First-time charter customers often come back for more, as they find that the

The High Road

Even though I'm a pilot, I still love loading up the car and hitting the highway for a far-off vacation destination. Some of my most relaxing moments have been behind the wheel, with Woody Guthrie's "ribbon of highway" stretched out ahead of the hood ornament.

But then there are those other trips. Traffic, construction detours, the boredom of the same old scenery-even just plain fatigue-can turn an innocent-looking road trip into a tortuous nightmare. And for me, there's the added gotcha that comes from glancing up at the sky and cursing at myself: "Shoulda flown, dummy."

I have friends who regularly drive eight hours or more to summer homes in Maine. And others who endure the double whammy of hours on New England's traffic-choked highways followed by the interminable wait for the ferry to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. Some of these folks will actually drive back mid-vacation for important meetings and then retrace their steps to rejoin their families.

Because you're reading this magazine, you probably don't do that. But maybe you know someone who does. I have a suggestion to pass along to your friend: consider charter flying, or even a fractional share. At least chide him to look into it, especially if the first reaction is to dismiss it as exorbitant.

Most people who haven't considered charter flying think their only option is a jet. They might be surprised to visit a small local airport and talk to the charter department. That airport is likely less than half an hour from their front door, and chances are good there is a selection of aircraft to choose from on the business's FAA Part 135 charter certificate. It could be as small as a four-seat single-engine model, handy for those quick out-and-back trips for one or two passengers with baggage. But more likely, the operation will also have a comfortable twin-engine airplane available, with club seating for the entire family. It'll turn that eight-hour crawl into a few hours of soaring above the landscape.

If the idea of trusting life and limb to a mom-and-pop business sounds risky, your friend should consider that any FAA-approved fly-for-hire operation must comply with rules that far exceed those required for private pilots. Those rules govern maintenance, pilot qualifications and safety of flight operations in general. Even so, it is never unwise to perform personal due diligence when such precious cargo is at stake. Your friend should ask for references from satisfied customers, get to know the charter firm's employees and then judge for himself whether the operation merits his trust.

The grand adventure of the first one or two charter flights will open up new realities when it comes to scheduling invaluable time off. Destinations out of practical driving range are suddenly back on the table for discussion. A month's getaway that would have been impossible due to a work obligation midway through can now go on as planned, with the charter flight covering the mid-month back-and-forth in a fraction of the drive time. And with far less stress and fatigue.

First-time charter customers often come back for more, as they find that the convenience and flexibility easily trump the cost. And that's when long-term deals with the charter operators, or even a fractional share, can become cost effective. Some of the logic may even spill over to business travel, opening up options that could lead to new markets or better serve existing customers or clients.

And maybe best of all, the small-airplane flying experience is totally different from the airline grind in so many ways. The schedule is yours, the lines non-existent and the view fantastic.

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