From aircraft maintenance and fueling to passenger screening and flight deck preparations, it takes a lot of people and work behind the scenes to ensure passengers can experience the wonder of flight.
Before you fly
We recommend that all passengers check their airline website prior to travel for information to best prepare for your flight. You will find all the information you need to prepare your checked and carry-on baggage on each of our member airline websites.
Information on the airline websites includes required travel documents, check-in and boarding times, how to request special assistance, information related to travelling with children, any special conditions and preparations for flying with pets or sporting equipment, the number of carry-on or checked bags permitted including the maximum size and weight, lists of restricted and prohibited items, etc. If you are travelling as a family, are a senior citizen, or a passenger with special needs requiring additional assistance during your travel, we recommend that you contact your airline in advance.
Every passenger departing at one of Canada’s airports must undergo security screening. To best prepare and pack for your trip, we also suggest that you visit the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) website “What can I bring” at http://www.catsa.gc.ca/whatcanIbring.
Behind the Scenes
Maintenance engineers, ground crew and cabin crew are hard at work. Take a peek behind the scenes.
Prior to Takeoff
Long before passengers arrive at the airport, airline maintenance professionals work behind the scenes to ensure aircraft safety, and flight operations dispatchers prepare and adjust flight plans. While the aircraft is secured, passengers and baggage arrive at the airport for screening. The cabin crew and pilots perform a series of checks and briefings to ensure that everything is in order for a safe and secure flight. Later, flight attendants assist passengers to board and stow their luggage, and the pilots follow the procedures and checklists for a safe departure.
Maintaining the Aircraft
Each day, licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AMEs) perform a series of tasks from an approved maintenance program to ensure the continued safety of the aircraft. These tasks include checking the tire pressures and inspecting for fluid leaks and damage to aircraft structure, as well as testing the function of systems and controls. If any faults are detected, AMEs take the necessary actions to restore the aircraft to a safe condition for flight.
Planning the Flight
Hours before takeoff, flight dispatchers prepare the flight plan, a complete review of the route, altitudes, fuel burn and weather conditions for the flight, which also includes detailed information about en route airports, the aircraft and more. Weather patterns are a primary concern in preparing a flight plan, since the pilot needs to avoid such conditions as icing, thunderstorms, windshear and even volcanic ash.
Securing the Aircraft
Customer service agents, baggage handlers, and maintenance workers secure aircraft doors, hatches, and passenger bridges, and prevent unauthorized people from accessing the aircraft cabin and cargo compartments. Only authorized security-screened checked-baggage and cargo is loaded onto the aircraft.
Ground crew empty the lavatories and fill up the water reservoirs on the aircraft.
The amount of fuel designated in the flight plan is carried in a fuel truck to the aircraft and added to the fuel tanks through a hose connected by the aircraft fueller.
Screening Officers from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority screen passengers and their baggage for prohibited or dangerous items before boarding.
Air carriers implement their own measures to screen passengers against government and internal security watch lists. This includes verifying passengers’ identities and matching it to their boarding passes prior to boarding.
Cabin crew and pilots meet for a full-crew briefing to prepare for the flight. This is followed by a briefing from the Service Director or Flight Attendant-in-Charge to all Flight Attendants about the safety features and service elements of the aircraft.
Preparations on the Flight Deck
When the pilots arrive on the flight deck, they enter their flight plan into a computerized navigation system, perform a number of cockpit safety checks, and prepare for the flight. The captain and first officer run through their emergency responsibilities together to ensure that they are on the same page.
Cabin crew perform checks on all safety equipment in the cabin, as well as an aircraft security check prior to passenger boarding. Food and beverages are brought on to the aircraft by the caterer at this time.
Flight Attendants perform Pre-Boarding of all passengers who have small children or require special assistance and provide these passengers with individual safety briefings if required.
This is followed by General Boarding. As passengers board, they are required to stow their carry-on baggage, including purses, under their seats so that the aircraft can takeoff safely. It is also crucial that passengers turn off their cellphones to prevent causing interference that could put the takeoff at risk.
Closing the Cabin Door
Flight Attendants can only close the main cabin door once all baggage is stowed. Every aircraft is certified based on a physical demonstration that the flight can be evacuated within 90 seconds with half of the doors unserviceable.
Flight Attendants perform a Safety Briefing for all passengers. Passengers are provided with Safety Features Cards detailing the specific safety features of the aircraft they are flying on. Both the Safety Briefing and Safety Features Cards follow strict guidelines set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations, and it has been proven that paying attention to these briefings saves lives when emergencies occur.
Push Back and Taxiing
Once the cabin door is closed and armed (where applicable), the pilots complete their before-start checklist and then release the brake to push back from the gate. A tow bar is used to push the aircraft to a location where its engines can be safely started once the pilot has received a clearance to do so. Once the tow bar is disconnected, the pilots wait for another clearance from ground control before they may taxi to their runway for takeoff.
If there is ice or snow on the wing or other critical surfaces of the aircraft, it will impact the aircraft’s performance and pose a serious risk to the flight; this must be removed before the aircraft may take off. This may add to the scheduled flight time. Once the aircraft has been sprayed, it must be airborne before the anti-icing fluid loses its effectiveness; otherwise the de-icing will have to be repeated.
At the end of the runway, pilots complete their before-takeoff checks. They advise Flight Attendants to take their positions, and then wait for takeoff clearance from air traffic control before applying thrust for takeoff. The aircraft then accelerates down the runway for takeoff.
In the air, the crew has responsibility for the safety and security of the flight and all passengers. However, the crew receives constant information and support throughout the flight from Air Traffic Controllers, Flight Dispatch – which coordinates the needs of the flight crew – and various airspace authorities.
Air Traffic Control
Once the plane has taken off, the pilot radios the departure air traffic controller. The controller is responsible for maintaining separation between aircraft within a designated airspace sector, and clears the aircraft to ascend to higher altitudes for cruise and descent. Throughout the flight, controllers monitor whether the pilots are complying with routing, speed and separation.
Once the cabin door is closed, the crew assumes responsibility for the security of all of the passengers. The Flight Attendants continuously monitor the functioning of the cabin elements of the aircraft and the behaviour of the passengers. They are fully trained to deal with any situation which could arise during the course of the flight.
Flight Deck Security
The flight deck (cockpit) must be secured at all times, so the door is kept closed and locked and access is limited to authorized crew members. The flight crew is always in contact with Air Traffic Control and Flight Dispatch in the event additional support is required or important information needs to be passed.
Flight Watch System
Every NACC member airline operates a flight watch system through its Flight Dispatch department which continuously monitors the aircraft’s location during flight.
Flight dispatchers follow the entire flight through a continuous feed from air traffic control on the details of its progress. If a dispatcher needs to reroute the flight around a potential hazard, or consult the pilots about any other flight concerns, he or she can communicate directly with the flight deck via radio or data link.
Another part of the flight watch system includes a Maintenance Operations Centre that has communications capability with the aircraft and the flight crew. Any faults detected by the flight crew, onboard monitoring systems and ground personnel are reported to the Maintenance Operations Centre which will in turn alert maintenance personnel so that they can take the appropriate action to resolve the fault before the aircraft’s next flight.
Cabin crew are responsible for maintaining the safety of all passengers throughout the flight. All cabin crew members are trained and certified in CPR and First Aid and undergo annual training to ensure that they can master all safety-related aspects of their role and cope with a wide variety of emergencies in flight. Any passenger safety concerns should be referred to cabin crew for handling.
Passengers are required to obey all instructions from the crew. Passengers should always wear their seatbelts when seated in case of unexpected turbulence and take their seats as soon as cabin crew or the pilot request it.
Once the pilots have safely landed the aircraft and taxied to the gate, passengers disembark to collect their baggage or make any further connections. As the responsibilities of the cabin crew and pilots come to an end, ground crews take over and maintenance professionals begin whatever repairs must be made before a new flight can take place.
Landing the Aircraft
Before the aircraft can begin its descent, the pilot at the controls must brief the other pilot on which runway will be used for the landing, and details about the approach and landing procedures to be followed. After this, the pilots complete pre-descent and in-range safety checks. When they receive an approach clearance, the pilots begin the descent. Once again, they must receive a clearance from Air Traffic Control before landing.
Arriving at the Gate
After touching down, the aircraft taxis down the runway to the taxiway, and then taxis to the arrival gate, where the engines are shut down.
As soon as the aircraft is at the gate, the cargo doors are opened so that cargo can be unloaded by the baggage handlers. Cabin crew disarm or unlock and open the cabin door.
After the cabin door has opened, passengers are instructed to disembark the aircraft. Upon leaving the aircraft, passengers follow signs to the Arrivals area of the airport where their checked baggage will arrive on the baggage carousel after it is unloaded from the aircraft by airline baggage handlers.
In 2009 NACC member airlines adopted Flight Rights Canada, the Government of Canada’s voluntary air travel consumer protection initiative. In 2018 the Government of Canada adopted new passenger rights legislation which enables the Canadian Transportation Agency to create regulations with regards to passenger rights which are expected to be in place for 2019.