Hooray! Last week I got my flight medical certificate back after a 10-month
battle with the FAA. On Tuesday I was back in an airplane for my biennial
flight review. This involves my flying with a certified flight instructor
to demonstrate that I can make the airplane take-off, fly, turn, stall,
and, most importantly, land. I passed with (for want of a better expression)
flying colors. So now I’m back in the left seat of the cockpit.
I love flying.
My next venture is to buy another airplane. Then I’ll be able to
get around the country without having to resort to commercial air travel.
There are a number of reasons why flying your own airplane is a much better
way to travel than flying commercial.
1. Mostly it’s quicker, particularly on flights of 600 miles or
less. For instance, Lynn and I make several trips to Dothan, Alabama,
to visit in-laws. The trips can be made by car (13 hours), commercial
air (7 hours), or personal aircraft (5 hours). How is this possible, you
might ask, since jet aircraft are so much faster than your little dinky
plane? Well, to travel by commercial air one must leave home in Huntsville
and drive to the airport in Houston, find a place to park, ride the shuttle
to George Bush Intercontinental (1.5 hours) and get there 1.5 hours (1.5
hours) before flight time which is required because of security. Assuming
the airplane leaves on time (since this is a humor column, you may laugh
heartily at this assumption), the flight to Atlanta will take about 2
hours. Wait 1 hour to board a flight to Dothan, which takes about 1 hour
counting taxi time, waiting time, etc. for a total time of 7 hours from
leaving home to arrival in Dothan. In my plane I leave home and drive
10 minutes to Huntsville Municipal Airport, check my plane over very carefully
to make sure it is in good flyable condition, hop in the airplane with
wife Lynn and fly directly to Dothan (4.5 to 5 hours depending on the
wind). I save two hours and a bunch of hassle. More about hassle later.
2. It’s generally cheaper. Flying to Dothan commercially costs somewhere
between $180 and $3000 per person (more on airline ticket pricing later).
In a best-case scenario it would cost the two of us $360 to make the trip.
In my little plane I would use about 80 gallons of fuel and perhaps 1
quart of oil to make the to make the trip. Aviation fuel is currently
$2.83 per gallon and oil isn’t all that much. So it would cost us
about $226 for the two of us to make the trip. This is a savings of between
$134 and $5774.
3. Airlines do crazy things and who wants to fly with crazy people? For
example, ticket pricing (I told you). On the trip to Dothan that we are
using as an example, one must fly to Atlanta, change planes, and fly to
Dothan. It is obviously farther to Dothan than to Atlanta and it takes
2 airplanes. If the ticket to Dothan costs $180, a ticket just to Atlanta
on the very same airplane costs $250. Is that crazy or what? Just how
do airlines price their tickets? A friend of mine who works for a famous
airline based in Houston, whose name I cannot mention for reasons that
will soon be obvious, told me how this mysterious process works. Twice
daily a group of airline personnel meet and check their computers to see
what all the other airlines are doing price wise. The other airlines are
doing the same thing at the same time. All the prices for all the routes
are posted on a very large board on the wall of the room. Then the company
chimpanzee, named Oliver, throws darts at the big chart. Whatever he hits
becomes the price of the morning. It will change right after lunch. Oliver
used to work for NASA in the unpersoned space flight program. He retired
with a nice pension and is now double dipping with his airline job.
4. There is way less hassle. Flying commercial, before you even get to
the check-in counter a friendly person standing at a kiosk will ask you
a series of questions in an effort to find out if you are a terrorist,
if any of your friends are terrorists, or if anyone in Huntsville, Texas,
is a terrorist. This nice person will ask such questions as, “Did
you pack your own bags?” DO NOT ANSWER, “No, I hired a homeless
person who would work for food to do it.” I can assure you the friendly
person will not be amused and will become much less friendly. Next question,
“Did any terrorist give you a bomb to take on the plane? Do you
have explosives in your cell phone or your lap top computer or your shoes?”
If you resist the temptation to say, “Ha, you forgot to ask about
this suspicious looking lunch box I’m carrying” you will be
allowed to go to the next line, the actual check-in counter. The check-in
counter person asks more questions, looks at your ticket, picture ID,
and luggage for a long time, and then punches some stuff into the computer.
Finally you are given a boarding pass and told to stand in another line
to go through the security beeper. Here you take off your belt, shoes,
cell phone and any thing else that might make the beeper beep. Having
cleared all these hurdles, you go to your gate and wait until another
line forms to get on the airplane. See what I mean. This is a horrible
way to travel. When I do it my way, I go to my plane, get in, and fly
5. I could also wax enthusiastic over the superiority of train travel
in Europe over commercial plane travel anywhere, but that will have to
wait for another day.