From Passenger To Pilot: How A Quick-Thinking Traveler Took Over In An Emergency

A passenger took the controls of a flight form Toronto to Punta Cana after one of the plane’s pilots became incapacitated.

Air Transat flight 186 departed at 9:30 a.m. on November 20 with 299 passengers on board, and was scheduled into the Dominican Republic at 2 p.m. About three hours into the journey one of the pilots became ill. One of the airline’s pilots was among the passengers and replaced the member of the cockpit crew.

Dramatic Rendering, Credit: DALL-E

The flight continued to its destination, instead of diverting which would have been required with only a single pilot.

Earlier this year a passenger stepped into the cockpit to fly after a Southwest Airlines pilot fell ill. Another airline’s pilot was on the Las Vegas to Columbus, Ohio flight and assisted, akin to a pilot falling ill in the cockpit and Ted Striker being asked to help with the radio.

Two pilots still make sense in the cockpit, though eventually that will change with artificial intelligence outperforming human co-pilots and making flights even safer. Still, the single remaining pilot would have been capable of returning the aircraft to the ground. Having another airline pilot available to assist, though details aren’t available on whether they were type-rated for the aircraft, was certainly helpful and an additional stroke of luck.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What happens when the single pilot is the one who has a medical issue? When robots figure out how to operate complex vehicles over “uncharted” roads etc. then *maybe* they’ll be 20-30 years from co-operating a flight deck with passengers. There are thousands upon thousands of variables that have to be considered on every single flight – many simply do not have a A+B=C solution and the human brain has the capability to think outside of the box when it’s necessary. AI is a long, long way from this. Not to mention, infrastructure (both on the ground and in the air) worldwide will need to be vastly improved and developed to support reduced pilot or unmanned ops. It will cost trillions – good luck getting developing countries to foot the bill for this. Honestly, I can see how someone like the author here would think that eliminating a human from this equation would be easy – because we make it look easy – but the truth is it’s far from it. I would never step foot on an airplane without at least two fully qualified and well rested professional pilots. It’s the only safe solution.

  2. I expect that the flight crew knew that there was a qualified pilot onboard so they did not have to do a call for a pilot like they do for trained medical professional during a medical emergency.

  3. Commercial jetliners of the future will be operated by one pilot and one dog. The dogs job is to bite the pilot if he tries to touch any of the controls. The pilots job is to feed the dog.

  4. to bad……. such a lying make impression title …I had another imprsession about this sight …..

    While you are being a nattering nabob of negativisms, explaining how the completely automated AI landing won’t happen for decades, it already exists and is certified by FAA>

  6. James N.
    Absolutely the truth “traveler takes over”? One of the airline’s pilots is a traveler like the rest of us? Gary, you’ve got to do better

  7. In a single pilot plane, if the pilot becomes incapacitated, the plane will eventually land itself. Where and in what condition is the unanswered question.

  8. Am I the only one who caught it? “Ted Striker’ As in the movie Airplane? Either a hell of coincidence, or someone has a sense of humor.

  9. “From Pet to Pilot: How an Emotional Support Animal Took Over in an Emergency” will be the next clickbait title.

  10. The single pilot falls unconscious, and the computer on the ground running the airplane suddenly has a fault. Bye bye passengers.

  11. If one has never had technical issues with a computer then I suppose that would be the type of person that supports fully automated or single pilot airline operations. I’m skeptical. My experience with computers and airplanes is that things occasionally go wrong, sometimes seriously wrong. But then I would also like to see backup operators (co-pilot/engineer/driver) on any transport vehicle that carry hundreds of passengers.

  12. @Joe Blow
    Yep, I caught it as well. In fact I had to re-read the reference because I thought it was a joke. Ted Striker indeed ! Best part of the blog today.

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