South Florida from the ground is beautiful, but South Florida from 13,000 feet above ground is stunning. As someone who loves travel so much, I have a deep appreciation for the miracle of flight. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to see what it was like to get in the cockpit of a plane. So I did. And it turned out to be one of the coolest ways to see South Florida.
I flew a plane using a Groupon, where you’ll find many different flight instruction companies that frequently rotate deals. I recommend looking up reviews for each one to make sure you’ll have a good experience. Though you should probably accept that they all come with a certain amount of risk, and when you see the plane you’re flying, you’ll realize that.
Booking your flight
If you’re visiting, it’s probably best to plan your flight in advance to make sure you’ll be able to do it when you’re there. As with almost all Groupon deals, you’ll have to schedule separately with the company which may or may not have availability during your visit.
You also have to account for weather. South Florida weather is often unpredictable and terrible. A good company will cancel or postpone flights if the weather is bad. So it may be in your best interest to book your flight early in your trip in case it has to be moved a couple of days.
Prepping for takeoff
I flew with ATA Flight School. Though I had a good experience and they have good reviews overall, I was told later by someone in the local flight industry that they’re not known for their safety. So make of that what you will. When you get there, you’ll have to sign off all your rights to sue if your plane falls out of the sky. You also have the option of adding additional services, like bringing a companion along, which I did. It’s a very small plane so you really can’t bring more than one or two people because of space and weight restrictions.
Once you’ve been briefed, you go outside to get an introduction of the plane you’ll be flying, which will most likely be a dingy little aircraft that is about your height, probably a Cessna 172. During pre-flight check, you’ll check all of the plane’s moving parts, like the rudder and wing flaps, and make sure they’re in working condition. You’ll also get a helpful explanation of what different controls inside the plane actually move on the outside of the plane to keep it airborne.
When you’re finally ready, you strap yourself in and put on a head set, because you can’t hear anything up there over the roar of the engine. Your companion will get one too. Through the headset you’ll be able to hear each other and air traffic control. The planes are like driving school cars with two sets of controls. So the instructor can give you directions, but is able to steer the plane himself if you mess something up.
You’ll maneuver the plane on the ground so you can see how to move it, which feels exactly like driving a car. That is, until you pull back on the yoke and you’re airborne. But before you get to that, you have to get clearance to take off. Your instructor will speak into the head set and guide you toward the end of the runway. When you’re ready for takeoff, you have to close the windows of the plane, which at least in mine, were still open. If you’ve ever been inside a 1994 Corolla, it’s kinda like that. You have to manually pull the window shut, and in that moment you realize you’re taking the plane equivalent of a 1994 Toyota Corolla up into the sky and you’ll wish you had a Xanax.
But you’ve come this far, so you step on it and you pull back (even though your instructor is probably doing all the work on his side) and suddenly that thing starts gliding up and it’s the coolest thing.
The flight is amazing and terrifying. You know how commercial airliners bounce when there’s bad weather? A tiny Cessna bounces with the slightest wind. You feel every single bump. And you think you’re going to plummet to your death, but you don’t because that’s how planes work. Once you get up to a cruising altitude of 13,000 feet you can move the plane wherever you want.
But your instructor is going to know where the good views are. My instructor took us over Hard Rock (aka Sun Life) Stadium, and he banked sharply so we could see it. We definitely screamed in horror as the left wing tipped down toward the ground, but the view was awesome. After that, he directed me toward the beaches, which is the best part of doing that in South Florida. Since we flew out of North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines, we were probably hovering over Hollywood and Sunny Isles Beach, but you could see for miles and miles up and down the coast. No view from any flight I’ve ever taken can possibly compare. Especially since you get to hang out there just to see it, instead of seeing it in passing.
As you can imagine, landing the plane takes a little more training and skill than you can receive with a $99 Groupon, so when it was time to return, the instructor took over completely. Just like the take off, the landing was smooth and safe.
After the flight, you’ll be given the option of buying a log book which would include the 30-45 minutes of flight time you completed. This is useful if you intend to pursue a pilot’s license. Imagine this fun little excursion helping you discover a new calling in air travel. At the very least, it’ll be the most interesting sightseeing tour you’ll take in South Florida.