To get the best of this article you should consider that there are four main types of people that are buying gifts for pilots. The first is a family member who is trying to choose the best gifts for pilots. The second is a spouse or significant other that wants to buy something for the pilot in your life. The third is an aviation enthusiast who are interested in all things aviation. The fourth is the actual pilot, buying something for themselves.
In order to sift through the noise of countless articles advertised we have given a very unique rating to the gifts that we recommend and also refer to other sites recommendations as well. We believe that you should consider the source of the people making a recommendation. This article was written with input from actual pilots with ratings from private to airline transport ratings. Several airline pilot staff members also contributed so that you get good recommendations verses information from someone who is guessing.
Our rating system Each product gets a rating icon to help you determine if its best for you. Some items are really popular certain pilots or enthusiasts. Others are strictly preferred for hardcore full time professional flight crews.
What are the Best gifts for pilots?
The answer really is whatever that pilot really likes. Here is the golden rule of pilot gifts. Anything that looks like a plane, says that you fly a plane, has airplane graphics or is an actual airplane, is fair game.
Here is the scoop on flight bags today. There is really no perfect solution bag out on the market today. Most cater to pilots of all different experience levels. But if there is one thing that is changing, its the amount of items that a pilot carries as part of their gear. The main reason for that is the ipad. The Ipad replaces a lot of charts, books and reference material that we previously had to carry around.
In the airline world, you would find yourself carrying an operations specifications manual, a full set of Jepps and the aircraft manual. All of that is now condensed onto the ipad. Literally there was room leftover to carry a flash light and maybe a pair of sunglasses. Now a days, that has changed and you can be somewhat creative. Most pilots prefer the less is more approach. And some prefer something that fits in the plane, that is probably the most important metric. If you are going to buy a flight bag, makes some hints as to which one your pilot likes so you can buy the perfect gift.
Gifts for a Pilot:
Along with our philosophy of aviation themed items, this brings us to the discussion of decorating the man cave or special place where pilots like to go to wind down. This can be a place where they have special items on display that all fall in the theme of aviation. A popular item is this pilot lounge sign that looks great in any room. It is available in many colors to match your decor and its simple and too the point.
Foreflight The Essential App for Aviation
This one is geared more for pilots who make a living in aviation. You may be thinking, why would they want a subscription to this app when the company or airline they fly for already has something similar? This is a very good question, here is the answer. Most airlines have moved to ipad apps that have Jeppeson approach plates and some sort of enhanced route planning and radar capabilities.
Airlines are always in cost saving modes and tend to buy the more inexpensive version of everything for the aircraft and the crews. This app is the Cadillac, and anyone who has used it has discovered that it does so much more than what their companies tend to provide. Even entry level pilots working at smaller companies early in their careers can enjoy (with a wifi signal) advanced radar, route information, flight planning and more at their fingertips. Priced between $120-$240 per year, it is not the cheapest gift, but it is a geniune and authentic pilot gift.
Takeoff Cutting Board
This cutting board is a totally unique gift idea for any pilot in your life. The bamboo base is lightweight and eco friendly and the takeoff graphic pops from the wood. It is almost too pretty to use. For the pilot that is a barbecue fan, and most are, it ranks up there in the best gifts department.
It may not sound that sexy but every pilot can use a luggage tag for their gear, and its a plus if it has an aviation theme or something fun. Boring is out when it comes to flight gear and these luggage tags are always popular. Although we only show six here, there are over 100 choices to choose from to make a great pilot gift
The bonus part is the luggage tags are all available in a variety of colors and are engraved onto rich looking engineered leather. Each luggage tag has served its time being tested at the airport, and we put it through the rigors of travel and the worst hotel van drivers.
Although this sounds like a cool idea, its really limited to the smaller aviation pilots needs. Newer cockpits such as airliners and corporate aircraft all have cockpit power for charging devices. Thus carrying a separate portable charger is not really necessary. However smaller general aviation aircraft have this need and if the pilot in your life flies this type of aircraft than this would work just fine.
Aviation Wall Art
Here is a gift idea that pilots will love and it falls in line with our theory about pilots want to look at their plane. These are rich looking engraved aircraft graphics and specifications onto a 10" x 10" wall art. The stand about 1" deep so they really stand out nice and make a perfect statement in an office or man cave. The interesting note is most professional pilots have been type rated in more than one jet. Those type ratings are like a rite of passage in a pilots career. Each one represents hard work in learning the plane as well as a wealth of knowledge that comes from flying it over the years.
Aviation Tee Shirt
Of course no review would be complete without the token pilot shirt. Sure there are tons of them out there so you have to pick and choose which ones you think your pilot will like best. Also know there is a good growing supply of aviation themes for women, because its not a mans world anymore.
Along with our theme of pilots wanting to look at their planes, our shift would naturally shift towards an aircraft model. There is a lot of them to choose from and most airlines or aircraft are represented. One important feature to note would be the size of the aircraft model. Besides the numbing amount available they also come in different sizes. Picking the right size usually falls on to figuring out where its going to go. If its on a mantle or a desktop then perhaps the space is limited. A smaller model such as 1:400 or 1:500 may be necessary.
If space is not an issue, we recommend 1:200 size since its big enough to see all the details and it really stands out in a room. This size fits perfectly in most bookcases. A good idea would be to see if the person you are buying for already has a collection started. 1:200 sizes generally about 12' to 14" long. You will want to match the size planes he or she already has to keep the continuity of the collection looking the same.
Matching the plane to the airline livery is also an excellent touch. Sure you can go out and buy a generic factory model 737-700 but they are plane and have no cool graphics. But if you are a Southwest 737-700 pilot, then that model with the companies livery is going to be even more appealing. Also keep in mind there are a lot of people that collect models of all sorts including vintage fighter airplanes. Those make a nice gift as well.
Pilot Rating Gift Combo's
Every pilot attains a bunch of ratings and certificates in their career. There are eight that most people pick up along the way to an airline. Most people buying gifts for pilots do not really know about these licenses or certificates and miss out on these great combo gift ideas that combine some really great flying gifts into one gift box.
This shows the instrument rating but in addition there is private, first solo, commercial, multi engine, CFI, CFII, stage check pilots and chief pilots. They come with a really handsome plaque in which you can order separately and build a nice display of your accomplishments. It also comes with a coffee or drink tumbler, some coasters and the ever popular airplane bottle opener.
Stainless steel Insulated 20 Oz Tumbler
There is nothing nicer than a classic leather look with an aviation theme on these handsome 20 oz tumblers. They are perfect as a coffee mug or will keep any desirable beverage cold for hours and are a popular alternative to a water bottle.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What do pilots get for free?
Until a few years ago the answer to that would have been the local newspaper. You could get them at any hotel or pick them up from passengers at the end of a flight. Now its Wifi, coffee, pens, hotel scratch pads, company provided items such as uniform pieces and airline branded apparel. Most companies also offer a free company ipad which you can use for personal use. That is a big bonus if you do not have one.
What should I buy for my flight enthusiast?
Any general aviation item such as flying shirts and apparel usually do the trick for enthusiasts.
What is the best gift for a retiring pilot?
It depends on where they are retiring from. If its airline, then you should realize the amount of time and money they have invested in their career. Getting them a tee shirt is most likely not going to be very honoring. The best gift for a pilot retiring does not go into a flight bag, it goes on the wall.
What do older pilots like?
Perhaps something more vintage, not that they are vintage but they tend to appreciate the classics more than the newer generation that has never heard of someone like pappy boyington.Other Reviews
Here are some items that other sites have recommended that we just cannot get excited about. Chances are if you gave us one of these items it would probably raise an eyebrow or two. If that is our reaction then chances are it will be the same for your favorite pilot.
- Lighted Pen No one uses them and yet people still recommend them.
Air Force Bomber Jacket. Although very fashionable, they are not always in style in warmer climates plus authenticity plays a big part in what a pilot wears. Non military pilots wearing military items is like wearing another sports teams apparel. Sure you like the sport but its not really right. These leather jackets also tend to be out of reach in the gift market.
Aviation socks. Although they are a lot of newer designs, they are all made overseas by people who are not pilots. They are ok but not the greatest gift ideas. We do occasionally notice them in the cockpit.
Ugly sweater. You will not find a pilot around the globe that has this on his or her wish list. Its a once a year thing and that is if they are not flying over the holidays.
Pilot watch This is a highly personal gift and a pricey one too. The high end ones make great retirement gifts for pilots but most people have something specific in mind when it comes to watches. It could be compared to buying a woman jewelry, you better be sure in what you are buying. However there are some really cool ones out there.
Pilot sunglasses This has been done to death. One thing most people do not realize is that most flight deck instrumentation are all LCD displays. These displays are outstanding when it comes to being able to dim or brighten them and the graphics are crisp and easy to read. However if you are wearing a set of polarized sunglasses, its game over. Polarized sunglasses make it unable to read the LCD display and instead it shows up black and unusable.
Go pro camera mounts. These are really neat but only if you have a Go Pro camera, and the advancement of cell phones today has pretty much eclipsed everything a Go Pro can do. If one of your pilot friends flies smaller general aviation aircraft and they can mount this on their plane, then it would be a great gift. Most of the time this is not the case
Pilot Joke Book. Please see rule number one, and if you still think you need to buy this, call us so we can send someone over to talk some sense into you.
Key chain. This also has been done to death as a flying gift. Most have a feminine theme which is ok if you are a woman but that limits you if you are buying for a man.
Turbojet expresso machine. This is basically a giant expresso machine that looks like a jet engine. We are sure that there is a man that might think that is amazing, if he is married, you can be sure that it will never grace the countertop.
Top Gun Movie. Its been done to death, However the new sequel coming out will surely spawn a whole line of flying gifts
Maglite mini flash light. Every pilot already has one of these in his flight bag, so it does not really make a great gift.
Clothing compression device to shrink the amount of clothes to fit in a suitcase. Professional pilots (men) do not carry a lot of clothes on a four day trip, so this is going to sit under the bed or get exchanged. Most pros can back for a trip in under two minutes, sometimes less.
Bose Headset This is a great idea if you can afford it and know what type of adaptor to plug the headset in. We would recommend asking someone if this what they want due to the price.
Silicone Food Bags: If you give this as a gift thinking it will be something your pilot will love, you may experience an awkward moment.
Exercise resistance bands. This may fit in the flight bag but just every pilot will go to the hotel gym.
Hanging toiletry bag. I dont know of a single pilot who uses these.
Instant international translator. The iphone is advancing so rapidly that this will soon be obsolete. If your pilot friend is in need of a translator, tell them to use the google translator app on their phones. They are so good and can be used with the camera to translate menu items.
Personalized face luggage. This is basically a super large graphic of your face that wraps you entire suitcase. No one ever wants one of these and it would most certainly be a trip to the chief pilots office.
Airplane neck tie. zzzzzzz
Travel checklist note pad. Said no one ever. This is not the best gift for a pilot since they can pack a suitcase in nothing flat and really do not need a checklist for doing so.
Antique prop. These are neat but they look better on the wall. A bit pricey.
I would rather be flying picture frame. A worn out phrase printed on everything that no one wants any more
Pilots tool kit. Carrying tools through security is a probably going to get flagged by TSA. If it is a gift for pilot with the intent of not carry it to go flying, then you can most likely buy a general tool kit at most home improvement stores.
Microsoft flight simulator Not really a pilot gift but most likely a great gift for an enthusiast or someone who is fascinated with aviation.
Travel Map poster Maybe one out of 100 people may want one. The rest of us have a logbook.
Airplane whiskey decanter. This is very old school and no one pours their whiskey into a decanter any more. We cannot see this as viable gift ideas, it is just not that popular.
Smartphone controlled paper airplane kit. This is not popular at all except for maybe with aviation enthusiasts. If we were running out to buy a fairly inexpensive gift for the pilot in your life, this would not make the cut.
Travel power adaptor. Only if you do international flying
Commemorative challenge coins. Not feeling it.
Kate Aspen bottle opener. Way too girly
Pilot Parking sign Could be fun if it was the right plane.
- World Map. This is probably not on the pilot in your life list of wants. Pilots already see the world and having a world map as a pilot gift is most likely not something they will proudly display.
Best pilot ever or best pilot of the year on anything anywhere.
See also the ultimate retirement gift for airline pilots