The Perks of Part 135 Flying

There are many benefits to the job, you just have to be strategic and flexible.

Gear Up Perks Part 135

USA, New York City, skyline and Central Park

The job has its perks — like a spontaneous weekend trip to the Big Apple.Alamy

Day six of 10 in Miami Lakes, Florida, didn’t hold much promise for flying, but it did provide a chance to do some laundry. The crew hotel wasn’t five star, to put it kindly, and it wasn’t anywhere near anything to eat or do. It was hot. Armed with a roll of quarters, I loaded the washing machine on the first floor and retreated to my room, where the machinery clank of the air conditioner brought a strange solace.

An hour later, I pushed another eight quarters into the dryer and ­retraced my steps. Yet another hour after that, I went down to collect my fresh clothes, only to find an ­unknown hotel guest had decided to piggyback on my dryer experience with additional clothes. I ­separated out the tank tops and the child’s underwear and left them on the table. Where, I thought, is the silver lining here?

It turns out, there are many silver linings to this job. Three weeks ­later, my wife, Cathy, and I decided to explore some of them with a spontaneous pleasure trip. After spending so many years as a surgeon with a carefully scheduled life, this new Part 135 flying gig, with all its idiosyncrasies, makes spontaneity more ­possible. Let’s go to Boston to see the kids, we thought. Our granddaughter was in a singing performance with her mom the next day — a perfect use of surprise travel.

Our company has arrangements with JetBlue and Southwest Airlines so that employees and their families may travel standby using myIDTravel for a nice price. In addition, we are allowed to keep all the hotel points and airline miles that accumulate in our name when we travel for work. And finally, we occasionally, and I do mean very occasionally, get tipped by grateful passengers. Cathy and I kept all this loot in a tip jar at home, and it totaled over $1,000 in two and a half years.

After spending so many years as a surgeon with a carefully scheduled life, this new Part 135 flying gig, with all its idiosyncrasies, makes spontaneity more ­possible.

It is difficult to tell from the ­myIDTravel website whether there will be space available for travel, so knowing somebody at the airlines has been handy when using this benefit. I called my friend Jason, the first guy to ever put me in the left seat of a jet and who, therefore, has my lifelong undying admiration, and asked him how things looked on JetBlue for the Tampa to Boston trip. Pretty good, he said — nine empty seats.

Cathy and I headed to the airport, signed in and sat down. The airplane was an Embraer 190 with 100 seats. Surprisingly, the gate agent said it didn’t look good. We sat and watched as group after group of ­weary passengers were called to board. We watched as the jetway was backed away and the tug started up. ­Deflated, we called the kids, went home and made some pasta.

“How about New York tomorrow?” I texted Jason. He expressed surprise that the Boston trip had filled up so quickly, and then sent me the loads on three flights, all of which looked good. We vowed to go somewhere over this found weekend.

The next morning, we boarded the 0717 morning flight to La Guardia, enjoyed a cup of coffee, nice window and aisle seats with plenty of room, and found ourselves in New York by 10 a.m. We retreated to an airport cafe, ordered an iced tea, opened a laptop, and found a hotel in downtown Manhattan on points.

I hit the Uber app and walked out front. A large, clean SUV pulled up, and we were off to the races. Thirty minutes later, a room high up with a view of Central Park was procured, even though it was not yet noon, and many thanks were offered for being such loyal hotel plan members.

We had several restaurant choices in mind and ­decided to walk to each to settle on one for dinner. We walked down Broadway, noticed the same-day ticket sales for plays and musicals, checked out the venerable Joe Allen restaurant and decided we wanted lunch. A quick consultation with Yelp yielded Becco, virtually across the street, where I had a fabulous burrata with broccoli rabe. In a fit of euphoria, I ordered what I thought was a bottle of white wine for the two of us. When it came, it was red. After that, I was ready for a nap.

Later, after martinis at Baccarat, we walked to the Four Seasons Restaurant and, though I wasn’t starving, had a really nice evening in this venerable old space. The restaurant will be closed by the time you read this, taking a bit of New York’s power-eating history with it.

The combination of a free $1,000-per-night room and a silly movie was intoxicating. A butler brought refreshments.

The next day, we stood in line to get tickets to see a play called Fully Committed, starring Jesse Tyler ­Ferguson. Ferguson, I was informed, stars in a TV program called Modern Family. His play was an hour-and-a-half tour de force. He played approximately 40 characters all by ­himself. I'm no thespian, but even I could tell he is an amazing talent. To have a one-person show on Broadway, you've got to be good.

Elated by the performance, we switched hotels and got a huge suite at a five-star hotel on Fifth Avenue. I had a hard time remembering the washing machine experience in Miami Lakes. We sat in the living room of the suite and watched a mindless but hilarious Kevin Hart movie. The combination of a free $1,000-per-night room and a silly movie was intoxicating. A butler brought refreshments.

That night, we had dinner at an old favorite of ours: Lusardi’s. Located on the Upper East Side, this spot has endured over the years, and like most old couples, we gravitate to the known and beloved. By dessert time, I was texting Jason about getting home.

There were three flights to Tampa out of JFK and one out of Newark, New Jersey, the next day. All looked good, but the Kennedy flights each had a number of ­JetBlue ­employees on standby. This makes sense because ­Kennedy is the airline’s base. The KEWR flight had 20 empty seats and only two standbys.

After a free breakfast served in our suite by that butler, we opted for Newark. We got great seats and were home in time for dinner. The tip money covered the entire cash outlay, the experience was memorable, and the privilege, as they say, was priceless. I haven’t even mentioned that our company allows us and our families to fly on ­private-jet empty legs — for free.