This post is part of the five pieces that make up 2013’s How To Fly Across.
I read the comments on AirNav sometimes and I am shocked. Pilots complain about a thirty cent per gallon difference in price for fuel, when we are offered a crew car to drive into town to lunch, free WiFi, complimentary bottles of water, sleep rooms… such luxury.
In the United States there are only 617,128 active pilots (end of 2011, only half of them are instrument rated). Since there are 313 million people in the United States you are instantly not in the one percent, but in the two tenths of a percent that has the privilege to sail through the sky, unfettered by the contours of the earth or the traffic of other citizens who have destinations similar to yours. A lot of those other pilots cannot afford to fly their own airplanes (ironically because they are employed as pilots, a career which includes years of near-poverty wages), so you are in an even smaller group. If you are considering a flight all the way across the country (or as long a trip), then you own your own airplane, or have access to one in some way. Very, very fortunate.
The sky is our nation’s last frontier of freedom. As you slip away from the airport, you soon will fly into air space where there are almost no regulations at all. You can go as fast as you want, probably as high as you plane is able, you needn’t tell anyone where you are going, who you are, or which path you happen to want to follow next. You don’t even have to be talking to anyone. Eventually you might get close to larger communities and need to land at a busier airport, and then you have to talk to someone, but you could probably fly from Lincoln Park, New Jersey, to Big Bear, California without talking to a single government-employed person on the radio. (For airports without control towers you still need to talk on the radio to tell other airplanes where you are.)
For the privilege of landing at over five thousand airports across the nation you need to only continue paying your usual taxes: only a handful have additional fees. This is not true in Europe (or even Canada), where you pay for every flight. In China there is no general aviation to speak of. The airspace is controlled by the military and they grudgingly allow commercial use of it; personal use is absurd and treated accordingly.
As I’ve mentioned before about arriving at these FBOs across the country, we little pilots travel on the heels of the jet set. So we are typically treated (in my experience nearly always) like we have stepped out of our business jets.
Since you are so fortunate, please try to act like it. The line crew that marshals you into a spot on the ramp is probably working for minimum wage and saving his pennies for every flight lesson, hoping for that day when he can fly into an airport in a little plane, like you just did. A friendly hello, a moment to chat if she asks a question, and a tip on the way out go a long way.
Since it is a tiny community, your behavior reflects on it in a disproportionate fashion. That also means that when possible, give back to that community. If you use AirNav (which I do for my planning for these flights across the country), then try to keep track of the FBOs you visit and write reviews on the site when you can. I like to keep a record of those reviews myself (usually with a blog entry) because they scroll off of the AirNav site as they get older.