A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

July 2010

Having a Backup Plan

                Unless it’s an IFR flight, most pilots will take off without an alternate airport in mind.  We all do it.  But a VFR trip isn’t usually planned without a thorough check of the weather at the destination airport.  So in most cases, there’s no need for that ‘Plan B’.  Besides, pilots are usually pretty capable of formulating another plan if things start to go sour. 

                 Having a backup plan is something that should not be confined to flying someplace.  We’re often forced to deviate from an initial choice even in the supermarket when our favorite brand of bread, for example, is out of stock.  We intend to buy “brand A”, we don’t think about the “brand B” until we see there is no “A” left on the shelf.   If we get bogged down in heavy traffic or there’s an accident on the freeway on our way to work, we can re-program the street-map GPS and deviate around it.

                  Some choices and alternate plans are easier to formulate than others.  But the principles remain the same.  The ‘plan B’ applies in life choices too.  As I approached retirement, all my weekends and days off work became time to practice for it.  I would do the fun things and think of doing them as  ‘retirement practice.’  I would focused on activities and attitudes that a person could expect to experience after he retires.  Questions would come up, like “could I get accustomed to sleeping late in the morning?  Would I feel like I’m wasting time?  What could I be doing with all the leisure time?”  It was a rehearsal for the big show, the show that went on and on.  I was working on a plan that was an alternative to working everyday.

                  The advice from articles and books about retirement talked about missing the daily contact with colleagues and the rest of the “outside world”.     Strangely, that never occurred to me during the months and years leading up to retirement, but did actually happen later.    During the practice times, I focused on the good things to be enjoyed once the work was out of the way. 

                   For pilots, there is always the distinct possibility of retirement being forced upon us before we’re ready.  The aviation medical examiners will tell you they are there to help keep us flying, and I believe most of them are quite honestly on our side.  With appeals, in many cases losing a medical will be only temporary.  However, when the time comes to hang up the headphones for good, we better have a Plan “B”. 

                   I wrote about this back in 2006.  That article discussed how some people hang on to their jobs or careers far past the time they ought to be out.  When a person becomes incapable of performing the tasks at hand, sometimes the retirement decision is not his to make.  In commercial aviation, that’s a good thing.  You flunk the medical, and you’re out.  If it were any different we may all be asking ourselves about the capabilities of that old pilot sitting up there in the cockpit.

                   The lucky folks in this world are those with a real passion for something.  Whatever it is, golf, gardening, sailing, or building something, these are the ones, whether they know it or not, who already have their plan B.  When they are forced to retire from a job, they’re able to turn to their hobbies.   Those without another passion, or another interest, are still at an exciting point in their lives, exploring all the possibilities and opportunities that are out there.   Life goes on.  It waits for no one.  It’s up to us to grasp the days, the ideas, the possibilities and opportunities.  When flying is no longer an option, the door is open to all the other things we’ve been missing. 


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