The history behind the idiom

Fly by the seat of your pants

Done by feel, guess, or trial and error rather than by careful planning, thought or technique. It means to decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions. To do something difficult without the necessary skill or experience.

I had no idea how to do it – I was just flying by the seat of my pants.


The term comes from the early days of aviation. It means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries. 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.

Fly by the seat-of-the-pants, alternatives

  • Play it by ear: proceed instinctively according to results and circumstances rather than according to rules or a plan.
  • Wing it: to improvise, to do something without proper preparation or time to rehearse.
  • Go with the flow: be relaxed and accept a situation, rather than trying to alter or control it.

Real examples online:

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