What Happens When A Plane Goes Around?

You may have experienced one personally or you may know somebody who has. Either way, a ‘go around’ can be nerve-wracking if you don’t know what’s happening. Although they may seem ominous, especially when happening unexpectedly, go arounds are actually an important safety precaution. But what exactly happens during a go around?

747 landing
A go around is a safety procedure which can be necessary for many different reasons. Photo: Jordi Cucurull via Wikimedia

When an aircraft comes in for its final approach to the runway there are two possible routes it can take. It can either land or, if something is wrong, it can go around. Because landing is the most dangerous part of a flight, weather conditions have to be favorable for the pilots to safely control the aircraft during landing.

Even more importantly, the aircraft has to be in full working order for it to land safely. If the aircraft is suffering from some sort of technical issue or malfunction, landing could result in a catastrophic accident.

When is a go around requested?

First of all, a go around can either be requested by the air traffic control tower or by the pilot themselves. There are number of different reasons for a go around to be requested, but generally, it is safety-orientated. While they are a safety precaution, go arounds are not only called during an emergency.

From the air traffic control tower’s end, there may be another aircraft still on the runway or some sort of debris that has been left behind. Calling a go around in these cases is vital to ensure aircraft do not collide with one another or sustain damage when impacting debris.

A China Easter Airbus A330 behind a flock of birds
Bird strikes can cause serious damage to jet engines. Photo: M. Zhu via Flickr

On the pilot’s end, go arounds are usually requested as a result of difficult weather conditions or an onboard technical issue.

Strong gusts of wind or severely limited visibility can make landing very difficult. In these cases a go around may be the safest option, allowing conditions on the runway to improve before a second landing attempt.

If an aircraft tries to land without its full technical capabilities, the risk of an accident is greatly increased. A jammed landing gear, for example, throws most chances of a normal landing out of the window.

What happens after a go around has been called?

Once a go around has been requested, the pilot will apply full throttle to the aircraft and retract the flaps in order to climb out of the runway.

Having climbed out of the runway, the aircraft will usually be instructed to make its way back into the traffic pattern. Once in the landing queue, the pilots can wait to attempt a second landing.

Aircraft queuing on the tarmac
Air traffic control needs to ensure the landing schedule is able to accommodate aircraft which have gone around. Photo: Prayitno via Flickr

By the time they come to attempt their second landing, weather conditions may have improved, or the technical issues may have been resolved.

In case of serious technical issues, it may take a lot longer to prepare for a safe landing. If the issues are irresolvable, an emergency landing may be the last resort, in which case emergency services will be readied on the ground as a safety precaution in order to deal with any casualties.

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I’ve been involved in at least 7 go arounds: 2 in Jakarta, one in each of Solo, Singapore, London, Manila and HongKong. Maybe more and most weather related (Solo apparently was a cow on the runway.) I really hate them – especially when you are about to land and you hear the engines revving. Ugh.


On my very first business trip to Houston Hobby in the 80’s, weather was classic disaster: lightning, thunder, heavy rain, strong winds, etc. The main gear actually touched the tarmac when the captain throttled up to full power for a go around. Absolute quiet in the cabin as all tried to figure out what had happened. A quick message from the flight deck mentioned a “slight delay”. A round of applause broken out on the successful second attempt.


Important point: The Captain does not “request” a go around. If, in his judgement, a go around is necessary, then that is what he will do. Once it’s safely under way he will inform ATC of the fact. Similarly, from ATC’s perspective, in that they will order a go around if necessary due to traffic, etc. however, even in that case, the Captain is always final arbiter with respect to the safety of his aircraft.

Tim Owen

Small point, but go arounds are not requested, they are either initiated by the flight crew or instructed by ATC.