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How an Airline Pilot or Flight Attendant Tax Home Affects Vehicle and Commuting Expenses

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Airline pilots and flight attendants sometimes wonder if commuting expenses or hotel expenses are tax deductible. The answer to this question is dependent on the location of the flight crewmember's tax home and some other factors related to their specific situation. First, a taxpayer's tax home is generally defined as their regular place of business or post of duty (i.e. a pilot or flight attendant's domicile or base), regardless of where their family home is located. This includes the entire city or general area in which their business or work (domicile) is located.

Example: An airline pilot lives in Nashville, TN. The pilot works out of CLE (Cleveland, OH). In that case, Cleveland is the airline pilot's tax home. Also, that pilot's commuting expenses and hotel expenses (including a crash pad), parking fees in Nashville, training days in Cleveland, and other associated costs are NOT tax deductible.

There are few exceptions to this situation. The first exception would be a situation where a pilot or a flight attendant is temporarily assigned to another city different from their tax home. This is typically called a temporary duty assignment, or TDY. If a pilot or flight attendant is TDY'd to another city and the TDY is realistically expected to last (and does in fact last) for one year or less, then the crewmember can deduct the associated expenses from their tax return. If the TDY is expected to realistically last for more than one year, whether or not it actually does last for more than one year, then the TDY is considered indefinite. An indefinite assignment simply means that the TDY location becomes the crewmember's new tax home. This is the typical situation crewmembers who are base-transferred find themselves in where the commuting expenses associated with getting to a flight crewmember to their tax home are NOT deductible.

Example: Assume a flight crewmember from Cleveland, OH (CLE) is TDY'd to Newark (EWR). If the TDY is expected to last less than one year, then the crewmember can deduct the associated expenses associated with getting to and working out of EWR. If the TDY is expected to last more than one year, Newark is now the crewmember's new tax home, and the associated expenses cannot be deducted.

Other possible circumstances that you could deduct airline crewmember's to deduct vehicle expenses would be training for work out of base or union duties and meetings that are out of base (i.e. away from the crewmember's tax home).

Example: Assume an airline pilot is required to report for simulator training away from his tax home, in another city. In that case, if vehicle expenses are incurred, then they could be deducted. If the training were in base (i.e. in the crewmember's tax home), regardless if it is located away from the airport, those expenses are NOT tax deductible.

As an airline pilot or flight attendant trying to maximize legitimate aviation-related tax deductions, it is important to keep in mind where your tax home is located in regards to your aviation-related employee business expenses. You don't want to deduct aviation-related expenses you are not entitled to, just as you don't want to miss out on airline tax deductions you are entitled to.

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