I’m an unabashedly proud airline brat. My father was an airline pilot for all of my childhood and continued into some of my adulthood. Even though he was the employee, my parents raised me and my siblings to feel pride in our membership in the airline family. I have found that my experiences are similar to many others who also had a parents flying commercial planes.
Here are a few reasons why I loved growing up in an airline family, even if I spent half of my childhood prior to turning twelve sitting in concourses of Denver’s old Stapleton International Airport.
1. The excitement of the airport
Most people feel dread when heading to the airport for many reasons. Lines. Stripping down for security. Lines. Delays. Crowded corridors. Expensive food and stores. Did I say lines?
However, growing up as an airline pilot’s son helped make the airport exciting. Which planes — the vast majority of which I could identify — would I see? Where would flights go? Would my parents take us down to the crew lounge or airport employee cafeteria where the other travelers couldn’t go?
That is geeky, but I even talked my dad once into spending a day to fly to Denver’s then brand-spanking-new airport just to explore it. You know I’m an AvGeek when I once took a date to watch planes takeoff and land at a park near a major airport’s runway (sadly that relationship didn’t work out — but I don’t blame the planes).
2. Unpredictable travel
Families of airline employees get flight benefits which allow them to fly standby, which isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires patience and flexibility.
I remember once packing for a family trip. We were going to Boston. A few days later we returned from San Francisco. We, of course, flew in and out of San Jose. We didn’t see the Cheers Bar, but with some flexibility, we enjoyed the Golden Gate Bridge.
Contingency plans are essential. So is patience and a smile.
3. Learning to pack light
Standby travel also affects what one can pack. You’re never certain where, or if, you go. Checking baggage is a hassle and complicated when the first flight (and its destination) you check in for isn’t the one you end up on. My family rarely took more than we could carry on a flight. We learned to pack light. To this day, I still pack light and enjoy that practice’s advantages.
4. Going to my dad’s “office”
It didn’t happen often, but I did go on flights for which my dad was the captain. A few times when this happened, he would allow me to come up to his “office” — the flight deck. Of course, this was while the plane was still at the gate, passengers were boarding, his pre-flight tasks were completed, and there was plenty of time for us without affecting safety nor the flight’s schedule.
When my dad flew 777s, he bought huge posters of the flight deck. He hung them downstairs by our pool table in our game room. That way we could see his office frequently.
5. Playing the Aerobiz game with my friends.
My brothers and I loved to play the Sim City games as well as Civilization and Colonization; these are games that allow the player to build cities or even civilizations. They were a lot of fun.
One of our friends who lived down the street got a Super Nintendo game named Aerobiz. In a way, Aerobiz is the “Sim City of Airlines” as it allows one to run an airline. The player can purchase airplanes, establish routes, weather natural disasters, and face geopolitical events. It is kind of silly that we — the airline brats — didn’t buy the game, but at least our good friend had it.
6. Learning airport codes
If you think talking your dad into taking you to a new airport for a day is geeky, how about learning airport codes just because? I’m kind of rusty now, but it was fun to learn the codes as I looked them up in airline time tables. Some were easy, like LAX for Los Angeles, but there are less obvious ones like FCO, which is for Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport.
Occasionally when I fly alone, I go up to a ticket or gate agent and give them the airport codes for my destinations. They know what I’m talking about, but they would sometimes pause as they’re not used to hearing airport codes from passengers.
Oh yeah, here’s a bonus fact. My sister, who is a reservations agent, and I once were looking up obscure codes for fun since that’s how we roll. Did you know that TSS is the code for the East 34th Street Heliport in New York City?
7. Hearing dad’s stories from his trips
Some of the highlights I remember:
- There was a time when he threw a guy over a fence who was trying to pick his pocket in the Middle East.
- I heard about toilet paper rolls flying down the aisles from first class when they were flushed down the toilet in one of the rear lavatories. Apparently, this is what flight crews sometimes do while waiting for another flight to start boarding. Those airplane toilets are powerful!
- He once sucked geese into an engine on takeoff and made an emergency landing with no injuries.
8. Realizing that your mom is a wonder woman who snagged herself a fighter pilot
Like many, my dad got the flight experience that airlines required through the military. He flew fighter jets. To this day, I think back to movies like Top Gun and realize how cool my dad is and the kind of cred my mom has for snagging herself a fighter pilot. Of course, my dad would argue that he was lucky to catch her.
Pilots are just part of the airline team. Anyone who understands the difficulty, complexity, and unpredictably of airline work will likely understand that airline employees are all certainly catches.
Most of the airline employees I know are like my dad; they love their jobs and company. As with any other line of work, there were some annoying times. They (flight crews, ground crews, reservation agents, etc.) sometimes work long and unpredictable hours, and are gone for several days at a time. Their families certainly pay some of the price, too. Having said that, many airline employees and their families are proud of their airline. While this certainly isn’t unique to the airline industry, the intensity of this pride isn’t commonly matched.
Are you an airline brat? Share other reasons why you loved (or hated) being one in the comments!
This story was written by Steve Petersen for AirlineReporter.