“You don’t know how other people live,” my brother said. He was not technically correct. We do know how other people live; we just don’t live that way. We were not exactly sure what he meant. There are a lot of things we don’t do like other people do—for instance, we certainly aren’t stylish dressers.
Most notably, since 1969, when Martha and I learned to fly—except for international destinations—we have always flown ourselves for travel. We do know that other people travel on the airlines. We just travel differently.
We think flying yourself is traveling in style. That’s because flying yourself is fully engaging—you are participating in life to the fullest. Our current airplane is a jet that requires two pilots. Flying it as a crew and taking turns as husband-and-wife captain and copilot is particularly engaging and rewarding for us.
We use the acronym “P.L.A.Y.” to explain the engagement that flying any airplane provides. Here’s what it means to us:
Passion. Pilots have a passion about their flying. People with a passion put more effort into things. They persist longer, and they willingly work their way through difficulties.
Lots of interests. There are a lot of things to study when you learn to fly, and the activity exposes you to deeply interesting subjects.
Always learning. Flying promotes a habit of learning.
Yet again. Pilots repeat all of this because these have become habits.
Being fully engaged like this is, I believe, the ultimate definition of traveling in style. I believe the best answer to my brother is that people who are not so fully engaged don’t understand how we live as well as the commitment it requires.
Personal flying makes the world accessible. Within a week of getting our pilot certificates, Martha and I flew our Cherokee 140 to the Bahamas. At one time, we had a great desire to fly on Frontier Airlines to get to really know the Great American West. The original Frontier Airlines had a “Frontier Pass”—all the travel you wanted on their system for 30 days, for one low price—that inflamed our imaginations. Through our own flying, we have gotten to know and experience the West far better than we ever could have as passengers on an airline.
Flying your own airplane makes international travel an especially rich experience. Most notable was a trip through southern Africa arranged by Hanks Aero Adventures. We took the airlines to South Africa and, once there, rented a Cessna 182 supplied by Hanks. Hanks also provided a portable GPS with the complete route for our photo safari pre-loaded. We went from beautiful lodge to beautiful lodge and landed among elephants, giraffes, hippos and other exotic animals that cleared the dirt runways with unhurried leisure. It was the experience of a lifetime.
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Our friend Dick Smith, a well-known Australian adventurer, has flown himself around the world five times. We have been privileged to join Dick on several trips in his Cessna Caravan. One of these trips was from Australia through Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and through the breathtakingly blue-and-green Indonesian Archipelago back to northern Australia. We landed at a remote airport and attracted a crowd of 50 or so fascinated people packed so tightly around our airplane, we couldn’t get our bags out. It is hard to imagine being more engaged with a culture than by flying your own airplane within it.
Most recently, we participated in a group trip to Turks and Caicos, south of the Bahamas, arranged by Air Journey. The company assumes the handling of the airplanes through the airports as well as customs and immigration. We had always done this ourselves. Having Air Journey arrange all of this makes international operations accessible to a lot of pilots and eased our workload considerably. Plus, Air Journey arranged the hotels for the group. It was a great trip to a fabulous facility in a picturesque tropical oceanic location—with great company. This was the first time we had participated in such a group trip.
To take full advantage of your ability to travel with an airplane, one more engagement is required: for your aircraft to be instrument-equipped and for you to be instrument-rated. When we did so, the world became our oyster; that same summer, we flew our Piper Comanche from San Diego to Acapulco, Mexico, and then to Barrow, Alaska.
Later, in Alaska, we greatly enjoyed flying seaplanes in and out of the magnificent transportation system that Alaskan rural waterways represent. Seaplanes open up the wilderness and get you closer to nature than anything other than a helicopter.
Besides making you a full participant in life, flying yourself has some practical benefits as well. Owning and flying an airplane to any destination provides about the ultimate in control and convenience. You can decide to make a trip in the morning, arrive at your departure airport shortly ahead of your planned departure time, do a preflight inspection, and depart minutes later the same day. Depending on the capability of your airplane, you can frequently fly directly to your destination—without layovers. You can choose from 5,000 general aviation airports in the US. You can choose who goes with you, talk business before and after the flight, and spend more time with friends and family by taking them with you. Plus, you can travel comfortably with fragile or valuable items such as musical instruments, sports gear and product samples—and bring your pet along.
There are many visions people may have of traveling in style, but my vision is of a zestful, engaged, fulfilled life. It is hard to imagine anything that can do a better job of delivering that than flying yourself.
This story appeared in the June/July 2021 issue of Flying Magazine