Flying with kids

 The world over, every kid learns "airplane" as one of their first words. It's in every 100 First Words book in every bookstore in the world. Kids say "airplane," "avion," "flugzeug," or "zrakoplov" about as fast as they learn to say "mama" or "dada." For kids in much of the world, however, airplanes are everywhere yet nowhere, visible in the sky but not accessible on terra firma to all but a choice few.

Small wonder, then, that when kids actually get next to an actual airplane for the first time it is a thing of wonder. Whether at an air show, after breakfast at a local airport, or through the goodwill of Captain Snuffy at ABC airlines, permitted to sit a set of controls they imagine they are the pilot, often complete with airplane noises. I think this also happens with some adults.

How much more palpable is this sense of wonder when a kid actually flies for the first time. Usually it's on a 737 or CRJ and the process, the sounds, the uniforms, the sensations--these amplify the experience and take it to stratespheric levels.

But all of that happens on the ground, or mostly. Once that 737 takes off, the whole point is to remove any sensation and look for those "smooth rides" they're always asking about in the flight levels. The nervous flyer and the excitable kid may react differently to turbulence and sounds, but the point remains the same: remove any input from the plane and the air around it. Swept quickly up to 38,000 feet pressure altitude (I know, it's really QNE) and to 8,000 feet cabin altitude, either kid quickly falls asleep, only to be awoken by the chirp of the tires beneath him at touchdown.

We've all seen those videos online, however, with pilot dad and 3-year-old cutie pie behind him grinning ear to ear and giggling uncontrollably at every bump. But these are not outliers or one-offs; with a kid in the other seat the anticipation is very high as they help with the preflight, get strapped in, hear the engine roar to life & the radio chatter, but once the power comes up on takeoff all of the anticipation coalesces into a smile as wide as Texas. Moments later, they are airborne, fascinated, and happy.

My videos of each of our kids on their first flights in our airplane are family treasures to me. They are each very different personalities and several years apart but all three of them responded exactly the same way: ear-to-ear smiles, the entire flight.

This, then, is maybe just another one of those kid-in-airplane videos, in longhand. Yes, flying with kids is best done in that tired old taildragger rather than in the shiny new jet. With Dad, Mom, or Crazy Uncle Jeff at the controls, every bump, sound, smell, and feel will be all the more visceral, and memorable. They may even get some stick time.

This works on both kids and adults. Aviation stories are rife with those who got hooked after a flight with a friend or family member. I even remember an NPR interview with a woman who wrote a play entitled I Am the Pilot in Command, inspired by a flight with a friend who appears to have given her a rather thorough passenger briefing!

Many parents will disagree with me, my dear wife included. Little airplanes are dangerous, they say, and I don't want my kid in one. "You're not going to widow me and take my kid with you." The rebuttal is simple: your kid is vastly more likely to get hurt or die on their daily car ride to school than they are in a little airplane on a clear, calm day with a proficient pilot (and a nod here to an extra layer of risk management and preflight preparation when junior is on board).

Thank goodness for programs like Young Eagles and for non-programs like the Crazy Uncle Jeffs of the world who think an empty seat is a shame and seek out kids and people to take flying, knowing the experience will inspire. What it inspires is up to the kid, but there is no doubt that it will.

Take your kids (and the neighbor kids) flying. You may just spark in them a lifelong passion for aviation, whether flying, maintaining, engineering, building, or yes, even playwriting. Their lives will be better for it!


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