So, full disclaimer that this may be a IRL vs. VATSIM thing, but I'm curious about how difficult it is to get cleared for an IFR flight plan that takes a (literally) scenic route?

E.G. I want to go KBOS to KORH. The preferred route for this is direct TEC @10,000. But I'm taking a friend who used to live east of Manchester, NH with me and he wants to see his old house from the air. His old address is roughly in the vicinity of KHRIS, east of KMHT.

My expectation is that if I file, for example, KBOS MANCH KHRIS CLOWW SPENO KORH (basically the first half of KBOS->KMHT, then the KRHIS waypoint to overfly my buddy's old address, and then the preferred route KMHT (who I'm in the vicinity of) to KORH (my actual final destination) clearance delivery will clear me IFR to Worcester airport, direct, wiping out the route I desire to fly.

And if that's what's gonna happen, how do I communicate to clearance delivery that I'm not drunk, the flight plan I filed is the one I actually want to fly?

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    $\begingroup$ Why are you trying to do this IFR? $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Mar 15 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ Why not do your sightseeing VFR and then pick up IFR in the air to your destination afterwards? $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Mar 15 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim Because the example is an excuse-plot to illustrate my question. What I'm actually trying to do is understand more of the how/why of how strictly IFR flight plans and preferred routes are enforced by ATC. $\endgroup$ Mar 16 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


The short answer (when it comes to real filing) is it depends.

You are free to file what ever you like (direct route included). Ultimately its up to ATC/FAA to assign your route and they are free to give you back what ever they want. You can file direct, and get cleared direct, you can file direct and get mouth full of a route on read back, it depends on the day, the route, the weather, other traffic, etc. But ultimately you are expected to fly the route assigned.

Generally people fly planes to get somewhere faster than they otherwise could so its not uncommon for GA pilots to frequently file direct and simply take the route you are then assigned if its not direct (this is what I do usually). Since 100% of my filing is electronic these days (via Foreflight) the read backs are not nearly as daunting since I almost always have the route in front of me (updates are sent back to foreflight after filing if you dont get what you filed)

Some thing you can try to get the route approved:

Tell clearance delivery it is an IFR training/practice flight and you would like to fly the filed course. There is nothing preventing you from asking, but dont expect approval.

If you are trying to over fly a specific point, fly from your home airport to another airport that will likely dump you on an IFR route that overflies your point of choice.

  • $\begingroup$ "If you are trying to over fly a specific point, fly from your home airport to another airport that will likely dump you on an IFR route that overflies your point of choice." I don't suppose there's any option to request routing to a new destination once airborne, even if you've got cell service and can electronically re-file in mid-air? $\endgroup$ Mar 15 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ Sure there's an option, it sounds like this: "Approach, Skychicken 3AB, request." $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Mar 15 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ @WilliamWalkerIII as noted you can ask for amendments in the air, you can also always pick up an IFR clearance from flight service if you are VFR and airborne already. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Mar 16 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ I want to know what airline's call-sign is "Skychicken"! That sounds like a fun airline to fly on ! ;) $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Mar 16 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Nok Air maybe. :) $\endgroup$
    – AndreKR
    Mar 16 at 16:09

Flight plan processing, and the route you are assigned, is done by the overlying ARTCC computer (ERAM). ERAM looks at your aircraft type, requested altitude, requested route, and destination to arrive at the actual route assigned. In congested airspace like KBOS, it is unlikely that ERAM will let you fly anything other than the pref route. You can make the request with CD, but it would require a bunch of coordination with other controllers. The reason those adapted routes exist is because over time, facilities agreed that was the best way to flow traffic that fit given parameters.

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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate the history here, ultimately "why?" is a question my brain insists on answering before it will agree to retain any information for me. I'm curious if you can expand this with anything about further reading, and/or under what conditions and for what purposes unorthodox routing might be accepted? $\endgroup$ Mar 16 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ There's a saying in ATC, "You can do anything with coordination." CD just has to be willing to coordinate with all affected facilities (and get their approval) to put an aircraft where it normally wouldn't be if they had followed ERAM adaptation. Think of asking the State Patrol to block one lane of head-on traffic so you can drive the wrong way down the Interstate. Can it be done? Yes. Is it likely to occur? $\endgroup$
    – RetiredATC
    Mar 16 at 19:55

Wouldn't it be easier to just file VFR? I'm also going to assume that if you want to overfly your buddy's old house, you'll need to be VFR to see it.

If you actually fly that route, MEA from MANCH to KHRIS is 2300, so you'd have to be at least 3000`.

Maybe it would be easier to go VFR, contact MHT Tower, let them know you're going to be maneuvering in the vicinity, then head on out on the rest of your journey. You'd be able to descend with less hassle so your friend can see their house.

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    $\begingroup$ The example motivation is really just an excuse plot to illustrate my question, I grabbed KHRIS randomly off a chart of MHT's neighborhood. Yes, filing for VFR would be easier, but I'm trying to wrap my brain around how strict preferred routing is for IFR flight plans, and this seemed like as reasonable a hypo to stress-test it as any. $\endgroup$ Mar 15 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ I've done corporate customer acceptance flights and our flight plans were typically big lazy circles, following a circular chain of VORs usually, coming back to the departure airport (the completion center). You can also request maneuvering area clearances within specific dimensions once airborne. Sometimes we would need to do a bit of maneuvering (the customer acceptance crew on board checking out the interior would want to make sure nothing is loose during G loading). We'd request an altitude block, and permission to maneuver between fix X and fix Y, within so many miles of the airway. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Mar 15 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnK What would that look like on the flight plan? Or is that something you'd do live? $\endgroup$ Mar 15 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ Just departure airport, waypoint A, B, C etc, arrival airport (being the same). You would file it like that. While flying it, if you want to change it, say to make a short cut home, you just request the change on the go. You'd call them up with a clearance change request and say ,"We'd like to proceed direct X (bypassing waypoint W) then continue from X to destination as cleared." or something like that. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Mar 15 at 21:02

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