I Drove to Work Last Week

I drove to work last week.

It’s a new thing for me. It’s only the third time I’ve really done it in the last two-and-a-half years. The trip takes me from roughly Grand Rapids, Michigan to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive, one way. By air, it’s only an hour and a half.

I usually fly my airplane, a 1967 Piper Cherokee—a four-seat, general-aviation airplane. Think late-model Ford Taurus with wings. It’s not glamorous, but it is effective—and efficient.

But recently, I didn’t. Severe thunderstorms and gale force winds kept me on the ground.

The drive takes me through a major city, Chicago, where I think everyone needs driving lessons. If you catch it at the wrong time, you end up in a parking lot, not on a highway.

And even without the weather, or the traffic, this trip was dreary. The flight takes me over 90 miles of Lake Michigan, which is much more scenic than driving through Gary, Indiana. And that’s not the worst part. Each time I drive, I waste an extra seven hours. By flying, I’ve saved nearly 20 days of travel time a year—roughly, 50 days worth over the whole span. That’s a lot of time I could have used to do other things.

Worst still, many times my airplane is cheaper, too—particularly when I factor opportunity costs. The 664-mile round trip drive will use 33 gallons of gas, and at $2.80 per gallon, that’s about $92. My plane uses nine gallons per hour, for a total of 27 gallons on the round trip. At $4.40 per gallon, I’d pay $118. For that extra $26, I get an additional seven hours each week. Not bad for an airplane that I could replace with another just like it for the price of a nice sedan.

I think the difference is worth it—especially whenever I see brake lights and slowing traffic. And tollbooths. Interstate 294 has a lot of tollbooths. I should redo the math.

Meanwhile, I’m having a hard time thinking flying is any more dangerous than driving through Chicago in bad weather. The driver in the car that was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer in stop-and -go traffic the last time I drove this route might agree, too.

That’s why I’d rather take my chances in the air.Pilots learn to recognize when it’s not prudent to fly; apparently, drivers don’t.If it weren’t for the weather conditions that rivaled hurricane conditions across the Midwest, I’d be up there, not down here, but it wasn’t an smart option—and because of work, the trip couldn’t wait. Yes, over the past 30 months, I could have just moved closer, which would have made all of this moot; I tried. My house was for sale for two of those years, but like many homes in this market, it didn’t sell. The same goes for my business, which occasionally required my attention even as I tried to sell it. Until both happened, I had to play the back-and-forth game.

But this was my last trip; my office in Oshkosh has moved closer to home.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop flying. Frankly, it’s more convenient.

In addition to commuting to work, I use my airplane as a tool. A connect-the-dots trip from Oshkosh to LaCrosse, Wisc., took me directly to an airport in each city along the way—airports that aren’t served by commercial carriers. Any other way, this trip would have required a long drive or considerable shuffling of travel arrangements to accommodate. I can do several trips like this in a day. I could never do on an airliner, or even a car.

When I fly myself I get to make changes to my plans on short notice, travel when I need to, and go where I need to go. My schedule is my schedule, and with no trains, planes, or ferries to worry about, I leave when I leave. General aviation is uniquely effective tool that serves a purpose many non-pilots don’t recognize.

For me it’s been a way of life. I made what I hope is my last long commute for a while last week, but I it certainly won’t be the last time I use my aircraft for travel instead of my car.

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