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Answers for Pilots: Holiday Flying

Keeping It Merry and Bright

Cessna 182 snowy mountainsAs you and your family strap into the airplane, heading for holiday festivities at your daughter and son-in-law’s home, think about what’s going through your mind. Are you running a mental inventory of the gifts packed in the back seats? Is the cooler keeping their favorite homemade pumpkin pie cold enough? Where is that 2014 “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament for your newest darling? Stop! You are the pilot in command. Focus on the flying! All of those you love are counting on you to arrive safely.

In the holiday spirit, let’s consider some tips from the song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Santa has managed a perfect safety record through the ages in spite of the stress he must feel each Christmas Eve to deliver on time!

"He’s making a list and checking it twice." Follow his example - that checklist you have? Check it, again. In fact, take a second look at the weather and your flight plan, as well. And remember to check for TFRs – they can pop up with little or no notice.

"Gonna find out who's naughty and nice." Talk to your passengers, old and young, about good flight etiquette. We who fly call it “sterile cockpit,” but you’ll likely have to explain: “Keep it quiet, please, when we are taking off and landing, so I can hear air traffic control on the radio.” If they are just too keyed up to keep their happy volume down, use the isolate switch on your radio to turn them off. They’ll never notice.

"He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you’re awake." If you are too tired, delay your flight until you have rested. I have a friend who has the enviable ability to refresh himself with 10-minute power naps. He’s a high time pilot and a very busy man and on two of the occasions I have flown with him, after we’re established and trimmed up on our flight path, he’s looked at me and said, “Kath, I need a nap. You’re the pilot in command. Wake me in 10 minutes, please.” He takes off his headset, and before I can say, “OK,” he is asleep. Ten minutes later – well, truthfully, I usually give him 15 – I nudge him awake and he’s instantly bright-eyed and in charge. But without a second pilot on board, this is not a good idea!


"Santa Claus is coming to town." Unlike Santa, who keeps a tight timeline, you can delay your flight if necessary. Many pilots schedule an extra day into their plans – and sometimes one on each end of the trip – to take the pressure off the “gotta go” mentality. Sometimes the weather needs time to improve; sometimes the pilot or a passenger is not fit to fly. Talk with your family well before the departure date about being flexible with the plans, and then you call the shots - it’s the privilege and the responsibility of the pilot in command.

AOPA has a subject report, “Flying with Family” with additional information on this topic. And the Air Safety Institute has a short Pilot Safety Announcement (PSA) titled, “V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N.”  Its lighthearted style packs a serious message about avoiding an accident.

AOPA wishes you and yours the very happiest of holiday flying this season!

Do you have flying questions? Give the aviation technical specialists in AOPA’s Pilot Information Center a call, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672).

Kathy Dondzila
Kathleen Dondzila King
Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center
Technical Communications Manager, Kathleen Dondzila King, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.
Topics: Flight Planning, U.S. Travel, Training and Safety

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