In hindsight canceling this flight should have been a no-brainer. Although the weather was beautiful and the airplane was in perfect mechanical condition to make the trip, cancelling was still the right thing to do. On the day of the planned flight it took both of us a lot longer than it should have to come to that conclusion, which is what prompted us to write up the events of Christmas morning 2005.
The holidays are an ideal time to catch up with family both near and far. Phil and I wanted to do both by spending Christmas Eve with our family in Boise and then flying to San Antonio to visit our family there. The trip would take a total of nine hours. We hadn’t made a trip of this distance for quite a while and we were both excited about the expedition.
Nancy and I had been watching the weather forecasts for the past several days. Winter weather can be harsh and can change quickly. We knew it was likely that we’d have to scrub this trip due to weather since we were planning on crossing several large states and the Rocky Mountains during December. However the forecasts we saw on December 24th predicted great conditions for our planned flight on Christmas Day.
I woke up just before the alarm at 5 am, after a restless night caused by a rumbling in my stomach. I probably ate a few too many Christmas cookies at last night’s family gathering. We had spent a good amount of time planning this Christmas day flight to visit my brother in San Antonio. Nancy and I were both happy when the morning weather forecast confirmed that we’d have a nice flying day ahead of us. There was high pressure the whole way, no turbulence reported, and clear skies once we cleared the clouds that were building ahead of the cold front that was on its way into Boise.
After loading up the car and putting my coat on, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and just made it to the bathroom in time.
Of course both of us immediately thought that we should not fly today. But we were both really looking forward to this trip, and the fickle winter weather was not an obstacle today. I began to rationalize a way to avoid canceling the flight. It was probably just something I ate and now that it was out of my system, I would be just fine.
What I should have done was to step back and think about the fact that I didn’t get a full night’s sleep, my stomach was now empty, and I wasn’t really mentally or physically ready to make a long IFR flight. Actually, I wasn’t really fit for any kind of flying.
But instead of canceling right then, I suggested that we just wait at home for 30 minutes or so to see how my stomach felt. I really did feel much better after relaxing on the couch for a while and told Nancy that I was OK to make the flight. I was resistant, but agreed after thinking about it for another 20 minutes. Phil is a very safe pilot and I didn’t want to question his judgment, but I also didn’t want to be stuck at 11,000 feet on an IFR flight plan and have him get sick again (especially since I don’t have my IFR rating). We both agreed that we could go out to the airport, complete the preflight and then reassess the situation before start up. Phil said he would have a better idea of how he felt after moving around a bit. I had no doubt that he would cancel if he wasn’t up for the trip. As we drove to the airport I knew there was a slight chance that we may cancel, but I honestly expected us to be in the air within an hour.
We arrived at the airport and proceeded through the preflight process in the chilly morning air. Phil added oil while I climbed inside to setup the portable oxygen system. I was still in denial of the fact that the preflight inspection of the pilot had found some deficiencies.
At this point, I was still trying to think through our go/no-go decision. I realized that I wasn’t truly excited for this flight. I hadn’t felt this way about any of our previous trips. I was definitely excited to see our family, but I was also concerned about Phil’s health. I studied Phil as he finished the preflight. He appeared fine which just made my concerns more frustrating. Were my concerns valid or was I being too cautious? There were reasons to cancel, but also a lot of reasons to continue as planned: Phil already had the week off from work, our family in San Antonio was expecting us, the cold front would arrive by tomorrow and prevent us from departing a day late.
I shared my feelings with Phil and he was very supportive. He reminded me that you need to trust your gut and also admitted that he was not feeling 100%. I was very relieved. Fortunately Nancy had the good sense to say, “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Those words were the wake up call my sleep-deprived brain needed to hear. Of course she was right and we both knew it. We unloaded the plane, locked it up and drove home. Our family in San Antonio were disappointed that we wouldn’t make it there, but they were very understanding too.
Many times when I have cancelled a flight I am left wondering whether I was being too conservative. There was no second-guessing on this day, though. I got home and had a slight headache so I told Nancy that I would lie down for a few minutes. I woke up almost 3 hours later. When I tried to eat something later, it did not stay down. I was clearly fatigued and my stomach was not ready to fly. I felt bad that Phil was sick again, but thankful that we were on the ground and at home. We had definitely made the right choice. Earlier, it seemed wrong to cancel a trip with clear weather and fully functioning airplane. Now I know to trust my gut.
Although we didn’t make the trip on this day, the work we did to plan various routes to San Antonio will be used again when we do eventually make this flight. The next part has details on the routes we chose and the process of watching the weather forecasts as the departure day approached.