You just landed on runway 12R at San Antonio International (KSAT) and haven’t so much as peeked at the taxiway diagram. As you roll out, tower hurriedly says, “turn next taxiway and taxi to parking, monitor ground point niner”. As you approach taxiway Sierra, you realize that the controller has failed to indicate whether this will be a left or right turn off the runway. Which way do you go, and furthermore, how do you find your way to parking? This highlights the need to have a game plan for exiting the runway.
Although we often talk about staying ahead of the airplane at all times, pilots tend to forget that they cannot take a break when the wheels touch the ground. This is particularly important at large airports with complicated taxiways. It is critical that the pilot have a plan for exiting the runway and finding their way to the FBO, regardless of the presence of an operating control tower.
So how do we stay ahead of the airplane and build that runway exit strategy? Start thinking about your landing runway and taxi fifteen to thirty minutes out. After listening to the ATIS, you should have a good idea as to what runway(s) you are likely to land on. Now pull out that taxiway diagram (VFR pilots, you can find this in your Airport / Facility Directory).
Going back to our San Antonio example, suppose you are approaching KSAT from the west, and ATIS reports that the visual for 12L and 12R are in use. We can expect 12R since ATC rarely crosses traffic between parallel runways.
Having done our homework ahead of time, we know that our FBO is east of 12R near taxiway Juliet. A right turn on Sierra, or maybe Bravo, followed by a right on Golf or Hotel to parking is more than likely going to be our taxi clearance.
Keep your head in the game and face those big airports without fear.