With mergers and penny-pinching hitting commercial outfits across the board, air travel is pretty much a soul-crushing, wallet-buster these days. Just getting from A to B seems like a Double Dare obstacle course. The answer one for Fort Lauderdale woman has cooked up?
Pop a thumb and hitch a ride.
Amber Nolan is pioneering "JetHiking," which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: She bums rides from pilots willing to take her along on flights. A travel writer, she came up with the concept as a way to see the country. Her plan is to hit all 50 states, and she's blogging along the way.
"I wondered if it was possible," she says. "And I stumbled on a community that needed some help."
Nolan's project offers a peek under the rug at the niche world of general aviation, commercial air travel's scrappier counterpart. Lifting out of the smaller airports, this type of flying actually makes up the majority of the traffic filling the sky -- everything from Cessnas touring the blue on the weekends to private jets aimed for business trips.
But the same budget hurt that's affecting the major carriers is also causing general aviation to slowly circle the drain. The money and interest just isn't there anymore. Part of Nolan's mission was to draw in fresh attention to this kind of flying. "I'm trying to show people this industry," she says.
And the industry has been willing to help the traveler out on that end. It was difficult at first. The 28-year-old was putting up fliers at airports, hoping someone would take her up on the offer.
"The hardest problem is coming into contact with pilots," she explains. "I've been networking little by little. They've been starting to contact me."
Nolan started hopping on flights in July. Her first destination was Nashville. By now, she's logged 37 flights and touched down in 25 states. She recently landed back in South Florida for a few weeks, where she'll do some day jobs to earn pocket cash before hitting the skies again.
Already halfway through the project, she imagines completing some time in the fall. The biggest pain when it comes to flying small scale is the same one commercial travelers face -- canceled flights. Weather conditions ground a lot of GA flights.
"If you're trying to get anywhere fast, you don't do GA," she says.