Soaring through Europe at low altitude is the freedom to fly like the bird, and less complicated than you would think. This summer’s adventure went from Norway to the beaches of Southern France in a 4-seater propeller plane, with yours truly behind the controls.
Okay – I admit, it takes longer and is probably even a tad more expensive than flying an airliner. Oslo – Barcelona is about three and a half hours by airliner, and around 10 hours flying time (plus refueling stops) with the 4-seater I used. However, the experience of flying at 3.000 feet, in stead of 30.000 feet, and the freedom to go anywhere on a whim more than makes up for it.
My friend Lars and I, had a rough idea of our route, but the only certain was our destination Perpignan (in the south of France, just on the border to Spain), where the rest of my family was waiting. The exact route we made up as we went. We ended up flying Oslo, Copenhagen, Texel (Netherlands), Lydd (UK), Guernsey (Channel Island), Bordeaux (France), Biarritz, Perpignan, and then return via Dijon (Burgundy), Koblenz (In the German Moselle valley), Lübeck, Kristiansand (due to heavy thunderstorms in Oslo) and finally to Oslo.
We went to some small airports (like the extremely friendly grass strip at Texel Island, where you can park your plane in front of the restaurant), and some bigger ones, like Bordeaux (where the mandatory handling agent not only fixed us fueling and parking next to the private jets, but also ensured we were enjoying a cocktail at the rooftop of the town’s best hotel in less than 45 minutes after landing. Waiting for your luggage to arrive? Not on Bogsnes Airlines.
With your own plane there are no security hassles, no check-in lines, and an unparalleled view. Flying VFR (Visual flying rules) can represent some challenges though. We had to cross the English channel at only 500 feet because of low clouds and rain (but we really wanted to see the cliffs of Dover – and we did), and we had to land in Kristiansand (southern Norway) on the return trip, and wait out one of the bigger thunderstorms Oslo have seen (apparently it was the heaviest rainfall ever. 72,9 millimeter of rain in 24 hours (more than 46 millimeter came in an hour approximately at the time we wanted to land), exceeded the old record form 1989 by far).
Aside from the weather, there are some other challenges too, like air traffic controllers who prefer not to speak English, and restricted and complicated airspace, but all of it is easy to overcome with a little bit of planning and flexibility.
When you are enjoying lunch at Guernsey, or standing at the beach in Biarritz just because it made for an short detour, you know it is all worth it. Private plane is an underestimated way to travel.