Winning over a reluctant passenger

I have finally reached the second half of my life, although that may have happened many years ago. The kids are now on their own and some discretionary income has finally returned. I say this for the reason that when I learned to fly, I had no children. As life progressed, flying went on the back burner, and as the children kept coming (I had three), the back burner just burned out. So fast forward a little, I divorced and have since re-married. I always knew that my Private Pilot certificate was for life and in the back of mind I knew I would someday knock off the rust and continue my childhood dream.

One day last spring, I stopped by the local airport and made that appointment to get back in the left seat. I had dreams of taking vacations with the wife to great destinations – most are only two hours away, including the Emerald Coast. I came home that evening and told my wife the great news. She had a look of terror on her face as she uttered the words, “You have a pilot’s license?”

I have to admit this threw me back a little. Not sure I ever omitted this fact from our many conversations. We had a long courtship and a long engagement, but she reassures me that we never had this discussion.

The flight was very exhilarating and my renewed love for flying was back on the front burner. To add a little salt to my wife’s deep concern, I found a great flying club that was selling a 1/4 share of a Piper Cherokee 180. The price was right, so I had to have another conversation with my flying companion. Deep down she was sure that this was just another fad of mine that would go away.

Companions in airplane
A companion who likes to fly with you is a gift, but it’s not automatic.

My wife is a nurse and has an extensive list of opinionated friends who are great at giving us advice. According to her, they all agreed that I needed to have my instrument rating before she would be willing to risk her life. This became my wife’s answer to staying out of the right seat. I have since then been educated on her fear of flying, in a small plane mind you, and that this is not a good idea. She loves flights to anywhere in the world, if they are on the big commercial planes.

So, there it was. I accepted this new challenge she had put on my plate. I got to use our airplane to start my instrument training. I quickly became VFR current and started the lengthy process of getting my instrument rating. On occasion, with perfect conditions, I would ask her to join me in the right seat and enjoy this beautiful day to fly. Her response was to remind me what her friends suggested, that she should wait until I had the instrument endorsement.

I would then counter her statement with my own and let her know that she was running out of time, that this training would have an ending date coming soon. I tried to outsmart her and even took her boss out for a lunch trip, who is a best friend and introduced us. He gave her a great report on my flying skills, but her answer still involved her workmates’ advice. I could feel that I was starting to wear her down. Then it happened: she finally agreed to a Sunday flight to visit her family for a day.

We waited a month before the perfect Sunday to fly came along. I wanted her first flight to be perfect, and she was perfectly fine waiting. Finally, a gorgeous late fall day, plenty of sunshine and smooth air. I nailed the landings and had the perfect flight. I even used flight following to help ease her mind, and mine as well. The funniest thing I think I’ve ever heard her say was to her BFF that night on the phone. She talked about the flight and answered several of her questions, but when asked what she liked the most, she responded that when we were cruising close to the ground (1500 AGL) the last couple of miles under Class B airspace. I asked as to why she felt that way. It was a simple answer: “I just like being closer to the ground.”

The second flight happened a couple of months later. It was Christmas Day and her son was in town. I asked her if I could take her son for a flight over the city and introduce him to GA. She about broke down crying, saying, “I couldn’t stand losing the two of you should something happen, I’d have nothing to live for!” She calmed down and agreed several hours later that we could go if all three of us went. It was a beautiful clear Christmas Day night, or so I thought.

I had planned on doing a tower en route flight over the Memphis airport and then flying over downtown and Mississippi River. As we got airborne, and headed west, little did I know that a thin layer of clouds was working its way in over our departure airport, which caused us to land at Memphis International. Lots of first that night: tower en route, alternate airport before they went IFR, class B airport and asking for progressive taxiing.

Luckily, I’ve earned a lot of trust for some good decision making and I’ve since had her in the air one more time. Things are looking good on having a flying companion. I realize having this flight companion is mine to screw up. So, I plan to continue making sound decisions on conditions and being patient while she builds her right seat time. I have since then finished my instrument rating and am now working on my commercial.

17 Comments

  • My wife derisively considers my flying ‘a hobby.’ I earned my PPL in 2000 and before then I had applied three times (all unsuccessfully) for work at UPS Airlines. Got my license in 2000 and I added that milestone on my resume. Applied to work at UPS Airlines again in ‘04. This time I got in and I still work for them. Excellent medical benefits for my family. Most I’ve had to pay has been $50 for an MRI. NO deductibles or visit fees for anybody in the fam.

    Wife conveniently overlooks this about my ‘hobby.’

  • Good article and advice. I am going through a similar experience and set of requirements with my wife and two young daughters. I also committed to 100 hours of recent flight experience (I got my rating 30 years ago, but stopped flying 26 years ago).

    As a family we have taken a few short trips, but mostly stuck to our plan. My kids love the plane. My wife is a nervous nelly and prone to motion sickness, so it’s been difficult for her. I am mindful to recognize her concerns and careful to plan easy trips. An hour flight to a dude ranch resort with an airstrip. An hour and fifteen minute flight to Orlando’s Universal Studios. She is definitely warming up to to the potential fun travel we can have and experience the hassle free experience flying in to smaller airports. The greater control you can have over your own schedule is also appealing.

    What surprised me most was what makes me comfortable is not necessarily what comforts her. She has no interest in listening to the radio traffic and much prefers listening to music. So far any encouragement on my part for her to briefly manipulate the controls in flight at a safe altitude has no interest for her. I have suggested that she may feel more comfortable after taking a few lessons with an instructor, but no interest so far.

    I now have 140 hours in last 8 months and my IFR check ride is Monday. So while I think we’ve met our original requirements, it will be baby steps for her. We have a 750nm trip planned this summer. She is looking forward to the trip, but I will break it up into a two day trip each way. Happy wife, happy life…

    • Good approach to getting the spousal unit acclimated. I had to do the same thing. The SP still doesn’t like the lunch runs, but is ok if we are going somewhere and sightseeing. So, that ends up giving me xc opportunity. Still she is only good for about 2 legs, 5 -6 hrs a day.

    • I’m a flight instructor. Many women attend air shows with their significant other, and I ask them if they fly. “Oh, no! I could NEVer do that.. “ wiggle, giggle, smile. I just want to SLAP them!

      Too often they have not been challenged to try new adventures, or have been told women don’t fly. It is disheartening for those of us who do fly.

      I stress that we are afraid of what we don’t know, and can’t control, and the adventure of flying is very enabling tothose who will give it a whirl.iwould suggest a gift of a Discoveryflight – a hands on, true blue flight without the man in attendance- with a female instructor.

  • Its is natural to be fearful of things you don’t understand. Particularly if your external support network is also. Id remind your wife most patients are scared of all that hospital equipment (particularly kids), but that doesn’t mean they don’t go.

    What worked for me was having my wife help in the copilot seat and explaining the sounds, steps i was doing and why in simple terms. Runup = we stop over hear to test all the systems and make sure the airplane is ready to fly”.. . Looking for traffic, airports, then holding the control for a minute while i got a chart, holding control with me while flying to get the feel. Pinch hitters course also helped. After a few trips she was doing some of the VFR enroute, “follow the pink line” as she calls it. … good luck!

  • Sad experience. Discourteous FAA tower controller screaming over radio. Wife with anxiety disorder coupled with ground person inserting himself between turning prop and leading edge of our recently completed RV9 using improper hand signals. Fortunately no fire but this left ATC controller in dark about our clearance and he had trouble coping with it. She is reluctant to fly in small plane.

  • Thanks for your story. I laughed out loud at several things in your article as they are part of my story as well. On the first day I was planning on taking the family up, my wife was nervous as expected. I offered to take the boys without her and her reply was, “no, I’d rather we all die together”. She went and the boys had a blast. After 15 years she only flys with me when a good destination is promised.

  • Guess good things and good times come to the patient ones. My good fortune was/is that my wife spent time going over charts before her first flight which was xcountry, and did most of the navigating for us. Took the pinch hitter course but has no desire to go farther. Says “why should I when I have my own personal pilot?” Always ready for the next trip but no interest in local flights, and makes every fourth landing to “stay current”.
    Count my blessings as I still take a flight physical every two years and pass with no exceptions at age 70. The present requirements are OK for those who like it, but Doctors can often find a problem before you even know you have one, so my physicals continue every two years with a 2nd class. We are both more comfortable that way.

  • For the most part, I won’t persuade a reluctant anyone to fly with me. In fact, if there’s ANY indication of that, they don’t go. It just ain’t worth it. Life is too short to try to convince someone to do what I like.

    Fortunately, my current GF is half owner in the plane and a rated pilot (unfortunately not for this plane). She flies as copilot, loves to and we’ve flown together all over North America in our Beechcrafts.

    For a wife, I’d choose wisely before marriage, or she might end up my x wife.

  • Stick with it! Had the exact same situation with my wife. Next on our training; teach her the basics of landing the plane without killing everyone. Doesn’t have to be pretty or even with the wheels down and locked, having a none pilot landing a plane will never be easy or clean, BUT it can save lives

  • The great Gordon Baxter had a shaggy dog story about his wives and flying that would fit right into this discussion. From the beginning, my wife was fully supportive of my learning to fly, and even suggested buying our first airplane (am I lucky, or what?). However, she was not comfortable in the plane until she took 9 hours of flight instruction from a patient senior CFI. When he said she was ready to solo, she said “No thanks” and took no more lessons. We did a few trips as a family, but she basically had no interest in light plane flying– “noisy and boring for a passenger.” Oh well…

    • Sometimes at Oshkosh, I was Bax’s “handler” to make sure he got where he was supposed to get to and do what he was supposed to do so I heard him speak there a lot. Never failed that a man would stand up in the Q&A session and say, “My wife doesn’t like to fly, what can i do?” And Bax would pause, get a twinkle in his eye and say, “My first wife felt the same way.” It always took the audience about 3 seconds of silence to get what he was saying and it always got laughs and applause, even, I’m sure, from people who had heard the joke.

  • I feel very fortunate after reading this, and all the comments. I’m working on my Private Pilot license right now, even as I finish the RV-7A that I’m building. My wife has been coming along on some of my training flights in the C-172 that I’m training in. She quietly enjoys the back seat and takes pictures. Loves it. When friends ask her anything, she just says “there’s nobody else I’d rather die with!” So we’re having a great time, and she is really looking forward to traveling adventures and going places with me, all over the country. It comes with the understanding that if we had to drive to these places, and there are literally hundreds of them, most of them are too far away. We just don’t have the time. This thing is a time machine and a magic carpet, and she gets it.

    I have suggested to some, maybe if you travel alone to a great resort somewhere and send her pictures of what she’s missing, it may help with some motivation.

  • My wife of 44 years refuses to fly with me. All of my friends and several of hers have flown with me and tell her how fun it was and what a safe pilot I am.

    Recently, a friend of mine was promoted to Captain with a major airline, he had a party and my wife asked all the other wives of pilots attending the party if they fly with their husbands, not one of them said they will get in a small plane with their spouse. To this day my wife will not fly with me as PIC.

  • I’m a VERY rusty PPL after learning in college and then having 30+ years of life get in the way. No doubt that is confessing to the choir though.

    But I have kept reading (AOPA, EAA, and anything else I get my hands on) dreaming, and looking up at every engine I hear overhead. I intend to become current and work up to CFII and a homebuilt plane. My girlfriend knows I want to pursue it and is not the least bit discouraging. She loves motorcycling with me so I thought she might like flying in a small plane if introduced safely and responsibly. Like the author of this article I could foresee some short day and overnight trips if she did and sunset joyrides.

    So I asked an acquaintance with a 172 to take us up for an hour one nice day. Darn if she didn’t love it!! Now all those cool one-holer home builts are out of the question!

  • I can relate with your situation. I have taken several people for flights who were afraid to fly in single engine piston airplanes. It is very rewarding when you can successfully get them past their fear. Patience is your friend in these situations. Try to make short flights on smooth days.
    For the motion sickness, try Sea Bands. You can buy them at the drug store or I believe Sporty’s caries them. They are inexpensive and have worked for several people I know.
    Good luck, patience and persistence.

  • My wife is the same way with flying and anything height related. She hates Heights and she does not like flying, even commercial, which proves difficult as her family is 6 hrs away on a commercial flight. Early in my hobby we reached a compromise, I take her on one flyout a year and I don’t ask her the rest of the year. Since then she comes with me a couple of times a year when she is comfortable and we are both happy.

    Ps: my landings also improved once she started taking something for motion sickness

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