After starting to fly with the volunteer programs LifeLine Pilots and Angel Flights, Mike Samp developed a flight plan for patients flying with him.
In addition, he started making new acquaintances through the flights.
A normal flight
Samp starts his flights by trying to make passengers as calm and comfortable as possible. He starts off by giving background information about both the flight and himself.
“I put myself in their place,” he said. “If I'm climbing into an airplane with someone I'm meeting for the first time, I want to know is this going to be safe, how much experience he has, that kind of thing.”
After the introduction, he normally asks if they're interested in flying at all to see if they want to talk during the flight and learn more. He said that some people are inquisitive about what's going on, but others just want to get to their destination.
“I've had some passengers that are white-knuckle flyers,” Samp said. “They're doing it because they don't have a choice, but they really don't like it.
“I've had people that say, 'I'd rather just sit in the back.'”
Thankfully, even with the white-knuckle flyers, Samp said he has never had a person get sick on a flight.
One of the more talkative people Samp flies with are the children.
“The kids are just precious,” he said. “A lot of times, the parents will sit in the back and the kid will sit up front with me to make them feel special and talk to them.”
Unfortunately, one part of the flight that Samp can't control is the weather. While he doesn't mind flying in the rain or fog, he won't fly in ice or thunderstorms.
“The hard part is when I have to cancel flights because of weather,” he said. “But, the organizations, whether it's LifeLine, Angel Flight or Wings of Mercy, when people come and say they need these, they tell them that this may get canceled because the pilot has the last authority. It just kills me when I have to do that, but on the other hand we want to get them there safely.”
He added that he's also had a few trips wasted because, while the weather may be clear in his area, the other pilot canceled due to bad weather and never relayed the message.
Samp said that most trips are split up between multiple pilots to make it easier on both the pilots and the passengers.
“The reality is it's like sitting in the car for two-and-a-half hours. So, the reality is after a couple of hours they like to get out and stretch,” he said.
Page 2 of 3 - In addition, splitting it up between pilots helps to lower costs for each pilot.
Meeting the travelers
Throughout Samp's flights, he has met several people he has kept in touch with through the years. He said they have all been “awesome.”
“Sometimes it's awesome to see them progress,” Samp said.
“I just flew a kid to Iowa City a few weeks ago. It was the third time I've flown him. He was born with a cleft foot. He just had his first birthday before I took him over there. When I dropped him off he was running around. You'd have never known anything was wrong.”
He also has had passengers that have thanked him for the flights in unique ways. He said he once took a chef to an appointment who made him homemade cookies and gave Samp a card from him and his wife thanking Samp.
Not all passengers that Samp flies have happy endings, though.
“Every once in a while, you get your heart broken,” he said. “I flew an older African-American guy that lived in Olive Branch, Miss., and he was coming to Waukegan every two weeks. I took him about six to eight times, and he died last year.”
He added that, before the passenger passed away, Samp and another pilot from Marion both flew down to see him in the hospital.
During the trip, his family thanked them for taking the time out to come down and see him, along with providing flights for his medical trips.
“You have a chance to really touch people's lives,” Samp said. “It's really cool. It's something that develops a lot quicker than a casual acquaintance.”
Problems in the future
Both LifeLine Flights and Angel Flights may have problems coming in the future for finding new pilots.
“There's not many people learning to fly anymore. I'm definitely younger than the average, and I'm 55,” Samp said. “When I first started flying in the 70s, general aviation was booming. I took lessons down at Pekin Airport and that place was busy all the time.”
Now, Samp said that not as many people are getting their license due to the costs.
When he learned to fly, he paid $30-$35 an hour for an airplane with fuel.
“Now, you rent a 172, which is a typical trainer, it will be $120-$140 an hour. It takes between 40-60 hours to get your private pilot's license,” he said.
That does not even count the cost of the instructor. Samp said he tells people to plan to pay between $6,000-$8,000 for their license.
Page 3 of 3 - Because of that, he said a pilot shortage will be coming in the near future.
In addition, Samp said that another big cost today is getting an airplane.
He said his airplane is one of the newest airplanes at the airport, being made in 2005. In fact, he added that the average airplane age is starting to push 30 years.
“New airplanes have just gotten stupid expensive because of the liability insurance for the manufacturers. If anything happens now, everyone always sues them,” he said.