The Only Way to Fly, Sometimes

A trip from New Jersey to North Carolina hits general aviation's sweet spot

KMMU to KGSO

KMMU to KGSO

The view on the way from KMMU to KGSO

It hasn’t happened very often this winter: For one full day last week, the weather from Maine to Florida was severe VFR.

I’d been keeping an eye on the long-range forecast for days in a sincere desire to avoid areas of icing for a planned trip from New Jersey to North Carolina. Never once did it waver from a prediction for clear skies and light winds throughout the Northeast and well into the Mid-Atlantic.

Definitely time to go flying.

My route in the morning would take me west from my home airport in Morristown, New Jersey, out over Pennsylvania, down around the Washington Special Flight Rules Area and on into Greensboro, North Carolina—a journey of three hours in clear skies and smooth air in a rented Diamond DA40 with Garmin G1000 avionics. While in Greensboro I did some more flying, this time in a Cirrus SR22 for an upcoming article on Avidyne's Entegra R9 avionics system. The return flight that afternoon was more of the same gorgeous weather, with a landing back in Morristown against the backdrop of the setting sun.

I’d left my house in Northern New Jersey after breakfast and would be home in time for dinner that evening. Every business trip should be like this.

The flight worked out so well, in fact, that I decided to compare it with other possible modes of transportation. In my heart I knew flying myself from New Jersey to North Carolina made perfect sense. I wondered if it would on paper, too.

I ruled out the first two alternatives almost immediately. Driving from my house to Greensboro would mean 520 miles on the highways and byways of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, for a door-to-door time of nine and a half hours—one way. That would require splitting the trip into two days, at least, and maybe even three depending on how much time I wanted to spend in the Greensboro area.

Going by train was no better. The drive to the station is about 45 minutes in the wrong direction. Then I would board an Amtrak train in time to pull out of the station in Newark, New Jersey, at 7:24 a.m. and finally arrive in Greensboro at 6:34 that evening. Sure, the tickets may be reasonably priced, but 11 hours on a train isn’t my idea of a day well spent.

That left only one other realistic option: airline travel.

There was a nonstop flight from Newark International Airport departing at 8:05 a.m. and arriving at Greensboro Piedmont Triad International Airport (right where I needed to be) at 9:54 a.m. So far, so good. The problem was the return flight. The only nonstop that departed late enough was a 6:32 p.m. flight that would get me into Newark at 8:20. By the time I deplaned, took the shuttle to my car and drove home it would be almost 10 o’clock. And to make that 8:05 flight in the morning, I’d have to leave my house at around 5:30. The cost of that round-trip ticket? A whopping $1,262. (In case you’re wondering, I looked at some connecting flight options, which while being cheaper would also force me to stretch the trip to two days, with the added cost of a hotel room, plus all that lost time.)

Here are the basic details for the fly-myself option (not including time for checks of the weather, flight plan filing and so on): Drive time to the airport: 35 minutes. Pre-flight time: 20 minutes. Flying time: 3 hours each way. Post-flight time: 20 minutes. Drive home: 35 minutes. Total travel time: 7+50. Total cost: around $1,100 at $169 plus tax per hour for the rental.

My wife loved the fact that I was able to leave the house at 7 and be back on the ground in Morristown before dark. Of course, if I’m being completely honest, the best part wasn’t how much time I saved, or even that I got the chance to sleep in my own bed that night. It was the flying itself. Six wonderful hours in the left seat of a fantastic light general aviation airplane in picture-perfect weather.

It doesn't get any better than that.