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25 examples! What can flight crews write off? Why or why not?

Pilots and flight attendants can write of many expenses from their taxes. To determine whether or not an expense is deductible, consider four tests for the expense. The four deductibility tests are:

  • TEST 1: Is the expense "ordinary"?
  • TEST 2: Is the expense "necessary"?
  • TEST 3: Is the expense "personal"?
  • TEST 4: Is the expense "prohibited"?

Let’s apply these tests to the following expenses:

Expense example 1: A pilot buys some black socks that he uses for work.

No. Fails test 3. The IRS considers clothing to be a personal expense if it is suitable to wear outside of work.

Expense example 2: A flight attendant interviews for a job at a different airline. She already works as a flight attendant.

Yes. This passes all 4 tests. The caveat is that the person must already be in the same occupation that they are interviewing for.

Expense example 3: A flight attendant interviews for a job at a different airline. She has never worked as a flight attendant before.

No. This fails test 4. It is prohibited because the IRS says you must be in the same occupation that you are trying to find a new job in. For example, a commercial pilot trying to get a job working as a commercial pilot is able to write off the expenses because his occupation is already a commercial pilot.

Expense example 4: A pilot wishes to write off the business portion of his cell phone bill. He uses it a lot for work-related tasks, such as checking schedules, contacting scheduling and dispatch, calling maintenance if there is a problem with a plane, etc.

Yes. It passes all for tests. However, only the business portion of the phone bill and data plan can be written off. This means you would need to come up with a reasonable method of determining how much is business and how much is personal. You could do a percentage. You could also do a fixed rate (easier). You might assume that your work would require basic phone and 2GB of data. Assume you determine that that would cost you $45 per month, although your total bill is $100 per month. The $45 per month could be written off. The remaining $55 could not because it is a personal expense.

Expense example 5: A pilot purchases a special aviation wristwatch to help her with her job.

No. This fails test 4. It is prohibited by IRS publication 529, which says a wristwatch cannot be written off for any reason.

Expense example 6: A flight attendant gets her hair done to comply with her company’s appearance requirements.

No. This fails test 3. Why is this a personal expense? The IRS takes the stance that you would get your hair cut even without the job. It does not matter that the work manual requires it. This logic also applies to similar expenses such as: manicures, pantyhose, socks, underwear and jewelry.

Expense example 7: A flight attendant pays for a crash pad to stay at because she commutes from a different city to her domicile.

No. It fails test 4. Commuting expenses are prohibited. Your domicile is your tax home, and the cost of getting to and staying at your tax home is considered to be a commuting expense.

Expense example 8: A pilot gets an FAA medical for his license.

Yes. This passes all four tests. If it were not a required FAA medical it would not be deductible. For example, you would not be able to write off the cost of getting your cholesterol checked because this is not a required expense. That would fail test 2.

Expense example 9: A pilot purchases a flight bag to help hold the equipment that he is supposed to carry for a trip. The company does not require this bag.

Yes. This passes all four tests. It passes test 2 because the definition of “necessary” does not mean the company has to require it. A necessary expense is simply one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. An expense does not have to be required to be considered necessary.

Expense example 10: A pilot has a job interview with another airline, so he purchases a new suit for the interview.

No. Job search expenses within the same occupation are deductible. However, this expense fails the “personal” test because the suit can be worn for other occasions. Other job search expenses, like hotel stays, a type-rating, interview gouges, etc. are deductible.

Expense example 11: A pilot has LTD (Long term disability) insurance pulled out of her paycheck.

No. LTD expenses are typically paid after taxes. If you ever need to use the insurance, LTD benefits are not taxed. This means the LTD premiums are not deductible.

Expense example 12: A pilot purchases a uniform but is reimbursed for the uniform.

No. While a uniform for work is deductible, if the flight crew member is reimbursed for it by their employer, no expense was actually incurred. Therefore it is not deductible. If the pilot we only reimburse for part of the expense, then the remainder that was not reimbursed would be deductible.

Expense example 13: A pilot buys new work shoes for his pilot job.

Probably not. Shoes that are suitable to wear outside of work would not be deductible. Some employers offer uniform reimbursements. It is a good idea to use the reimbursements for items like shoes because they are not deductible. If you use a reimbursement on a deductible expense, you lose the deduction.

Expense example 14: A flight attendant buys food at the airport while on a trip.

Sort of. While food expenses are deductible, the per diem calculation is used in line of actual expenses. This creates a much higher deduction for meal expenses with a lot less work. The government per diem rates are used to determine your M&IE expenses. This is what you are doing by entering layovers on EZPerDiem’s Layover Entry Page. Watch this video to get a better idea of how the meal expenses are written off.

Expense example 15: A pilot tips a van driver to take him from the airport to the hotel (or vice versa).

Yes. A tip to a van driver is deductible. This is a travel expense. Also, because it is a travel expense that is less than $75 a receipt is not required. However, the van tips still need to be substantiated. EZPerDiem substantiates these for you automatically via the “Control Van Tips” page. It uses your layovers as a basis for your van tip calculations and allows you to modify them if necessary. Watch this video to see how to write off van tips using EZPerDiem.

Expense example 16: A flight attendant tips a hotel maid for cleaning his room.

Typically no. The reason is that this is considered an incidental expense. Incidental expenses are already included in your M&IE calculation when you use a per diem calculator. Therefore, you cannot write it off if you use the M&IE number. It is possible to remove the incidental expenses and just use the meal calculation, then add in the actual tips for incidentals like maids. However, this is not a common practice and is not supported by EZPerDiem. The incidental component of the M&IE total is a few dollars for small expenses such as maid tips. You can see a list of expenses that count as incidentals here. Note that shuttle driver tips to the hotel from the airport and vice versa are not included as an incidental expense.

Expense example 17: A pilot who is an FFDO purchases ammunition for his weapon.

Yes. FFDO expenses are associated with the crew member’s job and are deductible.

Expense example 18: A flight attendant who commutes pays a pass rider fee to travel on an airline to get to work.

No. Commuting expenses associated with getting to or from work are not deductible. A commute across the country is considered the same as a commute across town in the eyes of the IRS. Pass rider fees, crash pads, hotel stays and anything else falls under this rule. Unfortunately non of those expenses is deductible. The only exception to this rule is if the flight crew member is considered to be on a “temporary duty assignment”.

Expense example 19: A pilot is on a trip and get dry-cleaning done on his uniform during a long layover.

Yes. If dry-cleaning is paid for while on a trip it is considered a travel expense. Travel expenses less than $75 do not require a receipt. However, they do need to be substantiated. If the dry-cleaning is paid for while on days off it is not a travel expense and a receipt is required in addition to being substantiated.

Expense example 20: A pilot pays for home internet, but uses it partly for work.

Yes. The business (work-related) portion of the internet expenses are deductible. The personal component of internet expenses is not deductible. There is no standard method to determine the work-related portion. Some people might determine a percentage. Other might use a fix cost per month. In the event of an audit it would be necessary for you to show the IRS how you determined what the work-related portion was.

Expense example 21: A pilot gets a type-rating, hoping to qualify for a new pilot job. She is already a commercial pilot.

Yes. Job searching expenses are deductible. This is true whether or not the crew member is successful in getting a new job. The one caveat is that the new job must be in the same occupation that you are currently in. For example, the job search expenses of a pilot looking for another pilot job are deductible. The job search expenses of a flight attendant looking for another flight attendant job are also deductible. But job search expenses of a retail worker looking for a flight attendant job are not deductible because this is not the same occupation.

Expense example 22: A pilot pays for LOL (Loss of License) insurance to cover his mortgage just in case something happens to him that shortens his career.

Yes. The caveat is that the benefits must also be taxable. If the premiums are paid with pre-tax dollars, then the benefits (if you actually lose your license) would be taxes. This is different from LTD (Long-Term Disability).

Expense example 23: A flight attendant pays for parking at his airport.

Questionable. Argument against. This is a commuting expense. This is associated with the cost of getting to or from work .Argument for: the crew member is not paying for the cost of getting to or from work. They are paying for the cost of storing a vehicle safely while on a long trip.

Expense example 24: A pilot drives 100 miles two times per year to get his FAA medical and wants to write off the vehicle expenses.

Yes. It passes all four tests. However, it may not be worth the trouble. Most vehicle expenses are little over $0.50 per mile. So assume 200 miles. That’s about a $100 deduction. If your medical is pretty close to your home, it is likely more effort than it’s worth. Most pilots and flight attendants don’t write off vehicle expenses because most vehicle use is for commuting, which is not deductible.

Expense example 25: A pilot gets a new job and wants to write off M&IE expenses, a hotel stay, and vehicle expenses during training.

It depends. This question is a common scenario and the answer deserves an article of its own. Click here to see that article.

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