A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

 February 2012    

Time to Spare?  Go by Air.


When we fly, commercially or in a private aircraft, we’re often delayed for one reason or another.  In surface transportation, whether it’s by bus or in our own vehicle, delays are common as well.  Traffic and construction are probably the most common reasons for problems faced when we drive from place to place.  In the air, it’s usually the weather that holds things up. 

Several years ago, I had a first-hand experience with the old saying that goes something like …. “If you have time to spare, go by air”.  On this particular flight, I was in Edmonton, and needed to cross one provincial boundary into Kamloops, British Columbia.  It began as a recreational flight with no time limit, however my passenger needed to be in Kamloops for a job the following day.  Unfortunately, some bad weather hung on longer than forecast west of Edmonton, delaying our departure in a Cessna 172.  Uncertain as to how long we’d be forced to wait, my companion decided to accept the offer of a ride from friends who were driving out to Vancouver via Kamloops that very day. 

Off they all went, leaving me at the airport to wait for weather out west to clear.  After a few hours, I decided to depart, and take a look for myself, figuring on stops en route if things didn’t pan out.  It was no big deal as I had no schedule to stick with.

 As it turned out, the weather did improve, and as I carried on, it became apparent that I might be in the clear if I could make it past Jasper and Mount Robson, into B.C.  A quick fuel stop in Edson, Alberta eased my concerns about that little detail, and within a few hours, I was on approach to Valemount, B.C. for a break and a bit more fuel. 

Within a few minutes of landing, I was surprised to see my friends drive up to the little airport in their car. They’d been equally surprised when they spotted my 172 descending over the highway toward the airport to land.  During their short stop and greeting, my original passenger decided to continue the trip with me, and it was agreed we’d all meet later in the day at my home in Kamloops.  Off they drove, I finished the refueling and in short order we were back in the air enjoying the fine weather.   

It takes just a couple of hours to fly from Valemount to Kamloops, and even with a brisk head wind that particular day, I was enjoying the flight, unconcerned with the time.  After all, there was no fuel issue and plenty of daylight remaining.  The procedures I like to follow while putting the airplane back in the hangar, checking fluid levels, filling out the log book and so on, always take me a bit longer than it probably should.  I just like to be thorough and be sure it’s all taken care of before leaving the airport.  After that was done, and we’d driven across the city to my home, another 20 minutes, what a surprise to find our friends sitting out front of the house, waiting.  They had driven the distance, about 500 miles, in 10 hours.   My total time flying, including the weather delay, fuel stops, finishing up in the hangar and the drive across town was about 10.5 hours.   

Under different circumstances, a pilot might be upset.  If flying is a job and the passengers need to be someplace at a certain time, a day like that one could have had more serious consequences.  I’ve been in that situation too.  As much as I enjoy flying as a job, there are times even being personally responsible for all the expenses, it’s all worth it to be unhurried, unstressed, and able to enjoy the trip for what it is.  A day with no schedule, clearing weather and a flight through the mountains with home as the destination is the best a pilot can hope for.  The time it takes becomes irrelevant.  In fact, we’ve all been on flights we wished would never end.  It’s just too much enjoyment.   

On the other hand, we all have stories of the nightmare flights, the ones through weather, with mechanical problems, sick passengers, severe turbulence, or simply restrictive time limits.  Times when the fuel situation becomes critical, and times when we wish we were on the ground thinking of flying, rather than flying and wishing we were on the ground. 

It’s all part of the excitement and what keeps life interesting.  I wonder if there’s ever been a study done involving death-bed confessions of a pilot.  Are there any who have ever wished they’d spent less time in the cockpit?  I seriously doubt that.  But who knows … as they say, it takes all kinds of people to make up life. 

Back to main page