I regularly fly on tiny planes. Here's why I find it more fun and thrilling than traveling on a commercial airliner.

·7 min read
The author co-piloting a small plane.
Taylor Rains
  • I frequently fly on small planes with my pilot boyfriend and I find it more fun than commercial airliners.

  • Flying on a small plane gives passengers the opportunity to see a flight from a different perspective.

  • Small planes may seem scary, but the drive to the airport is riskier than the flight, according to analyst Saj Ahmed.

A lot of people are afraid of flying, but even more so when they are forced onto a small turbo-prop plane. While some hate the idea, occasionally flying in tiny aircraft is the only way to get where you want to go, like around Alaska or on safaris.

plane
Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images

For a long time, I also had that fear because of the size of the plane and the perception it was unsafe. However, things changed after I started dating a pilot three years ago and the opportunity to fly became a regular part of my life.

Flying with my pilot boyfriend.
Flying with my pilot boyfriend.Taylor Rains/Insider

While I was scared the first time I flew with him, my nerves quickly relaxed as he showed me that flying in a tiny plane can actually be a really fun and unique experience.

Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.Taylor Rains/Insider

There are several commercial, charter, and tour operators that fly smaller planes, like Cape Air ...

Cape Air.
Cape Air.Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock

... Tradewind Aviation ...

Tradewind Aviation pilatus PC-12.
Tradewind Aviation Pilatus PC-12.Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

... and K2 Aviation in Alaska.

Bush plane in Talkeetna, Alaska.
K2 Aviation plane in Talkeetna, Alaska.melissamn/Shutterstock

The plane I've mostly flown on is a Piper Warrior, which has two seats in the front behind the controls and two passenger seats in the back.

Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.Taylor Rains/Insider

Although, I've also ridden on De Havilland Otters and Piper Navajos.

Flying on a small plane in Alaska.
Flying on a small plane in Alaska.Taylor Rains/Insider

Having flown on both large commercial jets and small turboprops, I have experienced the difference firsthand. Personally, I've come to enjoy tiny planes more than jets for a variety of reasons.

Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.Taylor Rains/Insider

First and foremost, I love being immersed in the pilot side of the operation. When flying in the small Piper plane with my boyfriend or on a flightseeing tour over Alaska, I got to wear a headset and hear air traffic control (ATC).

Flying with my pilot boyfriend.
Flying with my pilot boyfriend.Taylor Rains/Insider

I was able to listen to the communication between my pilot and the controllers, as well as hear other pilots in the area. It gave me a real sense of everything that goes on during a flight, and I learned more about traffic patterns and airport movement than I ever would on a commercial airliner.

Flying in a tiny airplane.
Flying in a tiny airplane.Taylor Rains/Insider

The open cockpit concept on many smaller planes not only gives passengers an opportunity to listen in on ATC, but it also allows them to see the inputs and actions of the pilots.

Flying on a tiny plane.
Flying on a tiny plane.Taylor Rains/Insider

While I've never actually wanted to be a pilot, I've always been fascinated with everything that goes into flying a plane. On the small aircraft I've flown on, I got to see the control panel at the front of the plane, like flight speed and altitude, as well as see how the crew changed the flap settings.

Flying with my pilot boyfriend.
Flying with my pilot boyfriend.Taylor Rains/Insider

An open cockpit also sometimes provides a perfect view of the runway ahead, so passengers can see the takeoff and landing from a new perspective.

Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.Taylor Rains/Insider

Not to mention, flying in a small aircraft typically means cruising at lower altitudes, so travelers get the opportunity to observe unique landscapes and scenery they may miss flying on a commercial jet. I've been lucky to fly over Denali National Park ...

Flying over Denali National Park.
Flying over Denali National Park.Taylor Rains/Insider

... along the New York City skyline ...

Flying along the New York City skyline.
Flying along the New York City skyline.Taylor Rains/Insider

... and to view the New England fall foliage from the air.

Flying with my pilot boyfriend.
Flying with my pilot boyfriend.Taylor Rains/Insider

While there are a lot of pros to flying on small planes, there are some downsides.

Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.Taylor Rains/Insider

For me, the biggest challenge is getting in and out of smaller aircraft. Unlike the full-size boarding doors on airliners, many tiny planes have narrow doors that require passengers to crouch to enter. However, once inside, the plane can feel just as roomy as an airline.

Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Connecticut.Taylor Rains/Insider

The seats are typically padded and comfortable, and the small planes I've flown on offered plenty of legroom, though I am only 5'3" and rarely have issues fitting in any aircraft seat. So, it's possible some people could experience claustrophobia in the smaller cabin, and those over six feet tall may feel cramped.

Backseat of a Piper Warrior plane.
The backseat of a Piper Warrior plane.Taylor Rains/Insider

Though some people are concerned about the comfort level of a tiny plane, others are more concerned with safety.

Pilots preflight their plane.
Pilots preflight their plane.Jozef_Culak/Shutterstock

While it is true that the accident rate among small planes is higher than airlines, you are still more likely to be injured en route to the airport than traveling in a tiny aircraft, according to Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StretegivAero Research.

Bush plane in Denali National Park shuttling tourists and workers.
Bush plane in Denali National Park shuttling tourists and workers.Taylor Rains/Insider

Source:Executive Flyers, The Telegraph

"The size of the airplane is not in any way linked to safety," Ahmad told The Telegraph. "Rather it's all down to the regular maintenance regimes to ensure that airplanes comply with regulations to fly and operate safely."

Cape Air Cessna 402C
A Cape Air Cessna 402C in Boston next to a JetBlue airliner.Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com

Source: The Telegraph

He continued: "Statistics can be skewered all too easily to suit a particular argument and I certainly do not ascribe risk with small airplanes. Lest we forget, pilot training schools almost all use single engine for training and that's where it all starts before progressing to bigger jets."

Florida Tech flight school single-engine planes.
Florida Tech flight school planes.Florida Institute of Technology

Source: The Telegraph

For those concerned about turbulence in a tiny plane, it is important to know that all aircraft, small or large, are engineered to withstand more turbulence than their normal operating capabilities.

Flying in a tiny plane.
Flying in a tiny plane.Taylor Rains/Insider

Source: High Sky Flying, FAA

It is true that small planes are more susceptible to "wake turbulence" from a bigger jet, which causes the aircraft to lose lift and altitude. However, pilots and air traffic controllers know the risk and take precautions to avoid an event from happening.

Wing tip vortices are a primary contributor to take turbulence.
Wing tip vortices are a primary contributor to take-off turbulence.aapsky/Shutterstock

Source: High Sky Flying, FAA

In addition to wake turbulence, rough weather and winds can pose a bigger threat to smaller planes than large ones. Because of this, flying in a tiny aircraft is not as reliable as airliners that can more safely operate in severe weather conditions, like heavy rain, snow, and high winds.

Wizz Air lands on a snowy runway in Ukraine.
Wizz Air lands on a snowy runway in Ukraine.Zahnoi Alex/Shutterstock

Source: High Sky Flying

So, if you're flying somewhere and the only transport is by plane, then you are at the mercy of the weather and the likelihood for the flight to be canceled is much higher than if you could access the destination via commercial jet.

A small plane at an airport in non-flying, winter weather.
A small plane at an airport in non-flying weather.kosmos111/Shutterstock

Source: High Sky Flying

If you're still worried about the safety of a small plane, Ahmad said customers should book with companies that specialize in specific activities, like tours or excursions, and check the operator's reviews and reputation.

Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines tour operator.
Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines tour operator.Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines

Source: The Telegraph

"In all honesty, air travel is so safe, many of us don't give a second thought to hopping on any airplane," he said. “The biggest risk is getting to the airport."

Bush plane in Denali National Park shuttling tourists and workers.
Bush plane in Denali National Park shuttling tourists and workers.Taylor Rains/Insider

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