In a fantasy world, you would fly your aircraft while your spouse quietly reads a novel in the passenger seat and the children sit in the back, either gazing out the window or happily playing with a puzzle or game—a peaceful family resembling characters from a 1950s sitcom. Reality can be starkly different. Your angry spouse might blame you for a bumpy flight that left the kids crying after they wet their pants and filled the Sic-Sacs. Everyone will get over it, eventually, but a bad experience doesn’t bode well for your future flying as a family. The good news is that with just a little extra planning, everyone will arrive happy and you’ll be guaranteed a repeat flight. (Your kids might not look like they’re from a 1950s sitcom though.)
AOPA member Liad Biton is a San Diego-based software company owner with three children under eight years old. When he flies his family in his Cherokee Six, he is well-prepared. Biton says anyone flying with children should, “Think car trip.” By making the airplane ride as similar to a car trip as possible, all passengers, including his wife, feel more comfortable.
Keep the children safe with proper restraints. Just as in a car, you want your child to have the ultimate in safety when it comes to a seat. Because of their smaller size, children can be difficult to restrain properly in a seat, and it’s not always safe to hold a child in an adult passenger’s lap. Many car seats will fit in airplanes. It’s worth the investment to find some that do. For more information on car seats and restraints, check out AOPA’s online resource about proper restraints.
Protect their ears with headsets for kids. Don’t depend on an adult-size spare to protect your child’s hearing. The headset will be too big, will keep falling off, or the child will just take them off if too uncomfortable. If you don’t want to invest in a headset for your child, a great alternative would be a $15 pair of earmuffs from your local Home Depot; they fit well on toddlers and young children and get the job done.
Be sensitive to your passengers. As pilots, you know that bumps are just bumps. Not so much for your passengers. If you ask the average person what is the one thing that freaks them out in flight, it’s turbulence, whether it’s a Boeing 767 or a Cessna 172. Turbulence has a huge impact on nonpilot passengers. That is why your goal is always to have a calm, “uneventful” flight, and planning your route carefully can make all the difference. “Sure, you can shave 10 minutes by flying over that mountain top, but remember, your passengers are already enjoying the speed of commuting in an airplane (versus a car), another 10 minutes to ensure passenger comfort is a small price to pay,” Briton said.
Be prepared. Just because everything has gone smoothly on a previous flight doesn’t mean the upcoming flight will be equally smooth. Be prepared with what can go wrong by having extra batteries, wipes, Sic-Sacs, snacks—whatever might come in handy on a flight. As for Briton’s “Think car trip” mantra, that means preparing the airplane a day in advance, filling the tanks, installing the car seat, and stowing the necessary kid gear before your family arrives at the airport. When the family is ready to go, all the pilot has to do is the usual preflight.
And, finally, the fine print. What if you take your daughter’s friend along for a family flight and there’s an accident? Does your insurance cover other people’s children? According to AOPA Insurance, who you fly is at the discretion of the pilot. Your insurance coverage is for a person in a seat. Any person. And your insurance carrier doesn’t distinguish between whether the person in that seat is nine years old or 90 years old. Along those lines, a typical per-passenger sublimit is $100,000 while a typical combined single limit is $1 million or $2 million. Check your coverage and call AOPA Insurance at 800/622-2672 if you have questions.
Exposing your children to aviation at an early age is to your advantage for your long-term flying activities—not to mention having a happy spouse who is more than willing to take that next family vacation via general aviation. What’s more, it won’t be that long before one of your kids will be old enough to start taking flying lessons, too. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Whatever airplane you are flying—as an owner or a renter, AOPA Insurance has the right policy for you. For more information or to request a free quote on aircraft insurance, please call AOPA Insurance Services at 800/622-2672 or visit aopainsurance.org. Don’t forget: You may qualify for a 5-percent discount just for being an AOPA member.