A little-known benefit of flying away from home base for business or pleasure is the ubiquitous crew car. I don’t know how it got started, but it is a tradition and a courtesy that exists to this day. Crew cars were likely born of necessity because many rural airports don’t have Uber or any taxi service. Flying in is easy; it’s the problem of transportation from the airport to meetings or meals that sometimes challenges and frustrates us.
Let’s just say that these cars have character, and some are characters. The lovely Vana shows off this 1992 Buick Roadmaster station wagon. Believe it or not, this car was pristine and quite capable of a transcontinental tour de force, but it wasn’t what one would expect to pick up at the tony Harbor Springs, Michigan airport. We’re talking big money!!
Whoever thinks that American cars are junk hasn’t been to Havana, Cuba. Nor has the Unknown Pilot, who purposefully avoided Cuba during his/her airline career, especially at gunpoint. However, we’ve all seen photos of 1950s American Fords, Chevys, Plymouths and DeSotos productively plying the streets of the Socialist paradise to our South.
Like cats, the cars of Cuba haven’t exhausted their nine-lives yet, and that’s also true at hundreds of airports across the United States. Cars with souped-up police interceptor engines with back seat cages and rear doors that don’t open from the inside continue serving a useful purpose. Instead of hauling felons and suspects downtown for questioning and incarceration, the repurposed cars now transport hungry pilots to their biscuits and gravy.
One of the beautiful things about crew cars is that there’s no quid pro quo, in other words, you don’t have to buy anything to be able to drive the hottest cars of the 80s and 90s.
Pilots can be a chintzy lot. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen airline captains impatient for passengers to deplane on stopovers so they could rush to the cabin and search for free newspapers. A few tried to drag me to the Lighthouse Mission for a free meal, and never, never, never get between a senior captain and a penny on the floor. I’m told that’s how copper wire was invented.
With so many four-striped Jack Benny types at the airport, it’s just human nature that some abuse the crew car privilege. It only takes a few skinflints to screw up a good thing. AOPA thought it was enough of a problem that they published an article about crew car etiquette.
Hoosier Aviation at Terre Haute’s Hulman field appropriately offers a Honda Pilot for visiting crews on a first-come, first-served basis. If you haven’t been to Terre Haute in the last twenty-five years, then you’re in for a shock. This isn’t your grandpa’s stinky dirty Terre Haute—it’s a renaissance city. It’s also a dining destination for both casual and high-class eating.
The Unknown Pilot is a self-proclaimed fruit pie connoisseur, and Indiana’s only Grand Traverse Pie Company restaurant is in, you guessed it, Terre Haute. The city is also home to J. Ford’s Black Angus. A couple of wedding anniversaries ago, my big prize, also known as my spouse, asked where we’d celebrate our thirtieth year together. If you’ve ever seen Munch’s Scream, then you know the look of shock and disgust when I said Terre Haute, but it’s now the better half’s favorite restaurant in the world.
The UKP has only to walk through the door at Hoosier Aviation, and the receptionist has the keys ready; they even keep my driver’s license info on file. So…what do they get out of this great deal for me? Well, my big Continental 550 doesn’t burn much gas en route to Hulman, but I try to show up on their ramp needing at least twenty-five gallons. Yep, their fuel is more expensive than at home, but they have to pay for my free ride somehow. Also, since I’m usually a full pilot before returning to the drome, I make sure the Honda Pilot is full, too. It’s only common courtesy and gratitude.
Hoosier Aviation does not discriminate between corporate jet jocks with thirsty airplanes and my modest little Cessna, and it’s the same car first come first served. But that’s not always the case elsewhere. There are places where there seems to be a pecking order for who gets what. This is sheer speculation by the UKP, but it looks like we get different crew cars when we arrive in our Cessna Citation CJ1+ rather than our 1967 Cessna.
As President Trump was being elected, we landed in Albany, New York, and were treated to this Mercedes Benz crew car. Somehow, I don’t believe the 182 would have rated this fancy car. Oh, and nobody ever rolls out a red carpet when for my Skylane, but we get the red carpet treatment all the time in the jet Cessna.
Wheeler, my long-time co-pilot, reluctantly poses here with our 90s Chevrolet prowl car in an undisclosed Illinois location. The back windows and A/C were INOP on this hot day, but the windows were open enough that corn seeds or whatever corn comes from had floated into the backseat and might have provided roasting ears if we’d flown in a little later in the season. It was getting plenty of sunlight and water, and I shudder to think what was fertilizing the corn plant in that old police car.
So, it turns out that the old man was right: “There’s no free lunch,” but common courtesy and good manners are like investing pennies and getting dollars back.