You've put a lot work into getting that private pilot license. Now it's time to take your family on a vacation AND get flying time. Your spouse and kids will love the adventure, as it's definitely more fun than a long car ride or dealing with an airline's security lines. And what a view!
With a little planning, you can have your cake and eat it too!
Assuming you have never taken a family trip where you are flying the plane, there are several things you will want to do to ensure the comfort of the trip for everyone.
Overcoming The Fear Factor
Some people (usually adults in my experience) are initially scared of flying for a myriad of reasons, mainly the unknown; the heights, the small space, not understanding your piloting skills or how a plane can still glide if the engine fails, etc. It will be your job to get them comfortable with flying in a plane before going on any trip so they know what to expect and can relax during the flight. Here are a few ideas to ease your family into flying.
- Take everyone out to the airport and let them go through the preflight with you. Explain what you are doing and why are doing it. They will feel much more comfortable knowing that the aircraft is safe because you checked it out so thoroughly.
- Suggest taking everyone up for a short flight around the area or even stay in the pattern. If there is any resistance, then don't force it, as you will likely get pushback any time flying comes up in the future. Give it time and take those family members that want to go. Show them your house, school, and other local landmarks they know.
- Take your family members on short, local flights away from the airport so they can get used to being in the confines of a plane high above the ground. Make sure to use ear protection; preferably a headset so they can talk amongst each other and hear you talking to the tower.
- Let your kids take the controls and see how the plane turns. You never know when you may be introducing your future co-pilot to the wonders of flight.
- Once your family is comfortable with the idea of flying, now it's time to suggest a destination. Remember to let them give suggestions as to what type of destination (beach, mountains, visiting family) they would like. Maybe it's just a 100-mile flight for dinner someplace. This buy-in gives everyone something to look forward to. The radius search on AirportGuide.com is a very useful tool to show you all of the fields that meet your criteria within a certain distance.
Now that everyone is ready to take that trip, where will you go? Here are a few suggestions on both coasts of the United States and one up in the Rocky Mountains for your consideration as they represent beautiful scenic locations with something for everyone.
Catalina Airport, also known as the “Airport in the Sky”, is at an elevation of 1602 feet with drop offs at both ends of the runway. It is a fun, challenging airport to fly into. During the summer, every other Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there is an amazing Santa Maria Tri-Tip BBQ at the airport. Make sure to call the airport for reservations at 310-510-2196. If that isn't open then enjoy a buffalo burger at the DC3 restaurant while watching live buffalo roam outside. If you want to spend the night down in the island community of Avalon, there is a 30-minute shuttle that will take you down to the town. There are plenty of B&Bs and camping opportunities for the adventurous. Play golf, go fishing, swimming, boating, and hiking. The possibilities are endless. Catalina airport should be on every pilot's bucket list.
Aspen is a great place to fly into. The summer is beautiful with hiking, white water rafting, mountain biking, and more while the winter is great for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, dog sledding, etc. Flying into Aspen is one of the most scenic flights as it is down near the end of a valley and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Flying in can be a bit tricky if you aren't prepared. Approach (15) and departure (33) are in opposite directions for safety reasons in the valley.
Here are a few pointers before you take this trip. Early mornings are best since the air is calm and cooler. If it's summer time, make sure you will be able to takeoff if it's warm outside. The airport is at 7838 foot elevation so your density altitude on a hot day can easily exceed a small GA plane's ability to take off.
If you want to visit New York City, you will give your family a very scenic view of the Big Apple from the sky. Just make sure to review your charts thoroughly so you know what to expect in this congested airspace. There is an uncontrolled field just over the river in Linden, New Jersey where you can slide into the area. Less than 2 miles from the airport is a train station that can take you right into the city. Now, New York can be a bit more expensive than some other destinations but the amount of things to do more than makes up for it. To make efficient use of your time and money, consider getting a New York City Pass. They routinely offer discounts of up to 41% off attractions.