My experience of flying has been a mixed bag of mainly economy and some business flights. I do enjoy flying (except for the security checks), however, when whiling away the hours, packed into economy like a can of sardines, who hasn’t dreamed of flying the plane themselves and of truly experiencing the freedom of the sky?
The holiday season is here and we are all looking for the superlative gift to offer. Why not give an experience that will be remembered forever? Even for those who have never seriously thought of flying a plane, experiencing flight as a pilot is a fun, adrenalin-inducing, learning experience.
I discovered Flight Experience because my partner had always dreamed of flying airplanes and my children have everything they could possibly ever need. Each year it becomes more difficult to find them a perfect gift that they will actually love, not simply be polite about.
After investigating the website www.flightexperience.com and
checking out their ratings – for 7 years they have consistently received the TripAdvisor Attestation of Excellence and have a rating on Google of 4.6 stars – I couldn’t resist finding out more. I met Hugo Lunardelli, owner of Flight Experience Paris, and one of his pilots, Francois-Xavier, who was to be my guide for an afternoon.
While I admit I love the entire experience of travelling, I have never truly thought I would ever do more than perhaps visit the cockpit during a flight (if I was lucky). I can barely drive my car in Paris! How would I ever be able to fly a plane? I don’t have the time to spend months learning, nor the desire to invest thousands in a hobby I may not want to continue. Hugo faithfully reassured me that even beginners can have a go and that is why they have an actual certified pilot with you throughout.
The experience begins when you enter the flight center with your boarding pass. You are greeted by friendly welcoming staff, (so unlike the airport!), who take your bags and coat, offer refreshment and introduce you to your pilot. Unlike airport security, they are quite able to laugh with you if you make a joke or do something silly.
Along with the instruction video, Francois-Xavier showed me how the airplane, a Boeing 737-800, works. At first I was terrified as I just knew I would never remember what to do with all the buttons and levers, pedals and dials! I must have asked a gazillion questions which were all patiently answered, especially ‘What happens if I crash the plane?’
As you get ready to embark upon your journey, you first select your destination, then seated in an actual Boeing 737-800 cockpit, running through your pre-flight checklist, your experience as a pilot truly begins. You feel the incredible power of the engines warming up and getting ready for you to taxi to the runway, and then leap forward to lift off and UP into the sky. The simulator uses real equipment, certified by Boeing, so when you pull back the throttle you experience the real tension a pilot would feel. Awesome! Totally adrenaline-inducing!
Banking the plane, you can see the scenery beneath you. It was wonderful to look down on the small towns and cities we ‘flew’ over, though of course real pilots are generally not looking out of the window, but checking the many dials and computers on their dashboard.
Towards the end of the flight, the destination gradually appears and then the lights on the buildings start to show. Landing was a moment of simulated terror for me as you see everything just as a pilot does. Fortunately, the runways are large, and Francois-Xavier was more than happy to laugh with me, as I made every possible error in the book. It felt so real as we landed, safely, and taxied to our destination. I whooped with joy and relief to have made it! It was absolutely amazing to have been so immersed in a virtual experience.
I learned a world of respect for something I had never imagined the complexity of before. Flight lanes in the sky are extremely well organized: blinking lights on buildings surrounding airports provide lanes, so to speak, to guide the planes. It’s the kind of detail we never pay attention to on the ground.
I also learned that one in five people are scared of flying and that Flight Experience runs classes every month for those who have aviophobia, to help them overcome their fear or be more comfortable when they are in the air. The company also organises team-building experiences and private events for groups. More experienced aviators can fly without help if they wish and even qualified pilots sometimes use the simulator to practice for real problems they could experience in flight, to keep their skills sharp.
Obviously I will never be flying your airplane, and you can be truly happy for that! However, so many questions I had never really thought about were answered by this experience, and now when I look up to the sky and see the many airplanes flying all over, I no longer have to wonder why flying is so much safer than car travel. It is clear why! I am not the pilot!
This was an awe-inspiring experience of a lifetime. I have now booked for my children to go (though babies and small children cannot come as they must be at least 11 years old and minimum height requirement is 140cm). I know they will enjoy their Christmas gift of learning to work together and doing something that will be remembered for a lifetime! I can’t wait to see their faces when they open their gift and find their boarding passes. We can book anytime in the coming year to go together as a family. Along with the pilot, there can be up to three others on a flight and each can take a turn flying. Everyone should experience this once in their life, at the very least!
Flight Experience is located at 21 Quai d’Austerlitz, 75013 Paris.