Let’s face it—some of our family members are less than enthusiastic about sharing the joy of general aviation flying, though it’s infinitely more fun when they join us on the journey.
Such is the case with my wife, Lisa. While she supports and encourages me to seek advanced training that broadens my aviation horizons, I usually hear a “Thanks, but no thanks,” when it comes to tagging along for a flight. Lisa has been reluctant to fly with me ever since we experienced a catastrophic engine failure in a Mooney and landed on Highway 25 near Brandon, Mississippi.
Lisa recently changed her no-further-flying tune when I suggested the family fly from Frederick, Maryland, to Nashville, Tennessee, in a nicely equipped Cessna 182 for Lauren's college orientation—and cut our time en route to Music City by two-thirds.
A four-hour flight with options to doze, listen to music, or read a book was more appealing than splitting the grueling 11-hour, 700-mile car drive south through the Appalachian Mountains.
While aviators can—and do—put up with bumpy rides, hot or freezing cockpits, and stale coffee, it's best to leave that behind when traveling with reluctant family. Instead, make a plan that's high on comfort and low on surprises.
My strategy began with the convergence of good weather, an early morning departure, in-flight entertainment options, and overall compassion for my very important passengers (VIPs).
There’s not much a pilot in command can do about the weather once you’ve launched, but there’s plenty you can do beforehand. Planning an early morning departure during spring, summer, or fall usually includes smoother air and lessens the possibility for convective activity leading to uncomfortable flights through turbulence, or dodging storms later in the day.
I'll be honest, it was a challenge to get our family moving early enough for an 8:30 a.m. departure. Keeping us on schedule meant fueling and partially loading the aircraft in advance to save time and keep things moving the day of the flight. It's a good practice to avoid keeping your passengers cooped up in the car while you prepare the aircraft for flight to keep them content.
A polished aircraft, a clean windscreen, working avionics, assurance of routine maintenance, and seats free of rips and tears went a long way to reassure my passengers they were being treated professionally and with the utmost care.
Stash water bottles or other drinks in a soft-sided cooler within easy reach. Stow some energy bars, grapes, packaged cheese, jerky, or veggie sticks for nourishment on longer flights. Bring a down jacket or lightweight blanket that can ward off the shivers at 9,500 feet mean sea level because the higher you fly, the better chance your passengers will snooze and wake up refreshed when you land.
Don’t laugh. A music option delivered through quiet headsets can help calm reluctant family members or keep them busy while you communicate with air traffic control and handle the hard stuff. I offered Lisa my Bluetooth-enabled Lightspeed Zulu 3 active noise reduction headset for the AOPA Top 100 Flying Songs playlist. OK, I—reluctantly—suggested my headset, but she was more comfortable with her own earbuds. Ditto for the daughter.
A smooth takeoff, gradual turns, and a shallow climb to altitude and descent ruled the day. Save yanking and banking for another time. There was no need to show off or to scare them away from flying with me in the future. In fact, I took it as a compliment when they wafted off to sleep and didn't awake until well into the Nashville descent.
Airport-spotting, airplane-spotting, and natural-feature-spotting can be helpful, and it can also keep young ones in the game. “See the river snaking off to our left? That’s the Cumberland River and it’ll lead us directly to the airport.”
Call ahead for local weather expectations, landing pattern tips, hotel advice, and ground transportation. The folks at John C. Tune Airport's Contour Aviation arranged a rental car, and to our surprise the flight line crew rolled up in a white BMW sedan—for the price of a Chevy! Then they unloaded the aircraft and helped me secure it at a tiedown spot.
Motivated to provide an efficient, comfortable, drama-free aviation experience for my reluctant traveler, we arrived refreshed and had plenty of time to explore Nashville’s restaurants, museums, and honky-tonk scene in the classy car. It was the icing on the cake.