If you're in the travel industry, as you gather with friends and relatives this holiday season, you're likely to hear complaints about the hassle of flying.
To be sure, those who fly frequently have some insulation from those hassles -- airline status, Global Entry, lounge access -- but I'm sure I'm not the only one who simply loves to fly.
Long security lines seem a trivial price to pay to move at 575 mph at 36,000 feet. If the people who had to travel more than 150 miles 150 years ago were alive today, they would laugh at our complaints about "hassles."
So, even if I'm just flying from New York to Chicago for a business daytrip, I still get excited on my way to the airport. There's the anticipation of seeing the destination, there's the view out the window and, preboarding, there's high drama: Will I get an upgrade?
The doors of the Cirrus SR22, photographed from behind, are reminiscent of the “Back to the Future” DeLorean time machine. Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
But for all my interest in manned flight -- I've flown in blimps, helicopters, hot air balloons and planes of varying sizes, purposes and vintages -- I've never had any interest in getting a pilot's license.
That doesn't mean, however, that I have no interest in piloting a plane. And I finally got my chance when Las Vegas-based All In Aviation offered me the opportunity to fly a Cirrus SR22, which it described as "the Tesla of private aircraft."
It's a beautiful single-engine plane. Sleek, fiberglass, with a control panel monitor that looks more like a video game screen than the mad scientist board of switches, buttons and lights I've seen in other private planes.
The Cirrus SR22 control panel. Inspired by video games, or vice versa? Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
And a reassuring feature: Should I run into a serious problem and lose power while in the air, I could simply deploy the plane's parachute and float gently down to the ground. James Bond couldn't ask Q for a more future-forward aircraft.
While it’s reassuring that the entire plane is equipped with its own parachute, one must be careful not to accidentally deploy it. Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
I had thought there might be a little time in a simulator before we actually took off, but despite our highly regulated skies, anyone can (with a licensed instructor) simply plunk down in the pilot's seat and, in less than 10 minutes, be in the air. I did get a short orientation from my instructor, All In Aviation co-president Paul Sallach (including how to deploy the parachute should he become incapacitated), and went through a preflight checklist, setting the flaps, transponder, altimeter and headings; from there, he said he'd simply talk me through what to do when the time came.
Part of the appeal for me was the route. This was, in essence, do-it-yourself flightseeing. We would fly over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead; longer flights to the Grand Canyon are also possible. Sallach mounted a GoPro above the windscreen, and a video would be a souvenir of the experience.
He had me speak to the tower as we taxied to the runway and prepared for takeoff. And, for sure, the takeoff was the most exciting part.
We headed southeast toward a saddle in the mountains, traveling at 170 knots (about 200 mph) at an altitude of around 4,000 feet. The controls were more responsive than I had expected; I started out shifting speed, direction or altitude in tiny increments, but as I became more relaxed, Sallach had me turning sharply and dropping (feel it in the stomach) or rising (feel it in the butt) more quickly.
Hoover Dam from 4,000 feet. Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
One could not ask for a more calm, reassuring instructor than Sallach. When a woman's voice in our headsets interrupted our flightseeing with some urgency, saying "traffic 12 o'clock!" -- at the same altitude -- he spotted the other aircraft before I did and simply noted we were not in danger of colliding.
We experienced turbulence when crossing mountain ridges, and interestingly, it was bumpier when on autopilot than on manual control because the plane is trying to maintain an exact altitude, fighting wind currents.
I did, for a moment or two when I was descending, experience spatial disorientation, where I was unsure about my angle to the ground (it was this disorientation that led to the fatal crash of John F. Kennedy Jr.). The Cirrus has a blue button one can push in such situations that immediately levels the plane. Although we were not in imminent danger, I pushed it.
Sallach took a more active role in the landing than in the takeoff, controlling the rudders with his feet, but I nonetheless left with a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration once on the ground.
Paul Sallach, co-president of All in Aviation, left, and Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, in a mid-flight selfie. Sitting behind is Gina Yager, owner, GYC Vegas, All in Aviation’s public relations firm.
The biggest part of Sallach's business is selling and leasing Cirrus aircraft and running a flight school. But his entry into the experience economy by offering a do-it-yourself flightseeing experience from Henderson Executive Airport reminded me that, as great as virtual reality simulations can be, they will not, as some have predicted, pose any threat to the travel industry. Reality rules.
(All In Aviation does not have a formal commission structure, but Sallach said he would talk about net rates if an agency is interested in offering the service to clients. Contact [email protected].)