Aircraft Go-Arounds Happen, So What’s The Scare?

Every now and again on a slow news day news outlets will carry stories about passengers scared, fearful, terrified because their flight did a ‘go-around.’  It sounds dramatic when a TV or radio newscaster explains that hundreds of passengers found themselves suddenly rocketing upwards as they expected to land … but go-around are a common every day occurrence for a variety of reasons.


The other day while in the car with my kids, flipping through the radio station at a red light, I stopped on a news story about passengers being terrified when their flight encountered a “rejected landing” at a height of 300 feet above the runway due to weather and atmospheric conditions.   The newscaster never explained what the weather or atmospheric conditions were, but it sure sounded dramatic … but what struck me was the use of the term ‘rejected landing,’ evoking images of passengers in danger and that the occurrence happened at an altitude of 300 feet.


First off, the term ‘rejected landing‘ is not an official or definable term. A rejected landing is merely the point at which a pilot decides to avoid continuing a landing that they deem to be unsafe, or an air traffic controller advises the pilot on final approach to go around. Generally the term ‘rejected landing’ is reserved for an aircraft putting its wheels on the ground, then needing to suddenly and rapidly climb at full power.


At an altitude of 300 feet above ground level the commercial flight in this news story would have been approximately 3/4 of a mile from touch down, with plenty of time for the pilots or air traffic control to determine the aircraft needed to loop around and try again … but than again with the news story not providing any details, including leaving out what flight it was … we may never know what happened.


So what is it passengers find scary about a their flight going around for another approach?  Frequent traveler Matt Soleyn believes “Passengers don’t like the descent suddenly being interrupted by the pilot pulling up with maximum throttle. ”  I can see where this could be disconcerting, however passengers should consider the alternatives to this …the alternative is that the aircraft may encounter less than safe conditions.


Passengers need not be afraid when their aircraft goes around. A pilot climbing and increasing power to the engines, at any altitude during the final approach, means that the aircraft is still flying and the pilot has control of the aircraft.   These should be calming signs to passengers, rather than scary signs.


What can cause a go around? Weather, wind, visibility, wake turbulence from another aircraft, a foreign object on the runway, another aircraft not clearing the runway,pregnant turtles on the runway (seriously, this happened at New York’s JFK), a rouge Jeep Grand Cherokee on the way (seriously, this happened in Philadelphia), a plane coming in to high, a plane coming in to low … and many other factors that the pilots and air traffic control use to determine if a flight needs to go around and try the approach again.


Yes, aircraft needing to go around makes a nice catchy sound bite filling a thirty second to a minute news slot, but for passengers, there is nothing to worry about. If the flight you are on is flying, especially upwards, sit back, relax and watch the scenery outside the windows.


Happy Flying!






  1. In the last two weeks I have had both a rejected landing (this was a United aircraft with Channel 9 available to listen to ATC, and I heard the controller give both a hefty crosswind and a wind shear advisory and ask our pilot if he’d take it, and he rejected it and we promptly got some vectors and a new frequency for an approach to another runway at ORD); and a true go-around when we were not much more than 5-10 feet from touchdown at SEA. Apparently the prior landing aircraft hadn’t cleared the runway promptly. Things happen and it’s not a big deal nor a safety issue.

  2. This is an excellent point on the rejected landing…. what this flight did was a “missed approach.” A missed approach is something that airline pilots train more for than anything else in the simulator. Rules and safety indicate when we don’t see the runway we go around. That is the safest course of action. So… for the media to make it anything more than it is, is really sad. Hopefully for the passengers the crew talked to them after. I do understand their feelings of feeling out of control, and not knowing. I know, and the first time I went around as a passenger, it was very disorienting.

    But for all the passengers… know that there is no worry, and a missed approach can be the best course of action.

    Nice post!

  3. A go around or a missed approach is a good thing, it means the pilot just prevented/avoided an unsafe situation. I suppose an expected jolt upwards as the aircraft climbs can be disconcerting and probably scary.

  4. As a passenger, it still scares me. While I intellectually understand that this is a safety precaution, to me it is the equivalent of a car coming to a stop on the shoulder instead of hitting the car in front of them. It happens, I am prepared to execute the move if needed, but it is still a dangerous situation.

  5. A lot of media just don’t understand aviation better to go round again or call missed approach than smash your aircraft into the ground . I am thinking of the Polish PM and his flight on the TU 154 which we all know what happened to him and the aircraft. I have myself never been on a passenger flight with a missed approach so maybe one day I will it would be interesting to see other people reactions.

  6. Let’s face it, the media loves to dramatize what ever “news” they can find. It’s not about the safety of the passengers, it’s about a scary sound-bite and ratings.

  7. I keep hoping to be on a flight with a go-around since landing and take-off are the only interesting parts of any flight. I do remember sitting at DCA waiting for my flight one morning and watching 3 planes in succession do go-arounds and being extremely jealous of the passengers on board.

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