I flew in a ten-passenger Cessna 401-402 from Kansas City to Topeka last week, and I realized something had changed in my feelings about small aircraft.

I used to dread them. My Uncle Harold's crop duster in northern Minnesota, the World War II-vintage aircraft I occasionally flew on softball trips, the helicopter across San Francisco Bay to Oakland one dark, windy night-all of them left me with a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was an element of exhilaration, I must admit, much like what I felt as a child when my dad accelerated our '56 Chevy just before mounded railroad tracks on the blacktopped roads of rural Indiana. But the element of fear dominated whenever I climbed into the belly of a small airplane.

Thus I developed a standard rule of my traveling thumb: any airline that had to ask my weight at the check-in counter was too small to get my business, much less my trust. I stuck to that rule for at least a decade.

But on my trip last week, I realized those powerful ...

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