t have a Hollywood ending.