Faster than a Speeding Jet: Single Engine Travels

10 Oct 08 4 Comments

In recent posts, Plastic Pilot has been focusing on flight times when flying commercially. It’s a subject that’s come up for me recently as I consider whether travelling with the Saratoga is more convenient than a commercial flight. I have always tended to assume that popular point-to-point routes are done more efficiently in a big, fast jet. But, as the time spent (wasted) in airports increases, the actual travel time (rather than simply in-flight time) is not so very different.

Cliff and I fly between Málaga and the south-east of England regularly. For quite a while, I argued that it was more sensible to fly commercial rather than to lose the day doing the flight ourselves in the Saratoga. Standard flight time in a commercial jet is two hours and forty minutes. In the Saratoga, the flight is done in two legs and takes up to six hours plus an hour to refuel. Seems like a no-brainer.

But I’ve changed my mind. Part of it is simply the hassle that mass-transit air travel has become: the crush of the airport queues, the constant issues, the tiny seats. This summer, I’ve had two delayed flights and been bumped entirely from a third. Easyjet substituted a smaller plane and, rather than calling for volunteers, simply dumped the last 24 passengers to check in and informed us of a flight departing 5 hours later.

In frustration, I looked at the two options objectively, strictly from a point of view of time spent. I realised that there isn’t much difference any more. In fact, a one hour delay is all that is needed to make the two flights near as dammit the same travel time. Add in the convenience of being able to choose your airfield and departure time and there’s no contest.

A one hour delay is now enough to make the Saratoga worthwhile when travelling from London to Málaga. Here’s my figures based on a recent flight from Gatwick:

[All times in UTC]

09:00 leave for London Gatwick Airport – long drive with traffic
10:00 arrive airport, find check-in counter, queue
10:40 check in, queue for security
11:00 take shoes off, unpack laptop
11:30 expected board time
12:00 expected take-off
13:00 take-off (an hour’s delay)
15:40 arrive Málaga, queue up to exit plane
16:00 queue for immigration
16:30 wait for luggage
17:15 depart airfield

09:00 fax flight plans and leave for airfield – whichever is closest. Easy access, lots of choice depending on start point.
09:30 arrive airfield, get fuel, check flight plan
10:00 take off
13:00 arrive Bordeaux, France. Clear immigration whilst refuelling
14:00 depart Bordeaux with a few bottles of wine
17:00 arrive Málaga, exit aircraft
17:30 depart airfield

Now there are other things to take into account: fuel cost is a big one – two of us in the Saratoga is more expensive than two seats on a low-cost airline (although at least we fit without fighting over shoulder space). Jets are much less likely to be affected by weather. I can’t sip gin and tonic in the Saratoga – even when I’m in the right seat. But over all, what used to be a passion is starting to look like a convenience.

Category: Flying,


  • It’s true that weather affects light aircraft much more, particularly because we fly where most of the icing is. However, on your particular route, there is not so many high ground, and Spain is not known for its adverse weather…

    Do you have any info about the number of Saratoga flights you had to cancel or delay because of weather ? And did you also envisage stopping in Biarritz, for tourism ?

  • You know, I think that I’ve had more commercial flights cancelled on me than issues with the Saratoga. But I don’t really know, I haven’t paid attention.

    Biarritz has (had?) a policy for refuelling which meant that GA were dealt with only if everyone else had fuel. On one occassion Cliff waited for four hours while higher priority flights (commercial, military) kept coming in.

    We tend to stop in Bordeaux or Angoulême as they have had consistently fast turnarounds for fuel.

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