The Question
Flying|December 2020
Lists of one

I read Peter Egan’s columns in Cycle World and Road & Track for three decades of my life. I try to emulate his candor and colloquial storytelling style here on these pages. Every so often, Peter would put together a humorous top-10 list. If memory serves, it usually revolved around the failure of Lucas electronics in English sports cars or the 10 things your motorcycle says about you. Most people don’t know that Peter is a pilot as well. As someone in the upper percentile of his fan base, what better way to pay homage than to take a page from his book and write a top-10 list for Flying? And so, I give you the “top 10 things passengers ask when they get in my airplane for the first time.”

Well, that was the idea at least. As it turns out, there aren’t enough questions to fill a top-10 list. Or a top five. There aren’t even three. I get asked one question, the same question, over and over again, with a rate closing in on 100 percent. That single question is:

“Don’t you have to tell someone we’re coming?”

I know. The most unromantic question possible is what comes out of every layperson’s mouth when preparing to take part in the modern miracle that is human flight. Here we are, about to prove Bernoulli’s principle in the most dramatic, visceral way, and my passengers want to know if we need a reservation. Why are they burdened with logistics in the face of something bordering on the magical?

Patiently, I explain Class B airspace rules, public-use airports, the taxpayer money that supports them, and the basics of ATC communications to try and quickly move past the tedious inquiry. But they can’t seem to comprehend the idea that pilots can just make a radio call to any airport we like—from KJFK in New York City to a dirt strip in Wyoming—and then simply land.

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