Of Lobster, Lawnmowers, and Loved Ones
By Tom Hoffmann, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
“Can the magic of flight ever be carried by words? I think not.”
— Michael Parfit, pilot, writer, filmmaker, photographer
One of the many highlights of getting my private pilot certificate at age 17 was the opportunity to share the joy of flight with others. Proud of my accomplishment and eager to show off my flying skills, I wasted no time in recruiting several friends and family members for day trips in and around the Long Island area. Not only did this flying help me build up time, experience, and confidence in the busy New York airspace, but it also regularly “wowed” my passengers with the sheer fun and freedom provided by general aviation.
I recall impressing one friend on a trip to the beach at Montauk Point, where, after landing, we hopped in an airport courtesy car and easily made our way to a nearly secluded beach. It made for an amazing summer afternoon to a place that otherwise would have taken an agonizing four-hour drive to reach. Another memorable first flight was with my dad on a quick jaunt to Martha’s Vineyard. Neither of us being big talkers, we enjoyed the beauty and serenity of the flight in relative silence. Seeing his ear-to-ear grin was all the conversation I needed.
On a much more recent trip, I was able to take my seven-year-old daughter for her first flight in a friend’s Cessna 182, complete with a stop for ice cream in Fredericksburg, Va., and a few turns over our house in Northern Virginia to wave “hi” to mommy and her younger sister who were waving back from the front yard. A couple of years before that, my wife got her turn to experience GA on a surprise birthday flight to Cape May, N.J. for some seriously good seafood and a leisurely stroll through the delightful Victorian town.
Making each of these flights an enjoyable and positive experience required some advanced legwork. In addition to a mandatory bathroom break for my daughter, before departing I made sure to introduce her to the airplane, get her comfortably adjusted in her seat, and explained what to expect during the flight that might be different from an airliner. Water, snacks, and her favorite stuffed animal also helped keep her in her comfort zone for the flight.
My wife is a tad prone to motion sickness, so I made sure to pick a day for Cape May that was calm and kept the control inputs as smooth as possible. That was particularly vital on the return leg given the copious amounts of lobster and crab we consumed!
As pilots, our idea of comfort can be quite different than that of our passengers. It’s always a good idea to gather as much information as we can on passenger preferences, tolerance levels, and comfort, and to realize how that might also change mid-flight. This happened unexpectedly on a flight with one of my more adventurous friends. After a few steep bank turns, he got real quiet and turned about fifty shades of green. Not wanting him to feel embarrassed, I casually mentioned that I needed to land to avoid having too much sun glare during landing. He gladly concurred.
Pilots may be accustomed to the sometimes crowded, cramped, and noisy environment of a GA cabin — but passengers may not. There’s also the fatigue factor caused by engine vibration, analogous to using a lawnmower for several hours. If possible, try to introduce your flying companion to the airplane before your flight to manage expectations and acquaint them with your airplane’s different features, including how to wear and operate headsets. Take time to listen to their concerns and explain how you’ll address them. You should also agree on what you’d like them to help you with (and refrain from doing) during the flight. Your passenger will come away with a better understanding of what to expect, as well as a few ways they can meaningfully contribute to this flight, and future flights.
What are some tips and best practices you’ve discovered for taking friends or loved ones on a first flight? Share your ideas with us at email@example.com or @FAASafetyBrief on Twitter.
Tom Hoffmann is the editor of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. He is a commercial pilot and holds an Airframe and Powerplant certificate.