Editor's Log

December 2002 Issue

Over the River...

To grandmother’s house we go, but sleighs are out. Do we go by jet, airplane or car?

About the time this issue comes out, millions of people will be traipsing off to the homes of friends and relatives for the Thanksgiving holiday. Lots of them will fly. Some of them will fly themselves.

In our case, a customary trip is Orlando to Atlanta, where one grandpa and at least one grandma is usually waiting to scoop up the kids with raucous greetings.

The perennial question is how to get there.

By airliner, the trip is slightly more attractive than in times past because the airlines’ woes have kept the lid on fares to some extent this year. Checking reservations late in October, I can get five tickets on either of two airlines for a couple hundred apiece. Total cost for the five of us: $900 to $1,000, depending on departure time.

That’s not a better deal than last year, certainly, but better than we’ve come to expect. But in order to fly the big jets, we’d need to show up at the airport early, go through the demeaning sweeps that allege to provide security, wait for the airplane, wait for the pushback, make the flight, wait for the bags, then make the hour-plus drive from the airport to grandma’s house. Total time door to door: a minimum of five hours – and that’s if the flight is on time.

By Cessna T206 – pretty much the only single-engine rental in this market with six seats – the trip stacks up this way: about 40 minutes from the driveway to having the bags loaded in the airplane, three hours of flying, a half hour to unload the airplane and get the kids to grandma’s house. Total travel time: just over four hours. Total cost for renting the airplane round trip: $900.

My family would likely have been among those flying themselves, but for the Lycoming AD that grounded turbocharged engines of 300 hp or more. So instead, we’ll be packing the kids and the dog into the SUV and joining the legions on the roadways from Orlando to Atlanta.

Clearly the 140-knot Cessna is the better travel device than the 450-knot Boeing for this trip, assuming the weather didn’t have anything nasty in mind that the Cessna couldn’t handle. Alas, the woes of the big Lycs mean our trip will actually stack up this way: Sit in the car for eight hours. Cash outlay for the round trip: about $150 for gas and a meal along the way. (Plus wear and tear on the car, but who counts that?)

General aviation has gotten a bad rap in the last year or so, being painted as either a magnet for crazy terrorists or a country club for the wealthy. However, as these numbers show, small planes can make sense from both a time and financial standpoint.

Unless they’re grounded by weather or mechanical troubles, of course. But the same could be said for virtually any form of transportation. In fact, it’s a distinct possibility with the car.

-Ken Ibold