What Happens Before an Airplane Takes Off?

The “pushback” isn’t just the moment when the airplane leaves the gate. It’s the culmination of at least 60 teams working together, akin to a live performance – and between Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge, it happens more than 700 times a day.

Pilots complete their ramp check, receive air traffic control clearance, review emergency drills, confirm that they have enough fuel for their journey and converse with the ground handlers. Flight attendants secure the cabin and attend to passengers’ needs. The captain orchestrates all these responsibilities like a conductor from the flight deck. Only with the cabin and cargo doors closed, the passenger boarding bridge retracted, the “before start” checklist complete, and the weight of the plane calculated, can a pushback request be made. When the ramp attendant gives the “okay,” the captain releases the brakes and then, it’s “showtime.”

September 25, 2019
An airplane on the tarmac waiting for take off.

Behind the Curtain

  1. The actual pushback sequence takes less than two minutes, but passengers can still observe parts of it from their seats. The in–charge flight attendant announces some of the showtime script over the PA: “Cabin crew, prepare for departure and crosscheck,” ensuring the doors are in the armed position.

  2. The last item on the “before start” checklist – after pushback clearance has been granted – is to turn on the anti–collision light. Once this bright red beacon on the belly of the plane has been lit, engine start is imminent.

Portrait of Air Canada's Captain Doug Morris
Photo: Reynard Li

Doug Morris is an author, meteorologist, instructor and Air Canada captain on the Boeing 787.