We landed at Flight Experience for an away day with a real pilot

He’s got a fear of flying – my ‘co-pilot’ that is. Under normal circumstances, the cockpit of a commercial airplane is probably the last place he’d like to be. But this is far from normal. And besides, it’ll take the two of us to touchdown safely in JFK International.

Of course, we’re not really flying a plane. But being in an actual Boeing 737 cockpit, with HD-projection views of the Hudson River out of the window, is probably the closest we’ll ever get. 

SquareMeal Flight Experience teambuilding simulation experiences credit max miechowski team briefing nick taylor

‘It’s an interesting scenario to place colleagues in,’ co-founder Nick Taylor tells us during our pre-flight briefing. ‘We once had a CEO bring in two of his employees. He had a job position to fill but didn’t know who to choose for it, so we put them in a scenario to see which one took the lead while he watched on.’ 

Winging it

Thankfully there’s no boss breathing down our necks today. Instead, we’re getting a go at the group-friendly Take Off and Landing Challenge. Fellow co-founder and pro pilot Paul Kendrick is our first officer for the day.

SquareMeal Flight Experience teambuilding simulation experiences credit max miechowski first officer

Once we’re strapped into our five-point harness, we get a better look at the flight deck. It looks surprisingly un-hi-tech. That doesn’t make it any less overwhelming, though, as I scan the hundreds of switches, buttons and knobs that ensure that I get this thing landed in one piece.

Luckily, I’ve just got to keep my eye on the navigational displays as I advance the thrust levellers and accelerate down the runway.

‘Rotate!’ Paul shouts and I swiftly pull back the yoke, lean back and we’re up. The flight itself is drama free, but Paul decides to throw in a couple of curveballs (an engine fire is the most fun) to make things more realistic.

Full throttle

It’s a fun experience, but groups looking for more drama should book themselves onto the ‘Pilot Down’ experience. Once everyone’s had the routine training, the first officer leaves them in the cockpit alone, while a flight experience ‘problem’ plays out. 

SquareMeal Flight Experience teambuilding simulation experiences credit max miechowski millie milliken pilot seat

‘It can be quite funny to see how they react,’ Nick laughs, ‘but it’s also interesting to see who voluntarily takes the role of leader, and who decides to follow them.’ 

The team also gets a video of themselves afterwards to analyse what happened (and no doubt have a giggle). My co-pilot colleague’s looking a little ashen-faced at this point: perhaps the team’s new fear of flying courses would be more useful.

The detail

Teambuilding packages for groups of up to 25 start at £250ph and include room hire, pre-flight briefings and prizes. 

Photos Max Miechowski