Airline Scouting


Recently, big events in my life such as getting married and moving across the country have prevented me from being as active as I used to be in the local Scouting Troop. We all will have seasons of life like this in which our responsibilities slow down Troop involvement. However, this does not mean that the personal identity of being a Scout and the importance of practicing Scouting principles are lessened during these times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Today I want to share some inspiration and practical advice I’ve learned about putting Scouting principles to work on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve had the privilege to fly quite a bit on passenger airlines over the past couple of years. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the feeling of soaring into the sky and seeing the earth’s features grow smaller and smaller down below. However, in order to get to this high experience of flying, there is often a low experience of getting through the airports, security, and crowds.

Going through these experiences has actually taught me a lot about being a scout. In addition, my scout training has given me a great outlook that maximizes the experiences.

I would like to share with you (in no particular order) what this looks like for me.

The Beauty of the Created Planet

While Scouts have respect for the beliefs of everyone, a belief in God is a very special part of what it means to be a scout. Baden-Powell talked much about how experiencing the world God created in nature by being in the outdoors has a spiritual side to it as well. After all, one of the best ways to get to know a great creator is to study his creation.

This perspective is vital to the motivation we have as Scouts, and I believe seeing the world from an airplane window brings this home in a profound way.

From the sky, everything looks so small. It brings a sense of humility to contemplate how everything that seems so big in the tunnel vision of daily life is really just a small and passing thing when seen from the sky.

People pay massive amounts of money for great works of art depicting the natural world. We scouts drink in the reality that the beauty of these images only seeks to imitate. From thousands of feet in the air, the same privilege is there for those with eyes to see. I see grand, old forests; serpentine rivers winding tranquilly through the hills. I see a rich, rugged landscape punctured here and there with cities and blanketed with farmlands. It is a spiritual kind of beauty that I see in nature as a scout – whether from the base of a tall pine or from the feathery cusps of a cloud.

On Taking Only What is Needed

For the Scout covering many miles in the backcountry, every ounce of weight on his back counts. Nothing can be superfluous.

For the Scout on a journey through the atmosphere on an airplane, the same principle of cutting ounces will save him many pounds of headache. I’ve had delayed flights: waiting in the airport for hours in the dead of night. I’ve gotten stuck in long lines of airport security, and I’ve had checked luggage lost by the baggage handlers. It wasn’t long before I started to put my Scout training to use on these inter-state adventures.

When packing for any trip, there is an almost instinctual fear in the back of one’s head of leaving something behind that might possibly be useful. If that feeling is put in charge, it will necessarily result in bringing along way too much stuff that you’ll spend half of your energy managing and never end up using. This has been my experience in camping. So now when I’m traveling, I try to weed out anything that has a low value-to-mass ratio.

There is a potential objection, though. How can I “Be Prepared” for anything that might happen while packing light? To tell the truth, finding this balance is an art, not mathematics. No one can see the future. I certainly don’t claim to be a maestro, however there are a few questions I ask myself to aid in the elimination process. Is there something simpler or smaller I could bring instead of this item? If I didn’t have this at the time it was useful, would it be a minor inconvenience or a show-stopper? Is this something I could easily find onsite or create a replacement for if there did turn out to be a need?

Two bags are better than three. One is better than two. Multiple small bags are easier to manage personally than one large one but much less travel-friendly to keep track of. A compromise is to nest multiple smaller bags inside a larger one.

Prioritized Observations

I continually look for ways to improve my skill in observation. It is a Scout skill I have always held in high esteem, but being aware of my surroundings has never been a strong point for me. In fact, even finding a place to start in observational training can be overwhelming.

I remember thinking about this and trying to come up with a way to improve my skills during a long wait in an airport terminal. I quickly figured out that trying to notice every detail in a crowded airport was not a good way to train. It is equivalent to learning how to swim by jumping directly into the deep end. As much as I would like to consciously observe every single detail in a given environment, it’s impossible to do so. This becomes as apparent as ever in the airport. The crowds of people, the cacophony of sounds, the constant movement – all of these tend to overwhelm the senses.

You cannot start with the assumption that every detail you observe has equal value. Each different situation you find yourself in will have a priority list of details. We generally only pay attention to the top three that appear important at the first glance. There are two goals to good situational awareness. The first is to do a more thorough job of prioritizing this list. The second is to increase your ability to focus on a greater number of the top items.

Here is the way I put these principles into practice at airports. First, I do a general scan of my environment trying to take in broadly as much as I possibly can in thirty seconds. Then, using what I’ve learned about my environment, I come up with three different scenarios of things which might happen where I would be able to act in a way that helps others. Then, using each scenario, I ask myself to observe whatever information I would need in order to be able to perform that action most effectively.

Here’s an example: What if somebody walking in the crowd was lost and didn’t know how to get to a certain terminal? What body language would indicate his condition? Do I know enough about the layout of the airport to help him out?

Another: What if something were to catch on fire in the little cafeteria franchise I was buying my coffee from? Are there any fire alarms? What could I use to smother the flame?

There is no limit to the amount of different scenarios you can come up with (preferably more realistic). By creating these stories in your mind, you are giving yourself a very specific direction to focus your efforts in observation. And, by rehearsing different situations in your mind, you are better equipping yourself all the time to be ready to act in a Scout-worthy fashion.


When you become a Scout, you commit yourself to living like one – not just when wearing the uniform but throughout your life. If we are teaching Scouts anything, it should be this! So many boys have such a narrow view of what Scouting is. If you are reading this article, chances are you are passionate about this in the same way I am. I encourage you to talk with Scouts about what it means to take on this full identity.

If you were inspired by this article, I’d love to hear some of the ways your Scout training has augmented your daily life. Just comment in the box below.

Scout on!

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