Hitchhiking a plane
Hitchhiking a plane is possible. It takes some effort but it sure is not impossible. Especially in the past it was done more regularly (reference missing).
Hitching private planes
Hitching rides on small/private planes can be done, though it may be a much less spontaneous process than hitching rides in cars.
If the airport has a small coffee shop or restaurant nearby, hang around and make conversation (pilots are sometimes recognizable by flight-bags and jepsen charts – small chart-holders which strap onto the knee or upper thigh, leaving both hands free). Obviously, acting like you're interested in flying will help your case!
You can offer to wash planes – the going rate in the United States is around $50, or ask to come along for the next trip. Be prepared with a bucket and sponge, and feel comfortable asking where the spigot and hose are. At really small airports, planes which get flown a lot look like it – dirt streaks, flat grass around the hangar.
Your best bet is to try for lifts from public airfields, particularly early on weekend mornings. On larger or international airports you can try the executive terminal (also called the commercial desk). However because most pilots who'll be flying longer distances (e.g. 500+ miles) have done their planning beforehand (and already have all the necessary charts, weather information, etc), they may not stop by the pilots' lounge (or another public place) before heading to their hangar. This may decrease the spontaneity possible in catching a ride: a note on the airport's cork-board, or at the message-board of a small cafe frequented by pilots may give you better results.
Often pilots looking to up their air-miles (for increased certification, etc) will make routine weekly flights to cities several hours off by car. Be sure to ask if they're planning on landing! Students taking their last flight (called a cross country) before obtaining their license may also be willing to take passengers who can split/help with fuel costs – though technically speaking, this is illegal, it can happen under an “I won't say anything if you won't” agreement. Notices on busy flight school message boards are a good way to make connections for this.
Correction: It is not illegal to split the cost of fuel and A/C rental. The rule for Private Pilots say they can not make profit out of their passengers. However student pilots working towards their CPL do many long X-country – and its perfectly normal to split costs with them.
With rising fuel costs, pilots may be much less likely to take passengers: in a small plane, your added weight is significant. Though it's not in the spirit of hitchhiking (or more in the spirit of Romanian hitching), if you're willing to offer to split or help with gasoline costs, your chances may be better. Keep in mind that offering to split costs on a small single-engine plane (like a Cessna 150) will run you about the cost of driving; splitting the costs for larger planes may be comparable to renting a car+gas, or even to flying on a commercial flight.
- Craig and his brother tried to hitchhike airplanes at New York's busiest general aviation airports Teteboro Airport and Essex County Airport. Over the course of seven hours in total they made many friends but didn't get any lift by plane.
Teteboro Airport is not to be recommended. They will chase you away, because this is the hub for Paris Hilton, George Clooney and Lady Gaga. The few possible points are off your limits: business terminals. No flight schools at this airport. Few small pilots.
If you would have success hitchhiking an aircraft you should opt for Essex County Airport accessible by walking from Willowbrook Mall near Paterson. Regularly buses run from Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal near Penn Station. Try hitching with small pilots.
In plain English: If you adhere to FAA regulations soliciting flights at US airports is illegal for most pilots. On the other hand it seems some pilots are willing to sneak by the strict regulations to make hitching aircraft possible (Craig & Dario met two pilots who had taken them another time they said). Bear in mind their insurance hadn't covered them. Your best bet is knowing a pilot personally. Well that is not really hitchhiking =)
Hitching Commercial Planes
You can also hitch Commercial Planes. It goes pretty much the same as hitching cars, though it takes you more effort generally. Just go to airport and ask people if they want to buy a ticket for you. It might take you a while but if you are crazy enough to ask people, someone will be crazy enough to buy you one.
In the end, it is just a matter of statistics. Someone will buy you a ticket, sometimes you just have to talk to a lot of people and it really depends on the story you tell and how you approach people.
Your best options are the ones who wear suits. It is not them who pay for the ticket, but their company. A trick you can let them do, is that they tell their company they missed their flight, and so they had to buy a new ticket. This new ticket is for you. The price itself is not listed on the ticket, they only need the receipt to get the reimbursement.
There are stories from hitchhikers who traveled like this.
It is also possible to convince airlines themselves to give you free tickets if you are hitching for a good cause. Thomas Cook has been known to give one-way tickets to those participating in charity hitches, because it gives them good publicity.
Flight-tickets can be bought pretty cheap sometimes. But it is not the same as hitchhiking.
- Airhitch article (check also the talk page)
- airtech.com is reputed to be a better, less scam-y seeming company.
- airpool.nl, in Dutch, mainly in the Netherlands
- Short article
- Travel writer hitchhikes to 50 US states by planes - August 2013
You might have more luck hitchhiking a boat.