“Fly by the seat of your pants” is used to describe how someone makes decisions. The expression means making decisions as you go, not having a plan, but just using your feelings and intuition.
Where does the phrase come from?
You guessed correct! The expression is aviation based and from what I know, is British. I’ve heard this expression used many times back at home in California, but was never aware of how the meaning come to be until I moved to Japan.
I was on an Air Force base in Tokyo and heard a commercial explain it all: Back in the
old days, pilots didn’t have many instruments to help them fly or navigate with. They had to depend on their own knowledge of the plane, personal flying experience, and probably most importantly, their intuition. They felt the plane’s movements through their pants, which was of course touching the pilot’s seat. The pilot made quick decisions based on the movements felt. Pilots used feeling and intuition more so than other ways we use today. They “flew by the seat of their pants”.
So, how do you use it? Here is an example:
Zack: ”Do you still want to go on the road trip next weekend? I’m really excited and want to go!”
Mike: ”Yea, I would love to go see that area of the mountains. Let’s go.”
Zack: ”I think we should sit down tonight with a map and make plans of where to go. We can find good places to eat along the way, scenic places to take a rest, and find a good hike to do.”
Mike: ”I don’t know Zack. I think we should just fly by the seat of our pants. Road trips are usually much better that way. I don’t like to plan them out so much.”
Zack: ”Fine. I trust we can make something good happen without planning. Let’s just go and see what we find!”