Vacationing? Consider Flying Yourself!

bryan-smith

By Bryan Smith, Director of Cirrus Operations

Beep! Beep! Beep! 3:30 am comes early. That is about the time we needed to get up and make it to KRIC for a 5:30 am arrival time, for a 7:00 am American Airlines Flight to Miami. This was our first family vacation in three years. My brother and his family would be meeting my wife, my mother, and myself. The next day, we would head for North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It is east of Nassau, and one of the easternmost secluded islands.

Eleuthera is isolated but has 3 very useful runways: North Eleuthera (ELH, MYEH 6000 ft), Governors Harbour (GHB, MYEM 8000 ft), and Rock Sound (RSD, MYER 7000 ft). I had originally been told that we would be on a twin Cessna Piston carrier, or maybe upgraded to a Cessna Caravan. I was bummed that we were on a 50 seat American Eagle ERJ. The flight from Miami was uneventful and the captain made a nice approach and landing, and aggressively applied brakes, heaving us into our seatbelts. It is always a bit weird for a commercial plane to make a 180 on the runway and back-taxi, but there is not a taxiway. Customs consisted of a single concrete structure about 10 feet wide. We cleared customs with a simple hello!

We had a week to explore, and we did see all 3 airports in passing several times. Rock Sound had a few large corporate style Gulfstreams, but was mostly quiet, while Governors Harbour did have a B737 BBJ, a WheelsUP Cessna XLS, and several smaller private jets. GHB had several general aviation planes, surprisingly with “N” tail numbers.  A few pipers, a few Cessna 182’s, and several Cirrus SR-22’s. I was delighted at the amount of GA activity. We saw several military style planes fly over this skinny stretch of island and a U.S. Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk.

After a relaxing week, we returned to North Eleuthera Airport for departure. That is when the anxiety started. They were insistent, upon exit from the American Eagle plane, we be there, “NO LESS THAN 2 HOURS PRIOR TO DEPARTURE.” We called the airport the day before, and they said the same thing. You do remember, that the building, customs, and x-ray is about 10 feet wide, right! Well, we did get there the 2 hours prior, and got checked in, and did a lot of waiting, but there was no seating. They reassured us upon check in that we were on time, and only had minutes to spare before possibly being denied the flight inside the 2-hour window. By the way, they said if we were Island hopping to Nassau then we could have arrived as the plane was taxing! I thought that was funny!

We did notice next door was an “FBO,” and even painted that on the roof. The FBO was hopping. They had 15 large corporate jets, Challengers, Gulfstreams, Hawkers, Cessna Excels and a few CJ3’s. They had just a few small GA planes, Cirrus and Piper. There were a few transient twin Cessna 421’s and even an old Aztec doing island hopping. Line service was professional, quick and efficient, certainly not on Bahamian time!

There was basic security screening and they do not honor TSA precheck. We had to go through Customs and TSA in Miami, which took hours. On the three commercial flights home, we experienced what I assume most travelers experience. Long lines for the bathrooms, sick adults coughing who do not cover their mouths, hit by EVERY person’s bag walking down the aisle, people and kids kicking the back of your seats, talking loudly on cell phones after the main cabin door has closed, texting and computer use at all times of the flight, and a fight to get to the next gate without getting run over by another person on the jetway.

Our day started at 9:00 am and ended at an exhausting 11:59 pm. A 15-hour travel day. Out of curiosity, I flight planned my day in our Cirrus SR-22. It was 5½ hours of flight time, plus a fuel stop and customs in Fort Pierce. The aircraft rental and fuel price would have been about 27% less than I paid for three tickets on American. Next Time, I’ll do it! Talk to a flight instructor and plan a trip somewhere fun today, it doesn’t have to be Eleuthera!

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