Last weekend, I placed my three-year-old son Benjamin in the co-pilot’s seat of a Piper Archer for the first time. We were going to visit my friends George and John Kounis at an airport nearby and meet their new puppy, Radar. I was really excited to take Benjamin up for a flight and, while I made some mistakes, I wasn’t disappointed.
This was also the first time I tried out the FAA-approved CARES child restraint system, which straps onto the backrest of the seat. Previously I have moved Benjamin’s car seat into the airplane and, in addition to it being a hassle to move the big, clunky car seat, its headrests crunched Benjamin’s headsets uncomfortably around his head, so he would promptly remove them. But now there were no space restrictions and Benjamin kept his headset on.
It appeared to be a much better experience for him. He was excited to hear my voice in his headset, and even more excited to hear his own. He kept calling “Hi mommy!” repeatedly. It was cute, but I was glad that the audio panel allowed me to isolate myself from him or I wouldn’t have been able to hear the controllers.
The ability for Benjamin to wear the headsets thanks to the CARES system was great, but I neglected to consider that the car seat gave him several inches of elevation, which gave Benjamin a good view through the windows. Now his view was restricted to the side of the door. Fortunately he didn’t seem too bothered by that, but next time I’ll bring a pillow so that he can see outside.
The Archer’s co-pilot’s seat slid far enough aft that Benjamin was unable to reach the yoke. If that hadn’t been the case I would have put him in the back since I don’t think it would have been safe having him close enough to grab the yoke. Though Benjamin is only three he is quite strong and we could have been in trouble if he decided to forcefully pull back on the yoke during the take off or landing phase.
Once we got up in the air and leveled off in cruise, I slid his seat forward so that he would have an opportunity to control the airplane. The excitement in his eyes told the whole story and put a big grin on my face, too.
Our flight from Santa Monica to El Monte lasted only about 15 minutes, so it wasn’t enough time for Benjamin to get bored or uncomfortable. But if I were planning a longer flight, I would bring along a friend to keep an eye on him or keep him entertained. If my son was acting up, I knew I would be able to ignore him and focus on flying the airplane for the duration of our short flight. Fortunately his behavior was exemplary, but I wouldn’t want to take a chance on a longer flight.
I highly recommend taking your kids flying, but make sure that some safety measures are in place. If the child is large enough to reach the controls, but not mature enough to follow instructions, place him or her safely in the back. And if you’re flying with a chatty toddler, make sure that you can isolate your communications with air traffic control. I can’t wait to continue to teach my son to fly and I hope he’ll continue to love it.