practicality and costs of flying oneself instead of airline travel

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As a consultant, I find myself flying to other U.S. cities 2-4 times per month. The airline and
airport experience is often unpleasant. I've always been interested in learning to fly as a
recreational activity (though I just took a helicopter lesson and found that even more

I understand airline travel is cheaper than renting/owning a Cessna, but not clear on how
much extra I should expect to spend if I learned to fly myself to my client sites. I'm
interested in hearing from others who've attempted to adopt this lifestyle.

-- Michael James, May 27, 2007


If you have medium distances to travel (300-600 miles?), are going between city pairs not served by scheduled airlines, and are interested in pushing yourself through to an instrument rating, personal flying can be practical. A modestly capable airplane costs about $200/hour to operate (if flown regularly and/or shared with others) and goes almost 200 mph, so budget a bit over $1/mile as a minimum.

-- Philip Greenspun, May 30, 2007

There's an old saying about private aircraft flying: "When you've got time to spare, go by air."

-- Mark Dalton, May 28, 2007

If general aviation is not a practical way of taking business trips, maybe I should pursue purely recreational flying (helicopters, ultralights, paragliding) then?

-- Michael James, May 29, 2007

My earlier response was a feeble attempt at humor, albeit a statement that at times will prove accurate. If you fly yourself, be prepared for time-consuming pre-flights (unless you've done it the night before), flight planning, flight plan filing, car rentals, etc. It's not nearly as easy as it would seem. That said, it sometimes is still a much easier way that flying with the masses. Example: I have a trip to take to the Virginia Beach area. The drive would normally be three plus hours from my home. The flight in my heli will take a little over an hour. Then take into account that I wish to return the same day and it is very worthwhile to fly privately rather than drive or fly commercial. If I may suggest, if all you want to do is obtain a fixed-wing (airplane) private pilot license and fly relatively short day-trips, you should consider simply renting a plane. MUCH cheaper, although you'll have to make sure that your local airport/FBO will rent them to you and also what the charges will be for overnight times that keep the plane somewhere other that it's home-based FBO, etc. If you only need to do day trips and your jaunts are through areas with congested traffic, a plane may truly be the way to go. Best wishes.

-- Mark Dalton, May 29, 2007

Boy I could write a book on this topic. I have a TB-20 that I fly for business trips.

One thing you should do is clock your door to door time for you clients on existing trips. This tends to be an eye opener. If you live near a major airport and your clients are in metro centers served by direct flights the airlines are going to be faster and cheaper.

The big question is how flexible are you in your visits and your personal life. A plane is great but you need to be flexible. I have found by keeping an eye on the weather and some nip and tuck I can often bend things to suit.

On the other side it is a pain to have to run home for personal reasons and this can place a lot of pressure on you.

The best range for a GA plane is 200-500 miles. 200 miles or less and you are at 3-4 hours driving. As the combo of flight planning, getting to the airport, (30 minutes) and getting the plane out takes 1.5 hours you are 90 miles in the hole when you take off.

I live in central NJ and often go to Providence RI. With the plane I can round trip this in an easy day. Driving is 3-4 hours without traffic so I could do it RT by road in a day. It really wears you out and I-95 at night when you are tired is risk wise a dangerous place.

My other trip is NJ to Birmingham AL, 720 nm. If all the ducks line up I can fly this in 5-6 hours but the end of it tires you about the same as commercial flying. I used to this as a two day trip via the airlines but via my plane it is always a three day trip. A better trip, a lot more fun, but always longer and more expensive.

Monday at 1600 I got a call, can you be in Mobile AL for a meeting tomorrow at 1100. I have done this a lot I should have known better than to even try that as a 1 day RT.

Quick round of calls etc the only option was a 0650 flight from Newark. Get to Mobile at 1130. Attend meeting and am back at airport for a 1700 flight to get me home at 2230. As The usual summer WX and I get home at 0230 Wednesday. I�m completely wasted and despite what people claim you get very little done in airports and even less in seat 37C of a B 757. My Wednesday was totally shot and I ended up sleeping all day.

If I had flown myself, the plane was in the shop, I would have left Monday, flown to Roanoke , got to Mobile Tuesday for the meeting. Started home Tuesday and got home after lunch Wednesday. I would have liked it but as I really cannot recover the full cost of the plane from my client it would have cost me.

It is a big commitment learning to fly. Keeping yourself and a plane current is a lot of work. But it means dealing with people at FBO�s who treat you as a customer and you get to see and do things few others can.

You do get a lot more control of your time. With the airlines they own you and you are just a widget in a hopper full of widgets.

Good luck with it. It makes no real sense but is great fun.

-- Dennis O'Meara, June 13, 2007

Thanks for the detailed responses. It sounds like this wouldn't be even remotely practical in my case since so much of my travel is between larger cities, and often coast to coast. For example, right now I'm at home in downtown Seattle unwinding from an airline flight back from DC. There were thunderstorms on both ends of the trip.

As a semi-retirement lifestyle I can imagine moving near a GA airport, so at least I could cut out the 30 minute commute.

-- Michael James, June 14, 2007

For me, commercial travel is very frustrating. Long security lines, frequent delays. I think pre-9/11, the argument for flying your own plane was weaker, but these days it seems more viable. Yesterday I flew commercially from Ohio to Wisconsin. It's the typical story -- long demeaning lines (I had to surrender my toothpaste, and I left a water bottle in my bag, which led to a "security check"), my flight was delayed an hour, etc. The trip was about 6 hours. In my own plane it would have been from 2-4 hours (depending on the aircraft), and I could have carried all the nail clippers and tooth paste I want.

-- Max Rahder, June 24, 2007

Last night I was stranded in Edmonton, AB because I arrived at 4:45PM instead of 4:40PM. I already felt bad leaving my client at 4PM to catch the damn plane, the only option until 6AM the next day.

I recently read about private planes (including jets) that fly back empty, and online services for booking them. I don't have a firm picture of the costs involved though.

Incidentally, my third helicopter lesson was supposed to be today but rescheduled due to weather. Learning to fly a helicopter is very exciting and I recommend it to everyone.

-- Michael James, June 28, 2007