What Does Fly by the Seat of Your Pants Mean?

Fly by the Seat of Your Pants Meaning

Definition: Going along with things; making decisions as you go.

When people fly by the seat of their pants, they do not plan ahead. They think about what they are going to do and make decisions as each choice comes up.

When you fly by the seat of your pants, you are not thinking about choices or obstacles that might come up and interrupt your path. You will make your decisions as necessary.

This kind of thinking and acting is often looked down upon. It can often be an insult to tell somebody that he flies by the seat of his pants because you are implying that he do not plan ahead enough.

Origin of Fly by the Seat of Your Pants

flying by the seat of your pantsThis term comes from aviators. When people first began flying aircraft, they did not have the same advanced navigation tools and abilities to communicate with people on the ground. Therefore, people were flying by the seat of their pants or flying without the ability to communicate or fully plan things out.

In a description of Douglas Corrigan’s flight from the USA to Ireland in 1938, the phrase was first used in The Edwardsville Intelligencer:

  • “Douglas Corrigan was described as an aviator ‘who flies by the seat of his pants’ today by a mechanic who helped him rejuvenate the plane which airport men have now nicknamed the ‘Spirit of $69.90.’ The old flying expression of ‘flies by the seat of his trousers’ was explained by Larry Conner, means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries.”

Examples of Fly by the Seat of Your Pants

flying by the seat of my pantsIf a man is going to go on a long race, but he does not adequately practice for the race, he is flying by the seat of his pants.

Likewise, if a student does not study for an upcoming test, he is flying by the seat of his pants.

More Examples

  • The decision to launch a war invariably rests on the aerobatics of flying by the seat of our pants. –LA Times
  • At my job, I see managers who are very on top of things and have everything under control, and others who seem to be flying by the seat of their pants. –Forbes

Summary

The phrase flying by the seat of one’s pants is doing something without planning for it.