It has been a rough couple of years for restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions that make destination aviation truly enjoyable. As soon as your risk assessment permits, get those propeller(s) or turbines turning and do what airplanes were made for.
You will not have to go out of your way to find a beleaguered business that survived the sharp drop in trade. A few dollars from many people make a big difference for the tourism industry. While some FBOs have stayed busy, or even benefitted from increased private aircraft travel during the coronavirus pandemic (and the market for used aircraft remains brisk by most accounts), the brunt of the economic pain inflicted by the pandemic has been borne by purveyors of food and hospitality—anywhere people gather to enjoy a shared experience. Museums, concert venues, and even some wide-open spaces with facilities coming back online would love to see a few fresh faces.
People from all nations of the world have had their lives disrupted by the loss of jobs, income, and family, and it’s likely that tourism from overseas will be greatly reduced for quite a while. American travelers, like me, can help make up for the drop in international visitors, making this an opportune time to visit one of our many U.S. national parks. For the past two summers, many parks were open to drive in, park, and hike, but most of the facilities—the visitor centers, shops, dining, and lodging—remained closed. National park sites that are primarily museums or historic buildings were closed. Most are now open, but visitors are encouraged to wear face masks and maintain physical distance as much as possible. Each park’s operations are continually being adjusted by the National Park Service, so research the park you want to visit in advance to understand which facilities are available.
When you fly in to visit one of our national parks, you’ll rent a car for touring, book a campsite or hotel room, and shop in the camp store or dine at the park restaurants. That’s the best thing you can do— distributing your money to those workers who have suffered through this health and financial crisis.
In my local flying area, most airport restaurants were closed during the 2020 summer flying season and open for socially distanced, outdoor dining in 2021. Even with their best efforts, their income was reduced significantly. Most airport restaurants are now fully open—so fly out for that $100 hamburger every chance you get. Splurge on pie, order something extra to go. Fuel up your airplane after dining and spend some time, and money, at an airport-based aviation museum.
If you’re fully vaccinated, it’s reasonably safe to attend outdoor gatherings. Personally, I wouldn’t attend a concert where people are packed together, shoulder to shoulder, yelling and singing. But, wandering the flight line, perhaps at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, sounds reasonable to me. You can chat about everything aviation at a social, six-foot-distance, or from whatever distance you choose, masked or not. Make your own decisions depending on your medical situation. There’s no healthier way to sleep than in a tent under Midwestern stars. AirVenture is held at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 25 through 31.
For fans of Piper Aircraft, or just vintage fabric airplanes, another fly-in where you can camp out is the Sentimental Journey Fly-In. The annual gathering of Piper airplanes and pilots at the site of the original Piper Aircraft Corp. factory in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, may be a much smaller venue than AirVenture, but it’s equal in friendliness. You can spend the day gawking at vintage Piper airplanes, test your skills in a spot landing competition, chat with fellow pilots and aircraft restorers, and enjoy the evening’s corn boil and music before sleeping under your wing. This year’s Sentimental Journey will be held at William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, June 21 through 25.
Many pilots are fans of the book Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck, a touching (true) story of two teenage boys who restored a Piper J–3 Cub and flew it across the United States in 1966. I know of several pilots who enjoyed the book so much they retraced the route of these intrepid teen pilots. Perhaps the summer of 2022 should be the season when we make our own flights of passage?
Remember, medical professionals have made great strides in preventing and treating COVID-19, but people are still dying. The virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate, and it's impossible to predict how that will affect the safety of being around other people. This isn’t over yet. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated, stay alert for changing circumstances, and put up with wearing masks again if called for—or whatever else may be required to keep everyone safe.
We can’t fix the economy on our own, but we can contribute to the survival of the businesses that make going places in our airplanes fun and worthwhile. If we all do that, airplanes and pilots will stay ready to fly anywhere, and there will more likely be fun things to do and smiles to greet us when we get there.