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2013 Cross-Country Trip

Kelly and I had been planning this trip for almost a year.  The goal was to fly from our home base in Seattle to Lake Martin (north of Montgomery, Alabama) the weekend after Memorial day, for a family reunion. We also have good friends that live in the Boulder, Colorado area. Why not do a big “road trip” in the airplane? The trip would be really long—probably about 30 hours total, much longer than any flying trip we’d ever done. Also complicating matters is that we were bringing our almost-one-year-old boy, Cooper. The trip wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a success. The weather was relatively good and we had no mechanical issues. We didn’t always make it to our planned destination each day, but we had the flexibility in our schedule to accommodate changes. Cooper was amazing, considering he’s 1 year old and was asked to sit in a noisy, sometimes hot airplane for 33 hours.

Day-by-day writeups:

Keys to success for this trip and other suggestions for flying with a very small child:

  1. Flying as early in the morning as possible. It’s cooler, smoother, and the density altitudes are lower. We didn’t always take this advice, and we paid for it.
  2. Aligning flights with naptimes. Though he doesn’t sleep the entire time like he used to, he did sleep for much of the trip. Our routine on flying days was to wake up, feed him a bottle in the hotel room, get ready and head to the airport, load up, feed him some more food, then take off just in time for his morning nap.
  3. Keeping legs short. We aimed for 2 hour legs, but by the end of the trip, we were sometimes doing 2.5 hours or even a few minutes longer. The little guy is happier when he gets to eat and move around every few hours. It makes the big people happy, too.
  4. Having many “no flying” days.  The flying itself can be fatiguing, but to an even greater extent, the unpacking the airplane, traveling to the hotel, unpacking, packing back up the next morning, traveling back to the airport, re-packing the airplane cycle gets old and tiring.  We ended up flying only 8 of the 15 days–the other 7 days were a welcome break.
  5. Being willing to land short of or beyond the destination. We always had a planned destination at takeoff, but we were willing to land early if necessary (e.g. too bumpy). One time as we were approaching our fuel stop, Cooper was still asleep, so we continued to the next airport. The controller had a good laugh when we advised that we were changing destination “because the baby is still sleeping”.
  6. Staying flexible on days. Though we wanted to be in Montgomery for the start of the family reunion, we had the attitude that it was okay to be late or to miss it completely. We also built buffer in the schedule to maximize the chance we’d be on time.
  7. Packing an overnight bag (or bags). For the 1-night stops in route, it was great not to have to unload everything and bring it to the hotel.
  8. Not packing everything in bags.  Most stuff was in duffel bags, but we put a bunch of smaller stuff (e.g. diaper packages, formula, wipes) in shopping bags and filled the “nooks and crannies” of the baggage area with those items.
  9. Using full-service airports. We interacted with some wonderful FBOs on this trip. It was great to have the rental car or shuttle waiting for us, and a couple times we had the FBO find us a hotel. This kind of service is really helpful when trying to keep the family comfortable—more important than maximizing savings on gas, which is my strategy when traveling alone.
  10. Being careful about weight and balance. Kelly needed to ride in back with Cooper to attend to his needs. That, combined with a full baggage compartment, made for a very far aft (but still within limits) center of gravity. We carefully weighed everything that went in the airplane and also put his pack-and-play, the tool bag, and the tiedown bag in and around the front passenger seat. This also highlighted the importance of my testing aft CG loading during the flight test period—it would not have been good to do this for the first time with the family aboard.
  11. Sucking it up and buying the good headset. Cooper is now the proud owner of a Bose A20 headset. Though it seems a little ridiculous to spend $1000 on a headset for someone who can’t talk, we thought it was worth it to minimize the chance of hearing damage in the very loud airplane, and he should also be able to use it for years to come.  He has a giant head, so it actually fits him well.
  12. Focusing on flying the airplane and using the “pilot isolate” function on the intercom when necessary. The flights were mostly easy and I enjoyed interacting with Cooper at times when the workload was low, but I needed to keep in mind that my primary job was flying the airplane. For example, as we approached Seattle, there was a solid layer of overcast (surprise!) and Cooper was really upset, so I told Kelly we were entering IMC and needed my full attention, told her to tap me on the shoulder if something urgent happened, and hit the isolate button.

Stats:

  • Days: 15
  • Flying days: 8
  • Hours flown: 33
  • Miles flown: 5263
  • Gas burned: 340 gallons
  • Highest gas price: $6.78 (tie between Little Rock, AR and Heber City, UT)
  • Lowest gas price: $4.91 (Alexandria, LA)
  • Instrument approaches: 1
  • States flown over: 15
  • States landed in: 12
  • Cities overnighted in: 7 (Boise, ID; Erie, CO; Little Rock, AR; Montgomery, AL; Austin, TX; Santa Fe, NM; Park City, UT)
  • State capitals overnighted in: 5 (totally unintentional)
  • Hotels: 7
  • One-year-old birthdays celebrated: 1

Some of my favorite pictures from the trip…

Loading up in Erie, Colorado

Daddy turned off the fasten seatbelt sign.

So sleepy.

Made it to Montgomery.

Taking a break in Baker City on the way home.

The whole trip!

All the pictures from the trip are here.

Kelly also did a non-aviation-related write-up here.

One Comment

  1. Brian Unrein says:

    Great write up and what a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing.