This spring I had a chance to compare traveling airline vs. private aircraft on almost the same route only a few weeks apart. The first trip was via airline with my wife from Charlotte to the Tampa Bay area to visit her family, the second trip was almost the same route, this time via a Beechcraft Baron.
The airline trip involved a connection, we had a voucher that made taking the connection worth the cost savings of going direct, but, there is always the risk of problems with a connection. The flight departed Charlotte during morning rush hour, meaning that we had to leave extra early to allow enough time. Security went quickly – thank you Pre-Check! – and we hid out in an airline club with coffee and some quiet before heading to the gate. Not stressful, but time-consuming. The first flight was fine but due to the voucher we had a long layover, which got longer courtesy of a maintenance delay. The total time of the trip via airline, when you take into account parking, security, flight times and transfer times plus maintenance delay came out to almost the same time we could have driven the trip. At least the trip home via airline was fast and very efficient. It wasn’t a bad airline, except for the two-hour mechanical delay, but, that is to be expected when you fly quite a bit.
The second trip was a trip for work a few weeks later and was from a general aviation airport in the Charlotte area to a general aviation airport in the Tampa area. I drove to the airport in about 15 minutes, parked and walked through the terminal building, total time of about 1 minute. The Baron was flying in from another airport so I had to wait about 10 minutes for them to arrive and we added fuel for the trip to Tampa. The turn time, due to the fueling, was about 15 minutes, then we were off. The total flight time was about 2 hours and 15 minutes. When we arrived in Florida, the lineman had the rental car pulled up for us and helped us load our bags into the rental car, a quick stop at the desk to fill out a little paperwork and we were off.
If you think it is just an airline flight with a connection that makes the general aviation look fast, I’ll add one more in for comparison. My mother-in-law came up to visit last week on a direct flight from Florida. The scheduled flight for the direct flight is 1 hour 50 minutes – add in security and boarding time, deplaning and walking to the curb for pickup and the Baron still beat the airline flight.
Is private aircraft travel an option for everyone? No, but, it is an option that not everyone considers. There is the option of owning a plane and flying it yourself, owning it and hiring a pilot, owning a fraction of a plane (and having it flown by a professional crew) or even chartering a plane. There is more to the comparison than just trip length. When you factor in the hassle of flying airline – let’s face it, flying on the airlines is a hassle, the ability to fly on your own schedule and the ability to fly to airports closer to your departure point and destination, then the differences become more apparent.
I will admit that I am spoiled. I’ve been a pilot for over 25 years and have come to appreciate the benefits of flying a private aircraft on business and personal trips. I still fly the airlines quite a bit between work trips and personal trips, so I have not lost touch with traveling via the airlines. What can you take from this? Depends on your perspective I guess. I just thought it was interesting to make two trips close together to almost the same destination via two different methods. If nothing else, enjoy the pretty pictures.
I’ll even add one here at the end of the post just to entertain you. This taken from a private plane I was flying on a trip over the Blue Ridge Mountains a few years ago during the fall. Enjoy..