Baby on Board! Flying with the Whole Family


Last Saturday was the third time my wife and I have taken our infant daughter flying in a small airplane, and I think we’re finally starting to get it figured out.

There’s no good reason why a baby can’t come flying with you. There are, however, some extra considerations necessary for a small passenger. With a little preparation, the personal airplane can become a weekend getaway machine for the whole family.

Most car seats are also approved for use in aircraft by the FAA. If your seat is approved, there will be a sticker on it that says so. Seatbelts work about the same in airplanes as they do in cars, so there shouldn’t be any problem getting the seat secured, but it’s a good idea to check it out in advance, just to make sure.

We’ve found it works best to put the baby behind the pilot’s seat. In a Cessna 172, the pilot usually slides the seat forward after getting in. This means the non-flying parent in the right seat can slide back, reach behind the pilot, and have good access to baby in the back seat.

Sun protection is big deal, because airplanes are necessarily built like tiny flying greenhouses in order to afford the pilot a good view. Make sure you’ve got some way to give your passenger shade without blocking the windows.

Hearing protection is a must for everyone in the plane. Infants’ ears are especially susceptible to permanent damage. Earplugs are great, and easily available, but good luck getting them to stay in! And once they’re out, they’re a choking hazard, so you’d better have someone in the back seat to watch the kid the whole time.

This was our major find for last week: for $25 we got youth-sized protective earmuffs, that fit our 10-month-old baby just fine, from the gun department at a sporting goods store. She wore them the whole flight without a fuss.

Speaking of ears, remember babies haven’t had the opportunity to learn the Valsalva Maneuver, and may not be able to clear their ears as well as grownups during climbs and descents. Make sure your baby doesn’t have any kind of sinus blockage before flying. This is important for adults, too. Descents are harder on sinuses and ears than ascents, so plan to come down slowly. I’ve used 500-700 feet per minute with the baby and never had any problems. Sucking on a bottle will also help a baby clear her ears during an approach.

If you have any questions about physiology, talk to your flight surgeon.

For a small child, especially one who can’t see out the window, bring plenty of distractions and an extra parent to tend the child in flight. Single-pilot, single-parent operations probably aren’t a good idea until the kids are old enough to take care of themselves a little bit.

With a little extra planning, flying can enrich the lives of your entire family. An airplane can take you places and show you things you can’t see any other way. And what could be better for a pilot than sharing the things you love doing with the people you love most?

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Dreams

It’s the first gray light of a cool spring morning. Green grass is stained silver with heavy dew and thin mist sits low in still air.

The only sound at the little airport is rubber tires rolling slowly on wet asphalt as I push the Piper Cub out of its hangar. Its glossy doped fabric wings and body are brilliant warm yellow against the dark pavement and shady trees.

Wooden propeller blades spin into a swishing blur as the little Continental comes alive, carefully parting the sacred silence without shattering it. In a few moments, we’re flying along low and slow over the countryside, circling and swooping over pastures and trees as the rising sun chases the last shadows of night from the land.

We’re in no hurry. When we finally land a little less than an hour later, the sun is full up and the airport is wide awake. The mechanic greets me as I push the Cub back into its hangar. He’s a good mechanic, and friendly, and I’m glad I hired him a few years ago.

Once the kids are off to school, my wife joins me at the airport. She sits behind the desk at our FBO, and she does a great job taking care of everyone who stops by or calls into our little place.

There is work to do today. This morning, a man is coming to look at and test fly an airplane I’m brokering. A light twin on a cross-country will be stopping for fuel and lunch. And I’ll have a couple of students to fly later in the afternoon. In between all that I’ll be replacing burned-out runway lights, mowing grass, and doing other odd jobs to keep the field running smoothly.

Of course this never happened. Not yet, anyway. I’ve never flown a Piper Cub, and my job right now is far from Professional Hangar Bum and Manager of a pastoral airport. It’s just a dream.

To be a pilot, though, is to be a dreamer. Moving people or goods by air may be justifiable economically, and sometimes necessary to reach remote locations. But to become an aviator is a solemn act of romantic impracticality. It requires devotion, effort, and fiscal expense far beyond any reasonable expectation of return.

Economists use the term “opportunity cost” to describe what one gives up by choosing one thing over another. Thinking this way, there’s always something better to do than be a pilot. Most of the time, this logic prevails. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve met who tell me “I’ve always wanted to fly, but” it’s too expensive, they don’t have the money. The list goes on, but the central factor is there was always something else, something more practical, to spend their money on. Life gets in the way of dreams.

But what, precisely, is the opportunity cost of a dream?

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