OK, I can finally steal a few minutes from family duties to post remarks about our trips to sunny Florida and the Â“Ultimate GA v. Commercial Airline Challenge.Â”
As noted previously, the respective trips would be judged on three factors, time of arrival, comfort and hassles. I will give you the details and assign points, but in the end, each of you can and should be your own judges.
As planned, remarkably, both cars left the house at about 9:20 AM Â– one to catch the 11:15 Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight and the other to leave as soon as possible in the Cirrus, but the story begins before that.
On Christmas Eve day I spied my wifeÂ’s packing job. At that time we had 8 shopping bags of presents and 7 suitcases, all of which would have to fit in the Cirrus, along with the three of us. After some wrangling, we got the load down to 5 shopping bags and 7 suitcases, all but one were the small Â‘rollaboard,Â’ carry-on variety. (I prefer these to the big suitcases for ease of packing into the plane. (-1 point for GA Â– although had the 4 of us flown commercial, we would have consolidated the suitcases into a total of 9 leaving one suitcase to be carried on and 5 bags of presents to lug through the airports Â– so you may feel that this was a draw.)
I had filed the instrument flight plan the night before, but still had to check the WX in the AM. It was refreshing to note that there was a high dominant through most of the flight and good tail wind (A Christmas present from Scott I am sure! Thanks buddy[:)]) forecast for most of the flight. (Still, have to give a Â–1 to GA for the hassles of flight planning.)
As planned, Deb took our daughter Melissa to the Â“big airportÂ” and Joey and I went to the small one to get N191KM ready. I had plugged the engine heater in the night before and I keep the thermostatically controlled cabin heater plugged in all winter. (Another Â–1 to GA for having to go to the airport the previous day to plug in the heater.) We fueled the plane and were ready to go about 10 minutes prior to my wifeÂ’s arrival from dropping off Melissa. (0 points). I assure everyone that although we packed ole N191KM to the gills, it was absolutely with the W&B envelope, but not by more than a gram or two.[:O]
Deb arrived at the hangar about 10:20 and we were airborne by at 10:38 according to the Garmin transponder. This was 38 minutes earlier than NWA & MelissaÂ’s scheduled departure time. Tail winds started out above 40 knots and our GS was 211-213 (13.7 GPH, LOP 9,000Â’, 169 KTAS LOP for the GAMI geeks among us, and sorry no photos of the panel for the rest of us[:)]) (Gotta give GA +1 point just for the joy of 200+ knot ground speeds!) The normally 4.5 hour trip would take less than 4 Â– great news. And, Yes, even though I was involved in the Challenge, I flew LOP.
The flight was perfect, little traffic; no ATC reroutes except for my requested shortcuts, all of which were granted. In fact, ATC was amazingly compliant, which was probably because of the dearth of traffic on Christmas day or the copious amounts of food that they we munching on. But back to the flight, we had absolutely no turbulence, clear skies, and all passengers in the plane slept for most of the flight. (+2 points for GA.) We carried a small cooler stocked with everyoneÂ’s favorite beverage, some cookies and crackers for our dining pleasures.
We arrived after a 3:52 flight at 2:31 PM, well with in the flight planned window of 2:30 Â– 3:00PM (+1 point to GA) but no one was there to meet us. Due to a snafu on our relatives part, we had to call them upon arrival for a ride home. (-1 GA - while this could have happened to the airlines as well, they have 800 numbers to call for arrival info.) This amounted to another 20 minute wait. Instead of baggage claim, we were met plane side with a limosine of a golf cart able to carry all of us and our bags to the FBO. We left the airport about 3:00PM Â– 1.5 hours before MelissaÂ’s scheduled arrival time! (+2 points for GA.)
When my father-in-law arrived with the mammoth Chevy Avalanche, he notified us that NWA was reporting a 17 minute delay (-1 point for NWA.) We loaded up the car, no baggage claim, no crowds, no paid parking. (+1 point GA.) We were at his home by 3:30. (Extra time with the outlaws on Christmas Day Â–1 point GA Â– Deb would say otherwise.[:)])
To get back to the points, we drove to the Â“big airportÂ” to pick up Melissa, waited ten minutes for her baggage and caught up on her flight experiences. Security was no problem for her and there were no delays at the departure airport. (0 points) Her first flight was empty (+1 point NWA), but she still sat next to a blabber-mouth (-1 point NWA). After changing planes (-1 point NWA) the new one was crowded, but Melissa was happy with a window seat. (0 points.) Melissa was given two bags of pretzels and a soda (-1 point.) but did get up, stretch her legs and use the lav. (+1 NWA)
So, after reviewing the above points, it appears that GA won handily by 4 points. Flight planning hassles subtracted valuable points, but were cancelled out by the normal hassles of flying commercial. GA picked up some good points due to tail winds and, in this case, the silliness of having to fly north to Detroit to change planes in order to fly south to Florida. Had the WX been bad or headwinds encountered, GA might well have lost. Of course, bad WX at Detroit, or just about anywhere in the system could have played havoc with NWAÂ’s schedule as well.
But I hostly admit, GA is more at the mercy of the WX than the airlines. So in the end, we all arrived safely and reasonably comfortably, but as pilot in a great Cirrus SR22, I had the most fun! YMMV Happy Holidays.
(edits: correction of minor typos, etc.)