The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Monday, March 7, 2011

Letters To Read On The Plane

I took my first plane ride when I was 19 years old. My older sister had invited me to travel with her and a friend to Europe. We planned to leave in early November and spend three months backpacking across the British Isles and western Europe. I had never flown before and was starting to feel really anxious about the whole thing. My sweet father decided to give me a test flight before departing for Amsterdam. He bought two return tickets from Ottawa to Toronto. We flew to Toronto and landed within an hour from take-off, had a beer in the airport lounge and then flew back to Ottawa a couple of hours later. It did the trick! I LOVED flying and felt so incredibly privileged for the opportunity to see the world from the sky.

Our departure date (Nov. 7th 1990) arrived and my sister and I (with a friend) boarded a KLM flight to Amsterdam. Once we were settled into our seats and had soared high up into the sky, my sister and I eagerly opened the handwritten letters given to us by our parents to be read on the plane. Little did we know that this small gesture would become a family tradition.

After that trip, every flight I took whether it be from Victoria to Ottawa or Ottawa to Victoria when I was living away from home, my boyfriend (and eventually husband) and family members would always slip a note into my bag "to read on the plane." I also wrote letters to my sister, Stephanie, when she flew to France for a student exchange as a teenager and again when she flew to Belfast, Ireland to attend a year of university. I have written letters for my husband when he flew to Ottawa from Victoria to start a new job and when he flew to Toronto on business. I wrote letters for my dad to read on the plane when he has travelled to Nepal, Africa and New Zealand and countless other places.

This morning, my niece Sarah, who is 12 years old, boarded a plane for her very first big trip away from home. She is travelling to Arizona and Nevada for a week and a bit with my parents. When she was only six weeks old, my dad gave her a book called, "I See Something Grand" which he had picked up during a trip to the Grand Canyon. She was his first grandchild and inside the book, he wrote her a note promising to take her to see the Grand Canyon when she 12 years old or so. And now he is.

My letter to read on the plane was lengthy and talked about the excitement of visiting new places and talking with the locals and trying out new food and seeing new sights. I told her about her mother's travelling bug and how her mother had travelled to Europe, Asia and Australia before she settled down to have children. I told her that she may get bitten by the travel bug after this trip. I enclosed a photo of her mom and I in 1990 on our first big trip away from home. My younger sister, Stephanie, as well as Sarah's mom, also wrote her letters to read on the plane.
My sister and I in Galway Bay (1990) on our way to the Aran Islands, Ireland
This family tradition of writing letters to be read on the plane is one that is now continuing into the next generation. It is never too late to start a tradition like this one. If your spouse travels a lot with business, start writing him or her a note (long or short) that (s)he has to wait on opening until (s)he is high in the sky.
Although I don't get the opportunity to travel much anymore, I know that when I do, I still look forward to these little messages of farewell and bon voyage!


  1. Sarah's mother here! What a great post and I agree that this family tradition is a wonderful one. I can just imagine Sarah's excitement as she opens all these notes once they are flying. She is a lucky girl to be surrounded by such love.
    Husband called to tell me that there is a note waiting for us to read together tonight. Sarah wrote it before she left and gave it to her sister for safe-keeping. The apple does not fall far from the tree..
    I can't believe how young we are in that photo.

  2. You guys are so gorgeous in that photo! Must be the Irish air! I wish so much that I'd been old enough to go to Europe with you two...I sure felt your absence. I love this tradition too...Jude is already talking about when he goes on a plane for the first time; can't wait to write him his own "letter to read on the plane".

  3. Such an awesome idea!! I used to do this when my college boyfriends were travelling. Now I think it will have to be a tradition to start! Great post!

  4. This is just about the greatest letter-writing tradition I've heard of...I got shivers reading this blog!

  5. U said that sarah's mom had been traveled asia.. did she been to INDIA ?

  6. No, Sarah's Mom has not been to India. :)

  7. that is a wonderful tradition! i've always written "plane letters" for friends/family. some have adopted the tradition, others, not so much.


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