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Last weekend I took two of my kids on a little adventure to visit family in another part of the state. We planned it for a very important reason.

Mainly, I wanted to experience a flight on Boutique Air. The carrier serves a number of essential air service airports in the country. Why would I want to fly them? Simply for the unique experience of flying in a really tiny plane. Boutique employs primarily Pilatus PC-12 aircraft on its routes, which have a seating capacity of 8 to 9 people. Doesn’t that sound like a great joyride?

So I booked the three of tickets between Oakland and Merced for 11,100 Arrival miles, all in.

Arriving for our Boutique Air flight

We left home early to make the 5 hour drive to Oakland airport in time for the flight. Even with 2 kids aboard, both of which threw up along the way, we still arrived at the airport with plenty of time. Boutique Air flies out of Terminal 1, along with basically all non-Southwest airlines at Oakland.

The check-in counter was deserted. I’m assuming they employ one person at check-in, and they probably double as the gate agent. We didn’t find out since we weren’t checking any bags. With a maximum of eight people to check, it’s probable.

Security was a breeze, and soon we were hanging out in the Escape Lounge.

We had an hour to kill until boarding time, and the kids enjoyed the food at the “restaurant” (their words) and watching the planes come and go.

Almost missing our Boutique Air flight!

The Escape lounge could not have been any more conveniently located for our Boutique Air flight. We were literally looking at gate 8A (our gate) from our seats in the lounge. So we had a perfect view of our plane arriving.

Since it wasn’t boarding time yet, I gave the kids a couple minutes, and then we headed to the restrooms before walking the few steps to the gate.

We’d been there maybe 20 seconds when a panicked gate agent came up to us and asked, “Are you Snyder?”

Turns out we had needed to check in earlier with him for weight and balance reasons. I remember reading this on the website, but I mistakenly assumed the boarding time factored this in. It had not. So he had been calling for us repeatedly while we were dilly-dallying in the lounge.

We had just barely made it. He plugged in our weights and the weights of our bags (all of which were guesses). A few minutes later we were being whisked down the hall to the stairs out to the tarmac.

Boarding was hasty. We were three of four total passengers, so we nearly had the plane to ourselves. The seats were comfy, far nicer than any other domestic economy seat I’ve ever sat in. And every one was both a window and aisle. 😉

I would have preferred sitting in the pairs of seats facing each other, but the other passenger (a boy of about 11) boarded before us and took one. I figured it would be a bit awkward to surround him.

boutique air flight interior

So I had the kids sit in the row behind.

And it was the back of the bus for me. Only the starboard seat in this row had a window.

Boutique Air review: Taxi and takeoff

After the shortest ever safety demonstration (which pretty much made it the best ever) from one of the pilots, we were underway.

Nearly as excited as I was, the kids were glued to the windows. There were no lines or delays taxiing, so we were airborne in under two minutes. Another reason I generally prefer Oakland to SFO. Here is a quick video of our takeoff experience:

Soon we turned east and were treated with views of the Oakland Airport and San Francisco Bay.

In the air

Our Boutique Air flight takes the cake as my shortest flight to date. The hop from Oakland to Merced took all of about 25 minutes.

Soft drinks are provided, but you have to serve yourself. After the fasten seatbelt light is turned off, of course. I failed to mention this to the kids, and they didn’t catch it in the safety explanation (still learning English and all). Since they’d just enjoyed some refreshments in the lounge, I decided they’d had enough sugar for the day.

The kids were a bit anxious, but they were also excited they were mostly smiles during our short hop. The only times they freaked out were when the plane banked.


About halfway through the flight I realized the lever on the aisle side of each seat allowed it to move. You could turn it to face the side or even backwards, which is super cool. Entirely new experience for me.

Arrival in Merced

Soon enough we were descending toward Merced Regional Airport. The descent was fast. We never hit the typical cruising altitude of other aircraft. Here is a video of our landing in Merced:

Deplaning was a chore. So. Many. People.

My grandma was waiting for us when we arrived, and we could see her from the plane. It turns out that this is the “arrivals gate”, which a Boutique Air employee unlocked and sent us through. Definitely the fastest time between air and ground transportation I’ve ever experienced.

boutique air flight pilatus pc-12

Return to Oakland

After a quick two nights of visiting the kids bisabuelos, it was time for our return flight on Boutique Air. We arrived with plenty of time to spare this time in order to be ready for the weight and balance.

There were a ridiculous 4 TSA agents at the Merced airport, exactly one per passenger on our Boutique Air flight. Since the TSA has nothing better to do, they decided to hand search my bag. Just to confirm that my giant wad of keys were indeed all keys. At least they let my daughter keep the stick horse that grandma and grandpa were sending home to the youngest.

But it still wasn’t the worst security experience I’ve ever had.

boutique air flight merced regional

All of that was forgotten once we were on the plane. Grandma and grandpa hug around to wave goodbye as we taxied away. The airpot is that small.

The kids were less nervous this go-around. They knew the drill. I’m glad they’ve taken so quickly to air travel.

Just like our first flight, we were one person away from having the plane to ourselves.

The flight was another 25 minutes over the patchwork of fields and dry hills. Whatever our cruising altitude was, it was much less than normal. The hills were close.

Descending into Oakland, we got a pretty unique view. No closing or locking this cockpit!

Soon enough we were back on the ground in Oakland. The kids freaked out as we descended over the water, but other than that they did great.

For some reason Boutique Air had stored our hard case luggage separately from everything else this time. I’m not sure the rationale behind this, and our flustered gate agent either didn’t notice or didn’t care on our previous leg. We retrieved it plane-side before heading back into the terminal.

The Escape Lounge even provided lunch a second time. I wasn’t sure if it would be usable on arrival, but the lady at the front desk was more than willing to let us in after I asked. One of the other staff in the lounge recognized us from our previous visit and asked about our Boutique Air flight experience. I bet they rarely see many guests booked on the tiny airline.

Boutique Air review conclusion

Our Boutique Air flight was a fun little trip, and a unique experience. Totally worth the 11,100 Arrival miles in my opinion. Not sure I’d go out of my way to fly them again, but it was one of those things I’m glad I’ve done once.

If you have a need to fly to any of the airports Boutique Air serves, they are a great choice. The plane is a quick and comfortable ride. My only worry would be if and when irrops hit. As a small airline, I can’t imagine they can quickly reposition a new aircraft. And there are rarely other carriers (if any) that serve their destinations, so you may be out of luck getting rebooked.

Have you ever flown Boutique? What did you think of them?

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