You're finally getting home after a grueling business trip. Your flight is just about ready to land. The landing gear is down, and then all of a sudden, you aren't descending anymore. The gear comes back up and the nose points skyward.
For many travelers, this is a nerve-racking experience. But a "go-around," as it's called, is actually nothing to be concerned about. If you're going around, it means the pilot is exercising better-safe-than-sorry caution.
Certainly it's not a comfortable feeling for passengers, and pilots know it.
"We realize go-arounds are startling for passengers, simply because they are so unusual and are a dramatic change from a normal landing. But really they are similar and no more dangerous than a standard takeoff, and are something we practice routinely in simulators," explains Mark Rogers, a pilot with a major U.S. airline.
"It's best to think of a go-around as a takeoff begun in the air, and since more altitude and airspeed are both good things in aviation, there's really no cause for alarm," he says.
Put that way, it doesn't sound half bad. But why do go-arounds happen? There are a few different reasons.
For example, an airplane is not allowed to land if there's another airplane on the runway. Even if it's way at the other end, about to pull off onto a taxiway, you still can't land.
At crowded airports, airplanes are lined up one after another, landing as often as possible. Sometimes, however, an airplane is slow getting off the runway, and that means your airplane can't land. So you go around.
Another scenario for a go-around might be because of bad weather. You might be just about ready to land when a big gust of wind hits, or maybe you're just a bit higher or faster than you should be to land properly. The pilot might be able to continue landing safely, but pilots are trained to know that if the approach isn't stable, it's best to try again.
That's why go-arounds are actually good things. It's generally better to try again than it is to push forward and land when things might not be quite right.
Of course, the sensation of the engines spooling up and the nose pointing up can be a bit jarring. It doesn't seem right, and isn't it dangerous to go against the normal flow of traffic?
No -- because there are specific go-around procedures that every pilot knows to follow. It's a maneuver that puts your airplane right back into the flow of traffic so a landing can be tried again.
That's not to say it doesn't keep the pilots busy. When a go-around is executed, there is a lot that needs attention. That's why you usually won't hear an announcement about it right away. The pilots need to make sure that everything is done properly to get them safely back into the traffic pattern.
When the pilots are free to address passengers, they'll make an announcement and tell you what's going on. So sit tight and stay calm. The pilots know what they're doing.