What is it like to fly in a small plane compared to a large plane?

(CNN) — What is the difference between flying a small plane vs. a large plane, besides price?

Many misconceptions and prejudices abound. Some people swear they only get airsickness on small planes, while others insist the onboard experience is more personal.

These planes, made by companies like Cessna and Piper, can carry 1-20 passengers.

They are used for private aviation, but not exclusively. Some smaller aircraft may operate commercially on short routes or operate scenic flights. One example is the tourist flights that go on the Peruvian Nazca lines – most are operated on a 12-seat Cessna Grand Caravan, with six people lined up on either side of the plane to guarantee everyone a window seat.

Toni-Grace Bush, a flight instructor based in Brisbane, Australia, addresses some of the most common questions about flying these aircraft.

Are you more likely to get motion sickness on a small vessel?

In short – yes.

“Motion sickness is definitely more common in general aviation because small craft feel more air bubbles,” Bush explains. “[The] smaller craft I fly around are below 5,000 feet, which is typical where many of the more volatile weather vectors can be.”

She lists some of the most common causes of nausea: heat, loud noises and turbulence. The latter two mainly occur on smaller aircraft.

“It’s much bumpier and you feel the turbulence more, especially during takeoff and landing.” Bush compares it to sailing: “The faster the boat goes, the more it skims over the waves and the less turbulence it feels. It’s the same with airplanes.”

If you’re more prone to motion sickness, take your remedy of choice before embarking — even if you don’t end up needing it, better safe than sorry.

Bush has experience with aerobatics, so she knows how to deal with different levels of nausea. She offers these suggestions: “Make sure you’re well rested, eat a little in your belly, but not too much, and make sure you’re hydrated.”

Is there more freedom in what you can take on board?

Not really. Smaller planes have weight limits, so you need to plan ahead and pack responsibly.

You should also follow the same rules as when flying a larger jet.

“A lot of the legislation that airlines have to follow that you can and cannot access is still relevant for small planes,” Bush said. For example, in her native Australia, travelers must have permission to carry a firearm on any plane, regardless of size. Local laws still apply, so do your research first.

There are also weight limits on board smaller aircraft. Travelers may need to step on the scales before boarding and have their luggage weighed.

“Travel as light as possible,” Bush advises. “If you have to travel with other personal belongings, the pilot would have to sacrifice fuel for that.”

Why are small planes so loud?

Small planes are noisy for the same reason passengers are more likely to experience turbulence: there isn’t as much room to absorb wind and noise. Bush advises everyone on a small plane to have adequate hearing protection, especially children, whose ears are more sensitive.

Some planes offer earmuffs, but it’s never a bad idea to have one on hand.

“Once you lose your hearing, you lose your hearing,” she warns. Ear damage can be permanent, so plan ahead.

Are Small Planes More Dangerous?

This is a common question, especially when drawing attention to high-profile incidents involving public figures flying aboard private jets. But you have to take a deep breath and try not to assume the worst.

“There can always be an accident/incident, regardless of the size of the aircraft,” explains Bush. “While there are more variables — age (of the aircraft), condition of aircraft systems, pilot experience, weather — in general aviation aircraft that can lead to accidents/incidents in smaller aircraft… a high standard of safety regardless the size of the aircraft.”

On airplanes, as everywhere else, knowledge and a sense of control will make you feel more at ease.

According to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), there are at most a few dozen commercial plane accidents per year in the United States. Between 2010 and 2021, there were a total of two fatalities on board commercial vessels.

Is it better to bring pets on smaller vessels?

You’ve probably seen the headlines about the desperate people renting private planes to transport their pets from places with strict quarantines and Covid lockdowns.

Private and commercial aviation both have their pros and cons in this department.

If you can afford to fly animals on smaller specialty craft, it may be worth it for your own peace of mind – some high-end airlines, such as VistaJet, have specially trained crew members on board who know how to work with animals and have completed pet CPR courses.

Both require quite a bit of paperwork, so you’ll need to keep up to date with shots and health visits and provide your pet with a passport if necessary. (Yes, that’s real.)

Ask your vet for advice beforehand. Some private airlines have dedicated staff to walk you through the process – from documentation to boarding – as part of the cost of the ticket.


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