Making flight fun from the right seat

Many people have found peace and tranquility in the air. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people have their license to fly the US skies. For them, it’s a way life… either for professional or personal enjoyment. Regrettably, for their significant other, it may not be that exciting.

Map with circles
Travel by general aviation airplane – think of the possibilities!

I have been a right seater, by choice, for more than 20 years. My husband is the passionate left seater. He’s offered many times to let me take flying lessons, but that’s not the responsibility I want. On the other hand, one of my closest friends is a private pilot and she loves the freedom of flying anywhere, any time. The three of us spent a wonderful day at EAA AirVenture 2018, walking around the C-5, attending the Women in Aviation panel discussion, and touring all the other airplanes that had been flown in for the show. While each of us had a great day for different reasons, it was definitely fun spending time together.

So, left seaters may be asking… how can my significant other have fun with aviation like I do? That may be a challenging question, but if asked as “What would make flying more enjoyable for you?” it would get a better response. We all know that when it comes down to time, it’s very precious, we never have enough of it, and “what’s in it for me” is always in the back of our minds.

That’s where the conversation should start. Time. How does flying fit in your family schedule? This may be one of the most important topics to discuss. Both of us are employed full-time, have a few charitable and professional groups we belong to and a four-legged furry kid. “Family analysis” is what I call it. For many years, flying didn’t fit into our schedule, but about four years ago we, started re-evaluating what was important to us. Together we discussed our commitments, what we got out of them (professional certifications, civil service, etc.), and whether we want to continue them for years to come. Based on those conversations, we decided to investigate the cost to rent airplanes from our local FBO.

To left seaters, especially my husband, this was the first step to getting to fly more. To right seaters, including me, I saw money flying out the window. So, I started asking more questions.

  • How much does it cost? Per hour?!?
  • How far can we fly in an hour? …oh yeah, half hour out and half hour back. That’s not a lot. How about two hours?
  • How much fuel does an airplane take? What’s the cost per gallon? …wow! That’s more than premium gas! We only pay for what we use, right?
  • How do we know when a plane is available? Can it be any plane? (This should be seen as an opportunity to explain planes and ratings and how that impacts what a left seater can fly)

My take is that if money is being spent, I need to understand on what, and how it’s going to benefit me, too. So I started thinking about what would make it worthwhile to me. And, what would I be willing to sacrifice. I then asked my left seater what he would sacrifice. Fewer dinners out? Fewer golf games? Fewer new electronics? Again, this turned out to be a really good conversation because I ended up with more perennials (less yard maintenance), he agreed to golf the free work tournament only, and we decided that it would be healthier for both of us to make dinner at home.

When we rented an airplane for the first time a few years ago, the ride was very enjoyable, just as fun as I had remembered from many years ago, and only a little shocking when we paid our bill.

So, had my left seater won me over? Not yet. The flight conjured up even more questions. Why did my ears hurt? When “tower” wasn’t talking to us, it was really quiet. Where was the radio? Just flying around our regional towns won’t be fun forever. Where else can my chauffeur fly me? It was kind of hazy, but I could have still used my sunglasses.

Right seat gear
The right gear does matter.

First things first… head comfort. I asked my left seater if there were more comfortable headsets. He did some Googling and we decided I should put that on our list of things to check out at the next EAA AirVenture (now I had to go!). But, during his search, he actually offered… “Some headsets come with Bluetooth.” Which I took as “connect it to my phone and have music!” A win for me!

Next, where else could we go? I started Googling aeronautical “maps” (charts to pilots) because I wanted to understand how far away some of the NASCAR race tracks were, some college and professional football stadiums, and our out-of-state friends and family. It took a few months to agree on a full US laminated wall chart, but once we did, we started marking where we’ve been and where we want to go. It became fun looking across the US (not over mountains, though) to see the places we could fly.

And then I heard… as long as the weather is “good.” I understand not flying in rain or snow. An instrument rating lets us fly when it’s cloudy so what other weather concerns are there? Oh boy! I have spent the last six months “interpreting” WeatherBug’s forecasts. “Partly Sunny” to “Sunny” means wear sunglasses and plan to take pictures. “Partly Cloudy” means ask about the ceiling. “Breezy” means possible turbulence and/or crosswinds which aren’t really fun. “80% humidity” in the summer means take a handheld fan or swamp cooler, while humidity in the winter keeps us grounded since it’s easy to collect ice on our wings. Needless to say, now we talk about the weather a lot.

So, my left seater asked again if I wanted to learn how to fly. By all of our conversations, it sounded like to him that I was understanding more and possibly getting interested in doing more. While it’s true I can follow a lot more conversations now and can ask better questions, I really have no interest in becoming a left seater. For those of you who do, I totally support you. Anyone who wants to learn how to fly should have the opportunity. It is a very accomplished license since only 0.19% of the US population has that bragging right.

I will continue to enjoy my flying lifestyle as a privilege from the right seat. I have watched videos, read articles, downloaded safety checklists, and surfed for ways to develop better passenger etiquette. I ordered Flying Companion from Pilot Workshops to learn more about pre-flight activities in my comfort zone. I printed out and laminated a SAFETY checklist for me and our other passengers. We have started watching the free Aviation 101 online course from Embry-Riddle together so I can ask questions about concepts I don’t understand.  So far, my average quiz score is 94%! While I won’t become a private pilot, I am learning how to make the whole flying experience more fun being #mrsrightseat.

13 Comments

  • Tanya, thank you for your insights of being a “right seater”. I often wish my wife could enjoy my Aviation interests more as a right seater, but unfortunately her severe motion sickness and asthma keep her out of pretty much anything that moves a lot of ways. She does enjoy seeing me continue to immerse myself into something that I love as long as it is reasonable in time and money.

    I was impressed with your map and caught your other interests that now flying helps to enjoy by making those more accessible. May you continue to be a supportive Aviation companion.

    • The chart and the hours really helped put distance in perspective for future travel. We are marking where we’ve been with one tack color and where we want to go in another tack color. So many places to visit, I can hardly wait!!

  • Very good article Tanya. My right seater is not different than you. But you failed to mention my right seater’s motivation to fly with me. Her question is: Is there a good restaurant there, or where can we fly to for brunch. Not that she is a big eater, but it provides her with a point of enjoyment also. Over the years she has become an outstanding navigator whether she knows it or not. I still provide her with a chart to watch and guide me, even though it is “old school” and has long been replaced with GPS. I know that she is an “only VFR gal”, and I have no problem with that. But at least she is with me and has been for 53 years.

  • What a great article. As my wife and I prepare for our retirement I am really looking forward to flying more and further. Now I just need to get her into the right seat. She gets motion sickness walking through a carnival.

    • Joe, check out my article in this journal a while back, called “Barf,” for some suggestions on helping your wife overcome her motion sickness. I had it bad as a youngster, and didn’t really conquer it until I became a pilot. Here’s a thought: have your wife take the AOPA (or any other) course for non-pilot significant others. If she could take the stick for a while now and then, and get used to how the controls work, that might overcome the fear that underlies a lot of motion sickness.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings on the right seat Tanya. The question you started with is a great question for us right seaters to ask our favorite passengers, as well as others.

    • Flying gives passengers a perspective they don’t get on the ground. Seeing your surroundings from the sky is very beautiful and sometimes we forget that. On our last flight of the year, I spotted a farm that had mowed the word “hello” in their front yard. I got a picture of it, but would have never seen it from the ground. It was very clever!

  • Personally It sounds to me that you will never be satisfied no matter who you fly with or where you go. You are very opinionated & want to discuss everything you want and see. Flying is for people who love to fly and enjoy just for the sake of flying. Some women enjoy doing other things, so be it and that is great, as long as that is what you enjoy wholeheartedly. If you go flying with your Husband just to go with him, neither of you will enjoy flying to what it is meant too. Sorry, maybe you should find your own hobby what ever that may be, and leave the flying to your significant other, I’m sure he will enjoy it just the same with or without you!!! sorry just my opinion..

    • I’m sorry you have that impression. I’m an educated risk-taker and when activities are safe and fun, I’m all in. In our family, I’m the first to ask on if we can go fly today. We have so many places to we want to visit, I’m just thankful we have our own airplane to get there. We each have our own hobbies, but this is one we thoroughly enjoy together, even cleaning the bugs off the windshield and leading edges after longer trips.

  • It’s important to know what your right seater’s concerns are. Destination is important so we pick locations she wants to visit. What she is uncomfortable with are turbulence and steep turns. We avoid flying on days or at altitudes where turbulence is likely and I file and fly IFR to make sure there are no turns steeper than standard rate. If you scare your right seater you will be flying alone more often than not.

    • Building trust and the pilot’s willingness to fly within comfort bounds is very important. Glad to hear your awareness continues to make flight enjoyable for both of you. I’ve loved roller coasters since my first ride at age 8…I totally want the steep turns. The turbulence is bearable once in a while, but climbing higher is usually my preference. Happy flying!!

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