Go-to spots for an airplane getaway change over the years as you, your access to airplanes, and the capability of those airplanes evolve. Where a short trip from Hayward Executive Airport (KHWD) to Nut Tree Airport (KVCB), just north of Travis Air Force Base, was great fun in a Cessna 172 when you were 25, now you’re thinking Cabo San Lucas in the Cirrus, with a spouse and a kid or two.
For that matter, a dream destination might mean something different to your spouse/partner/love interest or “just friend” than it does to you. For the pilot, the flight is the thing. For the pax, the destination is the focus. Your special friend may like the exotic feel of a Bahamas destination, but for you it is all in the planning and execution. If “general declarations,” eAPIS, and other customs procedures are onerous to you, you might choose a domestic destination of equal charm without the hassle.
And then, there is the cost. What was once euphemistically called a $100 hamburger, might now be accurately called a $500 candy bar. Landing fees, ramp fees, minimum fuel purchases, and other “hidden” costs can make some destinations just not worth it.
Passenger desires, airplane type, and prices may change, but the allure of using a private airplane to get somewhere exotic, favorite, or remote—or all of these—cannot be denied, ignored, or diminished.
My initial forays into flying to a favorite spot began some 50 years ago, when as a surgical intern working in St. Louis, Missouri, I decided to fly a Piper Cherokee to what is now called Glen Glaize-Osage Beach, near Lake of the Ozarks. Even on $6,000 a year, I could afford a day trip, and though I don’t recall seeing any lake, I do remember the thrill of getting out and up, if only for an afternoon.
It wasn’t until almost 15 years later, after I moved to Tampa, Florida, that I got into the “favorite destination thing.” Now armed with a Cessna P210, I looked for nearby places that could make me feel like I had been somewhere special. South Florida is a good place to have such urges.
An attractive first choice was Key West, Florida. The airport featured then—and still does to this day—a sign that says, “Welcome to the Conch Republic.” A trip there was about 1.5 hours and featured an over-water segment that was at first intimidating to a pilot who had done most of his flying in the Midwest. Once, when all of my obligations for the day had been cancelled, I called a psychiatrist friend and asked if he’d like to have lunch in Key West. He dropped everything and joined me. When we got in the cab at what used to be Island City FBO (now a Signature location), the driver asked if we wanted to eat at a topless restaurant. I was reluctant. I didn’t know my passenger that well. He was all in, though, and I voiced no objection despite my trepidation. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The place was filled with men in bathing suits.
Key West has music everywhere. Glamorized by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and celebrated in winter by frustrated folks from up North, it has lots to see, do, and eat. The Ernest Hemingway House tour is a must. As many times as I’ve taken friends there, I still find it magical to see where Ernest wrote the novel To Have and Have Not. The winter “White House,” once occupied by President Harry Truman, is another telling tour. Truman thought that the American public was not ready to see a photo of the president playing poker, so he had a top made for his poker table that hid the slots that held the chips. Be sure to eat at the toothsome Marquesa or Seven Fish restaurants. If lunch at Louie’s Backyard next to a beach with cavorting canines doesn’t make you smile, not much will.
If you live in Florida, you will not want for winter visitors. When we moved up to a Piper Cheyenne, several interesting places became feasible. Guests could be whisked away for a night in Savannah or Charleston. If more good food beckoned, New Orleans is within reach.
For my staid Yankee friends, it is always fun to take them to South Beach in Miami. The food is only part of the excitement. Young people strut and preen as intense music leaks out of the open doorways of countless clubs. As my visiting mother once said of a young woman she spotted in a leopard print jumpsuit, “You don’t see that in New Hampshire.”
I was slow to explore the Bahamas. Fear of the unknown and apocryphal stories of customs debacles and sand in gas tanks made me needlessly wary. Once I got hand-held through a trip to Marsh Harbor, I became a huge fan. The people are delightful and a Bahamian stay puts things in island perspective. From Marsh, it is only a picturesque ferry ride to Hopetown, where sea breezes, a beautiful beach, ancient history, and good food collide. You could stop en route to the ferry and get conch salad from a street-side vendor—whose feet were in the salt water from which the conch had just been lifted. I say “could” (as in past tense) get conch salad because sadly, both destinations are still reeling from Hurricane Dorian.
I have enjoyed several days in Staniel Cay, where your room is right over the water, giving you a close-up view of many—and I do mean many—sharks. A boat will take you to the site where the James Bond thriller, Thunderball, was filmed and a beach where feral pigs beg for food. Like the sharks, these wildlife encounters are not my favorite, but the place is a famous scuba-diving destination. There is no FBO or customs facility on the Cay, so stops inbound and outbound are required for clearing customs. Be sure to bring plenty of fuel.
From my family’s home base in New Hampshire, there are also many delightful destinations that clamor for attention. Though it is pricey to spend the night in Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard, you can easily fly from almost anywhere in New England to these iconic islands for lunch. Our customary trip from Lebanon, New Hampshire, takes about 45 minutes and gives us a chance to eat lunch with the rich and famous, and then retreat home for dinner. It isn’t hard to see why these places are so popular in the summer—the chefs are famous and people watching is a high art.
Canada beckons from a New England base and CanPass makes travel there far more simple than to the Bahamas or Mexico. Just call the 800 number before you leave and listen as the officer greets you with “Hello, bonjour.” When you land in Halifax, ask the line guy to call CanPass and you are soon on your way. Only occasionally do you see an actual Canadian customs or border agent at most destinations.
Regardless of your favorite spots, this much is clear: a destination that relieves you of your quotidian worries and frustrations is a gift—available to anybody with access to an airplane. Do it. Enjoy it.