The winter holidays are right around the corner, which means the majority of us will be embarking on some kind of journey, whether great or small. For many, this involves air travel. And while the majority of the population might be lamenting over the commute – being squished into the seats of a large airliner – those of us who are pilots get to walk a different path. The pilgrimage to see aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, siblings and all the varieties of in–laws might start with a flight from the front seat because you are flying your family to the holidays. You’ll get to keep your shoes on, not dread the parking situation, leave on your own schedule, probably have more room for legs and personal items, but most importantly, your holiday travel will start and finish with one of your favorite pastimes. And it’s always fun to tell distant relatives that you flew yourself in for the festivities.
If this is you and you are already thinking about your upcoming holiday flying adventure, while it may not yet be time to start pre–flighting the aircraft, this is the time to start pre–flighting your own piloting skills and making sure that you are ready for this undertaking.
We had a student come in to one of our schools last year a few weeks before Thanksgiving; he was flying the whole family several states away for their big family gathering in his Bonanza. Over the course of a few half days of training, he flew the entire route in one of our simulators – several times – in the worst weather we could create and with several different emergencies to deal with. Each day he left the school at the end of lessons feeling confident and worked out, having honed some skills and learned others. Not every scenario was an instant success, but a few days of concentrated practice resulted in him being able to conquer the challenges he might face in a worst–case scenario on his way to Colorado. His actual trip was obviously much less dramatic, but planning for the worst and “going back to school” for a few days made him feel more confident that his skills were ready for a long trip with the whole family.
Before you retract the landing gear and set your course for food, family and fun, come into one of our offices and get back into the classroom for a brush–up lesson or two to knock the rust off of some of those non–standard flying practices you haven’t used since your check ride; might as well make it a flight review, instrument currency or even an IPC. (You’re going to fly the time anyway, right?)
Remember that a flight simulator/training device is an educationally better, more cost–effective, usually more convenient, and far safer option for practicing skills, procedures, and especially emergencies than an airplane. Even some of the desktop or computer–based programs available will do a good job of allowing you to “fly” your trip, loading it up with road blocks and speed bumps, before actually flying your trip.
The holidays require their own preparation and planning as is, but adding an airplane to the mix – as enjoyable as it may be – does add a few more steps to ensure that everything goes smoothly; just ask Santa. Spend some time with a flight school, local CFI, or respectable senior pilot before you pack the cranberries and elastic waistband pants into your baggage compartment. It will be worth your time, and will provide an idyllic way to start and end your holiday excursion.