Plane Answers – A pilot’s experience before flying solo, a passenger pointing out a mechanical problem and wake turbulence bumps

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Esteban from Spain asks:

When learning to drive a car, for most people a few minutes of training are enough to drive, although they don’t know the circulation rules. Do you think that it is possible to take off, turn, and land in a small cessna with few hours of training without obeying the navigation rules?

Hi Esteban,

Soloing is the moment every student pilot dreams of. That moment when your instructor hops out of the airplane and tells you to take it around the ‘patch’ three times.

Can it be done in just a few hours? Absolutely. But you’d have to find an instructor willing to put his certificate on the line at that point. The ‘typical’ range is anywhere from 6 to 25 hours, but that’s also dependent on the airport you’re flying from and the type of airplane.

Densely populated areas have more requirements for ATC communication and airspace regulations, so your instructor will want you to be familiar with those regulations before letting you go.

For a more anecdotal look at the typical times before soloing, take a look at this thread written by flight instructors and pilots about the subject on

Cassandra asks:

I just flew down to FL from Hartford last Thursday on Delta and had a window seat on the wing. Just before we began our descent, I had glanced down on the wing and noticed 3 round tanks(?) that were screwed down right by the emergency door. What caught my eye was the fact that 2 of them seemed to be leaking what I thought was water or some sort of clear liquid. It was 2 smaller tanks near the front of the wing and a larger one just behind them. The two smaller ones were the ones that were leaking and all coming from under the screws. It was enough they were trailing down towards and past the next tank.

What are these and though it might have been nothing, should I have said something to the crew after the flight? Of course it was dry by the time we arrived at the gate.
Hi Cassandra,

It’s common to see slight stains around some of the screws on the wing, especially on the bottom of the wing near the fuel pumps. I’m sure what you saw wasn’t critical, but I’d encourage you to let the pilots know as you deplane. If you were really concerned about something, bring it to the attention of the flight attendant. They’ll pass it along to the pilots who can then decide if it’s a serious enough problem.

I always follow up on the comment with maintenance, which is often at the gate shortly after we arrive anyway. It’s just a good idea to take even the smallest comment seriously. Many of them can be easily explained away, but it’s always prudent for us to look at anything that’s a concern to a passenger just to be sure.

John asks:

Hi Kent,

Recently, while on a flight from the east coast to the west, we were enjoying a smooth ride. Then, without warning, we hit a pocket of extreme turbulence. What made this differenct was that it was less than 2 seconds, and had the “feel” of an impact.

My questions are:
1) Is this a normal thing, and
2) Does it pose any danger to the flight.


Hi John,

The way you’ve described it, I’m pretty certain your airplane flew through the wake turbulence of another jet. This doesn’t happen often at all, but when the airplane is in just the right position relative to crossing traffic, it can be startling. It happens so briefly that we don’t usually see any injuries, but it will sure make you tighten your belt while sitting.

You can rest assured that the airplane is designed to handle the wake structurally and it generally doesn’t present any danger to the flight.

That said, ATC goes to great lengths to provide enough separation between aircraft during arrivals and departures. It’s during this time that wake turbulence can present a greater problem for airplanes, since the wake is generally larger when jets fly slower, with the gear and flaps down, than while in cruise flight. If the airplane weighs over 250,000 pounds (usually anything larger than a Boeing 757), then the pilots will call themselves a ‘heavy’ which reminds controllers that extra separation is needed behind those aircraft.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

Daily deal – Solo Netbook instant messenger TSA friendly bag

My daily deal for today is for the Solo Netbook Instant Messenger. This pint sized laptop bag is designed for small laptop computers, with up 10″ screens.

The bag has enough space for your Netbook and some other items, but don’t expect to turn it into your next overnight bag.

Not only does the bag hold your Netbook, it is also designed to be checkpoint friendly – which means you can keep your computer inside the bag without the need to remove it at the TSA checkpoint.

The MSRP of the bag is $49.99, but currently has it on sale for $34.99. If you’d rather learn more about the bag before you purchase it, be sure to check out our recent review of the product.

Product review – Solo CheckFast Netbook instant messenger bag

In this product review, I’m going to give you a quick look at a new laptop bag. Of course, new laptop bags are introduced by the boatload every week, so you’ll understand that this bag is something special.

The Solo CheckFast Netbook Instant messenger bag does 2 things most other bags can’t do; it is TSA friendly, and it is designed specifically for Netbook computers.

The Solo Netbook instant messenger is the first true Netbook friendly bag I have come across. I’ve previously reviewed a different Netbook protective cover, but it did not offer the same features as the Solo.

As I mentioned earlier, the CheckFast Netbook instant messenger bag is TSA friendly. Being “TSA friendly” means that the bag can be folded open, allowing the airport X-Ray equipment to see the laptop, without having to remove your laptop from its bag.

The bag itself is quite impressive. The laptop portion of the bag is designed for Netbook computers up to 11 inches. In addition to this compartment, you’ll also find 2 other portions, one of which is designed to hold small items like USB flash drives or a portable hard drive.

Opening the bag for inspection at the airport is quite easy, and only takes about 10 seconds. When you arrive at the security checkpoint, you simply unclip the buckle at the front, loosen a piece of Velcro, and fold the entire bag flat on the conveyor.

Other features of the bag include a nicely padded handle and a non-slip shoulder strap.

The best part of this bag? It only costs $35 (when purchased from Amazon). I’ve been carrying the bag around for a few days now, and I absolutely love it. It suddenly dawned on me that it does not make sense to carry a small computer in a large bag, but until now, I did not want to say goodbye to my regular TSA friendly laptop bag.

Of course, with a smaller bag, you’ll have less room to carry stuff, but being forced to travel lighter is something you’ll learn to appreciate. Even if you don’t plan to travel with your Netbook, having a stylish bag to protect it is a wise investment.

The Solo CheckFast Nebook Instant messenger bag is available from Amazon, Ebags or one of the other retailers listed on the product page.

Going Alone: Tips for a Safe and Pleasant Solo Journey

My first trip anywhere alone began in Athens 9 years ago. I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, and had never even taken the bus, let alone experienced a foreign city. As my plane descended I watched the sprawling white city become clearer and clearer through the smoggy sky, and as we got closer I became more terrified. The plane touched down — and I started bawling. It took several Heinekens and a kind stranger to get me in a taxi to my hostel, and several more days before I recovered from jet lag and culture shock.

The subsequent month I spent touring around Europe were filled with incredible highs — I discovered I was capable and competent, and my self-esteem was boosted permanently — and all-encompassing lows — I got lonely and lost, and in situations that would’ve been funny if I’d been with a friend but drove me to tears instead — and I returned to the States a changed person. I’ve taken several solo trips since then, and I love that traveling alone forces me to be outgoing, or allows me be anonymous.

Of course, there’s smart solo travel, where someone always knows where you are and when they should hear from you. And then there’s … not-so-smart solo travel, like the time I arrived in rural China (Guizhou Province) without a guidebook, language guide, or friend. I cried until the only thing left to do was pick myself up and figure things out. I ended that trip humbled — and as always, amazed by the kindness of strangers and the power of body language.

If you’re traveling alone, you should always have someone who is waiting for you to check in, and who has a copy of your itinerary and passport at the least. To combat loneliness, try staying in hostels rather than hotels, and seek out touristy bars and restaurants if possible. If you’re dining alone, it always helps to have a good book or your journal handy to keep you occupied.

For more tips on having a safe and pleasant solo journey, check out

Talking Travel with Beth Whitman

Writer and world traveler Beth Whitman is the author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. We’ve mentioned her book here on Gadling before — we dig the catchy title! I recently caught up with Beth via email to chat more about solo travel and how she got started in traveling. She’s taken some really cool trips and has a few more on tap for later this year and next. Keep reading to find out the latest from this expert wandering woman:

How did you get started traveling?

I grew up in New Jersey and, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to get away. It was too crowded for me and I just couldn’t see myself settling down there. I love going back to visit family and friends and to enjoy the excellent Italian food that I can’t find in Seattle, but I think growing up there somehow gave me the travel bug.

Hmmm…interesting. I was born in Jersey and seem to have been bitten by a similar bug! So when did you first break out on your own to do some solo travel?

I took a college course at Oxford for three weeks to study classical music but it was with a group (although I didn’t know anyone in advance). That was my first trip abroad and I still remember my legs shaking at Newark Airport as I got ready to leave. My first “real” solo trip was when I drove around the U.S. for three months after I took a semester off from college. It was fantastic. I stayed with friends who were at colleges all over the country and I stayed in youth hostels. I got so hooked after that adventure that from then onward I would work a few jobs, save all my money and then set out on the road again.

When did you begin to write about your travels and traveling in general?

Even though I had been published here and there in the 90’s, I really started writing after my solo motorcycle trip from Seattle to Panama in 1997. I was published in BMW Magazine as well as some other magazines and newspapers across the country. But that was really just part time work back then.

When did you start riding motorcycles and how did the idea to go by bike come about for you?

I had been riding since 1990. I purchased my first bike when I moved from New Jersey to Seattle. I wanted to do a big motorcycle trip and wanted to go beyond North America. Central America was a great option since I didn’t have to ship the bike to start the trip out (although I DID ship the bike back from Panama).

And when did you first start teaching workshops for women about solo travel? How did that come about?

I started teaching workshops in 1993 after I returned from a yearlong trip through the Pacific Rim countries. I was concentrating on Vietnam and Cambodia since they had both just opened up to travelers. I quickly realized that women really needed some encouragement to travel on their own and I felt I had enough experience and enthusiasm to provide that type of information. So, I developed my class, For Women Traveling Solo, and right now teach at the University of Washington’s Women Center, Bellevue Community College and Discover U.

When did you decide to write the book and how did you come up with the title?

Writing a book has been in the back of my mind for several years but I got serious about it in January 2006. It seemed a natural extension of my travel workshops to write this first book as a how-to for women travelers. With regards to the title… I played around with probably a hundred different titles over several months. I bounced ideas off of other travelers, my editor and other professionals in the book industry but I knew I had the perfect title when I finally arrived upon Wanderlust and Lipstick. I am working on other books under this same brand. For example, I expect to publish Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling to India sometime in 2008.

One of the chapters in your book is about “Getting Beyond the Excuses.” What are some of the most common (and most creative) excuses you have heard from women who are hesitant to travel on their own?

The excuses generally aren’t very creative. They’re very standard excuses like, “I don’t have any money,” “I don’t like to be alone,” “I don’t have enough vacation time from work”. I can come up with a plan to get around any excuse you give me.

What are some of your favorite destinations for solo travel?

I don’t think I have a “favorite” destination as a solo traveler. Every trip has been great and if I find that I’m not having a great time, I have to adjust what it is that I’d doing or where I’m staying to make it better.

If approached correctly, any place could be great for solo travel. You can go to Puerto Vallarta solo and stay at a nice hotel that is filled with couples and families. You could easily have a bad time because it will be difficult to meet people and you’ll be constantly reminded that you’re on your own. Alternately, you could fly into Puerto Vallarta but stay at a traveler’s hotel like a youth hostel or head north to Sayulita which is where the young(er) travelers hang out. You’re more likely to meet up with lots of other people and have a better time. To meet locals, take a class in Spanish and live with a family. There’s nothing like immersion to add to your experience!

You’ve recently redesigned the “For Women Traveling Solo” website. Can you tell us a little bit about the new Wanderlust and Lipstick site and the resources it offers to women travelers?

Yes, I did just re-launch the site at I wanted to broaden the site to include all women travelers, not just those traveling solo. The new site was really created to foster a sense of community for women travelers. There’s a Forum where women can share information and I have travel bloggers concentrating on specific areas of interest. Some really talented writers have submitted articles for the Wander Tales area and I have lots of tips and links to other websites. I’ve also just launched a Wanderlusters Tips area so that people can submit their own travel tips to share.

What else do you have planned for the site?

I plan to include a photo gallery and eventually both a photo contest and travel tip contest.

Switching gears, can you tell us about the trip you are hosting to Bhutan that is scheduled for 2008?

I am leading this trip to Bhutan in April 2008 with Wild Card Adventures. They have been arranging personalized tours to Asia for ten years and have excellent guides available in many different countries. Bhutan is really the hidden gem of the Himalayas and only had 18,000 visitors in 2006. It’s a very special place and this trip is quite exclusive. Over 11 days, we’ll be trekking through the mountains, visiting villages and temples, and attending a Tsechu Mask Dance festival. It’s going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the attendees. The trip is open to 12 people and at this time there is still space available.

Have you led other tour groups like this before? And can you share a few thoughts on the different experiences of traveling solo vs. traveling with a group?

I haven’t led a tour before but I have been on tours. Obviously there are pluses and minuses to both solo and group travel. The camaraderie that develops between members of an organized group can be magical and life-long friends can be easily made because you are sharing a common interest. However, in a group, everyone has to be flexible and respectful of each other because you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. And, you may not have any option to break away on your own. As a solo traveler, you’ll have more flexibility but it can take more time and energy to meet people along the way. Having a guide, whether you are solo or in a group is key because he or she can really help you get under the surface of a culture.

Besides the trip to Bhutan, do you have other pending travel plans and/or projects you’d like to share with Gadling readers?

I’m planning a West Coast book tour this fall. I normally wouldn’t think this would be notable except that I’m going on my motorcycle (to be more eco-friendly) and will be staying with people I meet through and

I’m also planning to return to India (I was there early this year for a month) in January to research my next book. Other than that there are lots of places on my list, but nothing concrete.

Cool book tour idea. Can you share any details with us about your route or departure date?

I’m still working on details but the general route will start in Bellingham, Washington. I’ll be speaking at REI and Village Books on October 16th and 17th respectively. From there, I’ll head south through Oregon, again hitting a number of REI stores as well as independent bookstores such as Paulina Springs Books in Sisters and then on to the Bay Area and, hopefully, LA. As soon as I have firm dates, they will be posted on my website.

I plan to be on the East Coast for a tour there in the Spring (not on my motorcycle but I’m hoping to get a hybrid car donated from a rental car company).

Sounds like a fun trip — good luck with the tour and research for your next book!

Hey Gadling readers – get your hands on a copy of the latest Transitions Abroad to read Beth’s recently published article, For Women Traveling to India.