Have Some Basic Rules

This post is part of the five pieces that make up 2013’s How To Fly Across.

When I did my first really long flight in the little plane (up to Friday Harbor) I made a mistake on the return flight. We flew from KFHR to KEUG and then on to KAPC and home. We had left Friday Harbor pretty early in the morning and we had really enjoyed our lunch at Napa Valley on the way up, so we were anxious to make it to Napa for a reasonable lunch time. We landed in Eugene, Oregon, had the plane fueled, used the restroom at the FBO, looked around and said, “Should we just get going?” “I guess so.”

Huge mistake.

An hour later into the next leg of the flight and we were both very uncomfortable. The DiamondStar has few drawbacks, but one is the lack of adjustments on the seats. There’s no way to recline the back or slide closer to the controls… it’s a static seating position for the duration of your flight. Being in it more than three hours is a little bit of torture. Since we had spent nine hours flying the previous day, we were even more sensitive about it. By the time we landed in Napa two and a half hours later we had to crawl out of the plane on the wings.

So now I have a simple rule: forty-five minutes on the ground as a minimum. That’s not terribly long in a day of travel, you probably are going to be there at least fifteen minutes just to get the fuel in the plane and paid up. So you add half an hour to that. If you’ve stopped for a meal that’s easy. There have been a handful of times that I was antsy on the ground waiting for the time to pass, but usually I have weather to look at, email to check, other planes on the airfield to take a look at, and people to talk to.

I always make sure to have a bottle of water (now I carry my own stainless steel one) and a bag of peanut M&Ms (emergency food). I don’t go too crazy with the water until I am within an hour of my destination. I think in seven years we have had to land for a restroom fewer than half a dozen times.

Here is a simple rule that I use for all flights: If I make three mistakes getting off the ground (or before) I cancel the flight. That hasn’t happened yet, usually the second mistake makes me so careful that I don’t get that third strike. But I’d be happy to be on the ground. (A mistake is something simple: I once forgot to buckle my seatbelt, I’ve realized in the run up that I neglected to check the oil level, or I do everything except unclipped the tail hook in my tie down. So I get the engine started, start to move forward and thump, stop. I say aloud, “That’s one,” and if I make three then I am not fit to be flying that day.) In 2008 when I wrote my first guide for flying across, I mentioned this very idea and said I couldn’t do it because I wouldn’t be able to decide what a mistake was. I have figured that part out and now this works well for me.

Each time before getting in the plane say, “Is today the day?” Four words. A very helpful reminder that there is an element of chance to the endeavor and our ability to meet that presented challenge with the right attitude and some clear thinking can make all the difference.

Some basic, simple rules will increase your enjoyment of the trip. If you have more than one person along divide up some of the tasks, because when you end a leg of the flight and you are a little buzzed from being in the sky, having clearly defined goals for each person is very helpful. Nell always arranges the hotel for the night, and often researches where we will be having lunch (the boys have started helping with that a lot). That’s a load off my mind when I am dealing with the fueling of the plane and (at the day) pulling the luggage out of the plane.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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