We’ve written extensively of late about the dangers inherent in the second leg of a long cross-country flight. Taking that concept one step further, another danger zone can be identified with the trip back home, even if that’s a few days down the road.
Many of the same factors enter into the risk equation:
Stress and Fatigue: Because you’re on the tail end of the trip, you’ve been on the road, busy with sometimes stressful activities (family vacations can be loaded with stress) and having to cope without the usual comforts of home. Your flight planning, trip to the airport, departure procedures and more will be unfamiliar, all of which can add even subtly to the pressure.
Plan and Prepare: Plan early and well. Just because your flight isn’t for a few days doesn’t mean you can’t familiarize yourself with the departures or even create the flight plan before you leave home. Give yourself plenty of time to pick up snacks (or do this the night before), get fuel for the rental car and stop by the FBO to settle up the fuel and tie-down bill and grab that cup of coffee to go. Planning in more time means less pressure and better decisions.
Get Home-itis: The trip is over, so you naturally are anxious to get home. That can affect your judgment when it comes to weather and other factors (like darkness) that might enter into your go/no-go decision.
Know yourself and reflect upon the wisdom of your choice. I recently made a four-day trip to Central Florida for a conference and was tempted to launch for my six-hour return flight at 3 pm. There was convective weather everywhere along the route of flight. While there were substantial breaks in the line, it would have required me to be on top of my game. Had it been an early morning flight, I would have launched. But leaving after a half day of meetings ... I passed and left the next morning. It was a relaxing and uneventful flight despite not a few storms along the way.
Unfamiliarity with Destination:
If your flight has taken you to the mountains, the desert or even the high plains, you’re not only departing from an unfamiliar airport but from unfamiliar and potentially more challenging and hazardous conditions.
Study! Know the departure procedures. Get out the POH and do a thorough weight and balance if necessary. (It often is when you’re on a family vacation.) Know the terrain. Where are the big rocks and how do you best depart to give yourself the best margins? The departure procedures, even if you don’t officially fly them, are often excellent guides to avoiding the high stuff.
The trip home is by definition different from your flight to your destination, so know that going in and take the often-simple steps to cut the stress and maximize the enjoyment and security of your flight back home.