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Answers for Pilots: Holiday flights with familyAnswers for Pilots: Holiday flights with family

No need to stress about it!No need to stress about it!

Loading family into airplaneIt doesn’t seem possible that the holidays are, again, right around the corner! But with their inevitable approach comes the opportunity to fly, rather than drive, the family to celebrate with distant relatives and friends. Flights with family, especially with children, may involve some special planning. Feeling the pressure to get there on time, overpack, and meet the needs of children in the back seats can be challenging for the pilot.

One of the biggest keys to a successful family trip is flexibility. Building an extra day into the trip on either end—or on both ends if your schedule permits—does wonders to minimize stress and the pressure to get there or get home at a predetermined time. For instance, if flying to visit your in-laws for Thanksgiving, tell grandma and grandpa you will arrive either Wednesday or Thanksgiving morning—depending on weather, health, and other possible unexpected delays—and you will be in contact as the time approaches with a more accurate ETA. It’s an effective way to manage everyone’s expectations and avoid disappointment all around.

While flying is faster and certainly more fun than driving, the airplane’s speed advantage is typically paired with a weight disadvantage. Although there are exceptions, a car trunk or truck bed can usually carry a lot more weight than an aircraft baggage compartment. So, if your holiday trip involves a long stay and you’re going to pack suitcases, golf clubs, camping gear, gifts, etc., take some time to calculate your weight and balance well before you depart. You may decide to ship some items to your destination, or rent them when you get there. That decision is much easier to make at the kitchen table a week before than on the tarmac the morning of departure.

Noise. Hunger. Nausea. Boredom. Yes, we are talking about the wee joys of your life in the back seats. With a bit of planning, you can mitigate the distractions. Have a “shhh” time when the kids know they have to be quiet. With toddlers, it could be snack time when their little mouths are chewing rather than chatting; a preschooler could play a whispering game that lasts 10 or 15 minutes—long enough for you to take off and get established on course. Speaking of snacks: animal crackers, fruit, handfuls of cereal—anything bite-size and not too messy can settle the queasiness, but when all efforts fail, have sick sacks handy and within an arm’s reach. A video downloaded to a small electronic device can be a godsend for a couple of hours of quiet in flight. Other road-trip-type games work well, and an “I spy” adaptation for the air can be a lot of fun (I spy a cloud giraffe. Where is it?)

Most of all, enjoy your time with the family. Those of us with grandchildren know the years pass very quickly! Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. From AOPA to all of our members—best wishes for a happy holiday season, both on the ground and in the air! May your flights with loved ones be safe, fun, and fret-free.

For answers to your questions, please contact the aviation technical specialists—as always—in AOPA’s Pilot Information Center, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Call 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) or email [email protected].

Kathy Dondzila

Kathy Dondzila

Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center
Technical Communications Manager, Kathy Dondzila, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.
Topics: US Travel, Cross Country, Travel

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